Friday, November 02, 2007

Does 2 + 2 = YOU??

Is the sum total of who we are determined by what we’ve done?

As I was pondering about a blog discussion it occurred to me that while the majority of us are writers (and readers) most of us were, at one time, something else. Take me, for example. I was once a beautiful black wild stallion – but we’ll save that for another day.

Before taking on writing as a living, I worked in the county treasurer’s office computing and collecting taxes, I kept books in a lumber yard, did retail sales and alterations in a men’s

clothing/sporting goods store, and sewed custom draperies– all of this before I started a career with the State department of Human Services as a case worker. Oh, and somewhere in that mix, my dh and I have also been restaurateur’s.

Whew. I’ve been a busy girl. It’s no wonder the prospect of parking my behind in a nice cushy desk chair and writing my day dreams on paper appealed to me.

I look back on those days and I realize that each of those positions helped mold me in some way into the person I am today. I learned about handling money, about lumber (and a girl can never know too much about board feet) about measuring inseams (ahem) and about guns. I learned that sewing draperies is a damn hard job. And I learned about humanity and how difficult life can be for a client in today’s welfare system. I learned not to eat everything on the menu and still get into last year’s clothes. Well, that lesson, I didn’t learn so well.

So now, I’m subconsciously bundling all of those afore mentioned skills and applying them to my business of writing. Truly, I have drawn from each facet of my working life – professionalism, discipline, and empathy for one’s fellow human beings being at the top of the list.

So what about you? What did you do before the writing bug bit you? Or what are you doing now as your write your way to bestsellerdom so you can quit that day (or night) job? And what, of all the things you’ve done, has had the most impact on your life and your writing? Inquiring minds want to know.


Betina Krahn said...

I guess what inspired and informed my writing at first was my marriage. I met my soul mate at 21, married him at 22 and settled in to 23 wonderful years of marriage. He was my complement, my partner, my lover, my best friend. We had two children and raised them and helped each other grow. . . and then he died. At 47.

I continued to write romance because that was what I loved and what I did. But I know that some of the heart went out of my books after his death. And it's not easy to get it back. So I channeled some of the energy into combining romance with adventure-- at least of late.

In my earlier life, I was a science teacher, a counselor, a personnel director, and a professional curriculum developer. All jobs that require insight into people and communication and verbal ability. I know that all of that has gone into my books in one way or another.

But it was the other stuff that has truly made me who I am today: the encounters with cancer, life-threatening illness, deaths, cancer again, surgeries, loss, and the deep, life-saving compassion shown to me by others. I'm finding more and more that I'm drawn to think and write about those things.

Thanks, Cindy for a wonderful blog. I guess I really needed to think about this and to write some of this stuff down.

Grace and Peace.

Cindy Gerard said...

Betina - thanks for sharing such a heart deep response. While I was thinking specifically in terms of 'careers' you are so right about all of the other 'life' events affecting what we do. In some way shape or form, we've all been affected by death and loss and illness. As a matter of fact, it was a health issue that channeled me to reading and subsequently to writing. Those are the unexpected blessings - the ones that start out as crisis.
9/11 also affected me deeply. I couldn't write for a while after - until a friend made it clear to me that now, more than ever, the world needs stories of love and hope and compassion to hang on to.

Debra Dixon said...

I went to college at 16 and married very young-- at 18. (Yes, my parents were not thrilled but 30+ years later they realize it was the right decision)

When my child and my consulting career came along, I had to learn to juggle responsibilities and dive in to projects quickly. I had to meet some very demanding expectations of clients and kid! I was always behind the eight ball trying to learn new industries, new business cultures (they're all different!). And deadlines loomed constantly. There was no one to back me up. I worked alone in my office a great deal.

My specialty is business so I brought that to the table when I sold to my first publisher.

All of the things I learned about processing information quickly and analyzing it, the work habits, were all a big help when it came to figuring out how to write a book.

I learned how to deal with difficult people over the years and how to sway them to play on my team. (because there is always the passive aggressive recalcitrant employee, or the outright belligerent employee who hates you for changing their world).

Cindy Gerard said...

College at 16? Debra. How major is that? And I too was married at 18 and have even more years of anniversaries to celebrate than you.:o) Yikes.
And I think I need to take a lesson from you on processing and analyzing so I can have a little control over my plots instead of them having control over me at times ..

Helen Brenna said...

Such an interesting topic, Cindy.

I've been a waitress, a dishwasher in a senior home, a checkout clerk in a grocery store, and an accountant, CPA. None of those careers has changed me as much as being a mom. Raising kids is the toughest thing I've ever done, ever will do.

One of the things it's taught me is that we are our experiences. So while it's great to have good things happen in our lives, it's how we survive and thrive during the bad stuff that make us better people.

At least that's what I'm telling myself. And my kids!! LOL

Keri Ford said...

Betina what a post. It's truly insipring to read.

And college at 16??? BLECH. Let's just say lunch and cheer class were my favorite parts of the day. I did venture into college and studied (1)broadcasting (2) Basic studies cause I didn't know what I wanted to do and wanted to tell people I was doing something (3)photography (4)Basics again for same reason (5)teaching-don't know what I'd been thinking with that one. (6) Just a few Basics here and there :)

My job experience is a short list. My grandparents own a convenience store and I've worked in there since I could stand. Working face-to-face with the general public like that really taught me a lot and boosted my social skills. I also think it's part of the reason why I've got a 'good head on my shoulders' as I've been told. Working in that kind of enviornment, you see everything...the top of the ladder, and the very bottom. And let me tell you, you make quick work of deciding not to be at the bottom.

And then I got pregnant and have had the pleasure of holding the job title of stay-at-home mom while I write.

Michele Hauf said...

Hmm, I was a raspberry picker (lesson: avoid dirty old men). I did a stint at McDonalds (lesson: smile and work fast), waitress at Country Kitchen (lesson: drunks tip a lot), I was a cosmetologist (lesson: creativity and don't breath in harmful chemicals), worked as accounts receivable clerk for Regis hair salons and also head of the payroll dept (lesson: 9 to 5 sucks). Worked far too many video stores to care. And last 'real' job was at Borders (lesson: books rock!).

Cindy Gerard said...

Keri, Helen and Michele. Customer contact is what I keep hearing from everyone (and the mom thins!!)
It always amazed me how wonderful and how horrible the human condition can be and working with the public does, indeed, expose you to both ends and everything in between. Some of my favorite characters have been drawn, in part, from the 'strangers' I've encountered and had to deal with.
Anyone else have a character that came right out of the real world and seems stranger than fiction?

Debra Dixon said...

Cindy-- Control is cool, but it's also a pain sometimes!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Customer contact, yes. I'd almost forgotten. My first summer job gave me a taste of dealing with customers in the Credit Dept at Sears. People don't respond well to a 16-yr-old taking a credit ap. (We didn't say, "Fill this out." We asked the questions and filled in for them.) After that I worked summers in the college library on a reclassification project. Loved college. Married after graduation, became a high school English teacher on DH's reservation where we ranched for a few years--raised horses, cattle and 3 kids. Oh, and there was the summer of the chickens (nightmare! and the HUGE veggie gardens. All grist for the mill, of course.

Growing up as an Air Force brat probably made me who I am as much as anything. My parents were Southerners. I was loosely grounded in Virginia, but I lived so many places among so many different people that I learned to be okay with being an outsider. And writers have to be step-backers, on-lookers, eavesdroppers--happy to observe.

Virginia Lady said...

Love the topic! My work experiences include working in a used bookstore as a teen (shocking isn't it), a hostess for a pizza place, a sales clerk at a card shop, a clerk at a game store, a secretary/clerk for a government agency that helped guarantee business loans, a receptionist for a think tank, an industrial security guard, a dispatcher/access control security operator, an avon rep, a tupperware consultant, and a mom to three boys. Wow. I've really done quite a few things, haven't I?

All have given me vastly different skills and experiences, but the life lessons were also major players for me. I was diagnosed at 13 with a fatal disease, Lupus, which at the time, few had ever heard of. It changed the way I lived my life entirely. I wasn't able to do most of things other kids did, so I took up writing. I had thought that's when I started writing, but recently I found a picture book I wrote even earlier than that. It's hysterical.

I wasn't expected to make it past 14, so there wasn't a lot of long term goals for some time.
Obviously, I beat that rap, since I'm still here and even have 3 kids to show for it. Made it to 41 and am damn proud of it. :-)

But I've also dealt with my mother having heart surgery, a stroke and then dying from cancer...on Christmas no less. A week after her death I put my husband in the hospital with the worst case of pneumonia the internists at the hospital had ever seen.

At the same time, I had a one year old, a special ed student, and my middle son to manage while I had a vacant rental unit to make repairs to. There was more at the time, but you get the idea.

These events taught me a lot about how people deal with stress at different times of their lives and showed me a variety of ways to juggle the things life throws at you, helpful when giving characters new obstacles to overcome.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Virginia lady, thanks so much for your inspiring comment. One of my dearest friends just lost her parents to cancer withing 13 days of each other, and her sister's husband is suffering a "terminal" condition at the same time. Your wonderful story just goes to show that terminal isn't always what they say it is. It ain't over 'til it's over, nobody gets out of here alive, and all like that. It's point A to point B for all of us, and point B can come any time. It's all about what we do on the way.

But, damn. Why does the difficult stuff have to pile on all at once? Is it a test? Are we being graded?

Cindy Gerard said...

Hey Virginia Lady
I just love it when people beat the odds. I, too, was diagnoses with a disabling disease but I was in my 30s. I was quite ill for a while but long story short, I'm BETTER now. I even hiked the Grand Canyon 3 years ago - something I couldn't have thought about doing when I was younger. So yea for us survivors - and for surviving other losses (I've lost both parents too) and witnessing their courage which has made us stronger people!
Thanks so much for your post.