Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day: On Writing About Work

"And the first thing they did was segregate me. They segregated me from the only person in the place I had even a speaking acquaintance with; that was a girl I had met going down the hall who said to me: 'Are you as scared as I am?' And when I said, 'Yes,' she said, 'I'm in lingerie, what are you in?' and I thought for a while and then said, 'Spun glass,' which was as good an answer as I could think of, and she said, 'Oh. Well, I'll meet you here in a sec.' And she went away and was segregated and I never saw her again."

That's the first paragraph of the first short story published by the legendary Shirley Jackson (of "The Lottery" fame). Titled "My Life with R. H. Macy," the story describes in a hilarious way the narrator's first day as a new sales clerk at New York's legendary Macy's department store. You can read the rest of it here.

Why did I begin a post on "Writing North Idaho" with a quote from a solidly East Coast author? Because it is one of the best examples I know of writing about a job, which is what I'd like to encourage all of you writers to tackle this Labor Day: writing about work.

Think back over your own employment history. Surely there's at least one job that would lend itself to a story, be it funny, or poignant, or startling. Draw on all your five senses to put yourself back in that office, or that sawmill, or that greasy spoon where you waitressed in college. What was it like to sell encyclopedias door-to-door, or to work on an assembly line, or to teach fifth-graders? Was there a lesson you learned there, a slice of human drama you witnessed?

Write it down. It doesn't matter whether it's a journal entry or essay or fictionalized as a short story--nobody's going to fact-check, at least not until you publish it and make millions. Just write down what you remember, and see what comes of it. And as you do, take time think about what it has meant to you to be a part of the American labor force.

Can you think of any other literary examples you've appreciated of people writing about their jobs?

While you're at it, what do you think of Jackson's opening line, "And the first thing they did was segregate me"? We bloggers at WNI encourage you to start noticing and paying special attention to first lines, to prepare you to write your own great first lines and submit them to our "Brilliant Beginnings" contest! it's a lot of fun, and prizes are in store for the best first lines. Read all about it here, then send your top 3 sentences to by October 15. Good luck!

1 comment:

Jennifer Rova said...

I had never thought about writing about my limited work experience. I was an occupational therapist and several poignant memories would make great stories. Thanks for the motivation.