I sat at a desk that I shared with two other people as a piece of paper was handed to me from my boss. I was nineteen years old, my boss was my dad, and the paper was an estimate for repairs for one of our clients. I don’t recall for what repairs exactly or even the cost, except that this client was going to be pissed at whoever was unfortunate enough to deliver the expensive news.
“You need to call them,” I was told. And that was that.
My father had started his pool company from scratch one year before I was born. I had worked a few jobs before joining the family ranks, but eventually landed there out of convenience and a false notion that it would be a simple job—answering phones, taking messages and the like. Perhaps even a little filing. Having just dropped out of university that year, just having any job at all was my only career ambition at that moment.
So, the estimate in hand, I called the client with zero idea just how to properly approach the topic of “I know money is tight for you, but here’s an estimate for lots of money and, oh, your pool won’t work until it’s fixed”. It did not go well. I said something stupid. Then I spent the next hour or so apologizing to both the client and my boss/dad. And right there in that moment of customer service hell, I also began to understand the cunning power of words.
I continued to learn through multiple failures, out of self-preservation to not get yelled at. I learned about words through phone calls and faxes and emails, through hirings and firings, through employee reviews and business acquisitions. I learned by drafting proposals and contracts. I learned while attending conventions and conferences and pool industry galas (yes folks, this is absolutely a thing).
Being the poster child for introversion and working in one the most customer facing industries on the planet, I taught myself how to articulate properly in order to get people out of my personal space bubble as quickly and efficiently as possible. This meant knowing how to talk to them, knowing how to manipulate the situation, how to arm myself with just the right word at just the right moment to mitigate shit blowing up in my face.
At nineteen I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a “real” writer yet. I was still in the mapping-out-battle-scenes-in-my-journal stage of writing. I hadn’t even the faintest idea of how to structure a basic scene, let alone a novel. Yet there I was, getting a crash course of the versatility of words, whether I wanted it or not.
At a speaking event I attended recently, author Kim Stanley Robinson touched on the benefits of day jobs for writers. It was a refreshing take, considering the engagement was hosted by Arizona State University and attended in bulk by students, of which I was not. Nothing makes you feel more like a flame out loser than surrounding yourself with a room full of MFA candidates, and as I was shrinking into my seat, feeling woefully outclassed as a full time pool lady, part time writer, Mr. Robinson began to speak about yet a second creative benefit to day jobs—mining the work place for inspiration.
I immediately perked up, piecing together all the ways I was already doing just that. How I used the eccentricities and flare and dynamism of the people I work with, incorporated so many of their quirks, their smiles and their hair styles, to turn my characters paper skin to flesh—The grandfather that kept a dedicated drawer in his work desk for Hillshire Farms meat, the coworker that interrupted a work meeting to announce the name of his car (Trixie), the mother (me) whose kid brushed his teeth with a highlighter one day when brought to work with her.
Authors sometimes see a day job as a hindrance to their writing life. The goal is to eliminate it, but in actuality it can be fuel. It’s life, it’s robust and strange and frustrating and chaotic. The characters are literally kicking down the doors, smashing their faces against the windows, and begging us to buy some girl scout cookies from their kid.
I always joke that the second I could make a living wage off of my writing all you’d see is a me-shaped cloud of dust in my office where I used to sit. And maybe I would dial it back a bit, work part time, but I’m finding more and more that to ditch the day job entirely is not part of my ideal future. It’s far too lucrative.
Or perhaps I’m just saying that to convince myself that it’s totally cool that I haven’t sold a book yet. Time will tell.
Author bio for Tiffany Meurat: Tiffany is a writer and desert dweller from Phoenix, Arizona. Her work can be found or is forthcoming with Four Chambers Press, Eunoia Review, Collective Unrest, Martian, and others. She is most often found wasting time on Twitter as @TMeuretBooks