I have a day job that’s awesome. I’m not out on an airport ramp, kneeling in a puddle and having 34 degree rain (F, not C) trickling down my spine from the gap at my collar. (No matter where they park the airplane, by the time you have to work on it, it will be in a puddle.) I’m not balancing carefully on a waterlogged, half-rotten interior roof with a mask over my face trying to shield my lungs from the literal sheets of mold peeling off drywall as we hang tarps and lay pallets, because if we can kinda-sorta weatherproof the remnants of a building, we can use it to store the bargeload of filters coming in. (Nor am I back in that ruin and trying to pull case after case of filters while every movement of boxes or tarps sends a shower of volcanic dust everywhere, in everything.) I’m not in the field, up to my ankles in mud and up to my elbows in tobacco sap and bugs stuck on, trying to swing a machete without bruising or, heavens forbid, breaking any sap-stiff fragile leaves. I’m not stuck in interminable meetings where people are distilled down to their productivity, and all the drama, the tears, the emergencies, the hopes, the dreams, the good or bad luck… is given a thirty-second-per-employee reason to decide whether or not to fire them if they fall below an efficiency threshold.
Yeah, my job has drawbacks. No job is perfect. This job would be a living nightmare for many people… but for me, for now, it’s awesome. And you know what? Those other jobs – they, too, were awesome. There were some terrible moments. There were some wonderful people. They were some frustrations that soured entire weeks. What defines a job as awesome is not the job itself: it’s the mindset you use to react to it.
You should enjoy your job. Like breathing, the people who most enjoy their job are usually the people who were recently not blessed with one. (Air is one of the most underappreciated blissful joys of the universe, as anyone who’s had a malfunctioning regulator or asthma can tell you.) But that’s not just because of income and possibly health insurance. It’s because, as writers, you can also look around and see that your job provides you with close regular contact with people who are completely unlike you. What motivates them? How do they come to decisions? What do they want? How do they deal with problems, frustrations, and unexpected good fortune? What are their speech patterns, and what body language do they use?
When you’re creating worlds inside your head, you’ll be populating them with people, doing jobs. The more you understand why people make decisions that you wouldn’t, and reactions unlike yours, the more your worlds and characters will become real. The better you can describe their body language and replicate their dialogue, the more lifelike they’ll seem. And the more aware you are of the intricacies and minutiae, the conventions and processes of your job, the specific terms and phrases… the better you’ll be able to look for and provide those anchoring details to describe another job and make it come to life.
And if you don’t have a job? You probably have other ways you’re in contact with people, other groups you’re in. If you don’t? Study the movies. What details do they use that make another place, time, or people seem real? What just falls flat? Watch the same actor in two different films, back to back – and watch what he changes to convey two different characters.
…and remember to enjoy yourself, and count your blessings.