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Buy This Book: Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Acclaimed Authors and the Day Jobs They Quit edited by Sonny Brewer

“I just wonder why no one has done this before. The truth is that this book will allow writers to do the one thing we tend to strive for most: build a bridge between ourselves and our readers. It will connect us, fiercely, with the people who love to read, and those who dream about writing as they work at their own jobs…” Rick Bragg, author of All Over but the Shoutin’ and former sledgehammer operator

It is a wonder no one had thought of it before and if weren’t for a flat tire which led to cheeseburgers at the Bulldog in Jackson, Mississippi ….. you’ll have to read the book for the full story ….. Sonny Brewer might have kept on writing a memoir instead of convincing his writer friends (a veritable who’s who Southern literature) to be part of this remarkable anthology. It should be noted that Sonny knew a fair bit about day jobs — before he sold The Poet of Tolstoy Park to Random House, he was an electronics technician in the US Navy, a six-night-a-week singer in a honky tonk band, owned a tire store, helped to found a weekly newspaper, managed a coffee house and owned a bookstore.

Like Sonny, his friends have toiled at a remarkable variety of jobs — many of them dark, dispiriting and dangerous. They’ve worked on the railroad, fought fires, wiped tables, soldiered and carpentered, delivered pizzas, sold underwear and driven garbage trucks. And they all made the transition to what William Gay (Provinces of Night) has dubbed “clocking in at the culture factory.” A sneak peek:

“The best part of working for the P.O. was I could think about my first novel all day long. Sometimes I composed entire scenes between runs of mailboxes. One of my mail routes was about 80 miles long and one day I finished it with absolutely no recollection of delivering my mail because I was so caught up in thinking about an intense chapter of Clay’s Quilt, my first novel. But, as far as I know, none of the mail was delivered incorrectly that day.”
Silas House, author of four novels, two plays and winner of the Appalachian Writer of the Year Award.

“ Those of us who write for a living want the rest of the world to think it’s real, real hard. We invent myths about it, to make it seem like man’s work. I have always loved the stories about fighting writers, carousing writers, whiskey-drinking, bull-fighting, foxhole-diving, swordfish-catching, señorita-romancing, big game-hunting, husband-defying writers, and tell myself that is where I belong, not with the fretting, pencil-neck writers who need to see their therapist twice a week to connect with their inner child. But the toughest writer I ever met, I ever heard of, would have lasted about a week on my Uncle Ed’s crew.”
Rick Bragg, author of Ava’s Man and The Prince of Frogtown.

“I was out of money and wound up taking a job for a dollar an hour putting up shelves at a plant that made canvas tarpaulins. What I learned from that job was that if you are tall, like I am, you will always be told to put up the highest shelf. Top shelf or not, it was a hell of a comedown from being an officer in the United States Army commanding men in combat in Vietnam.”
Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump

“I am kept by one Wendel R. Owens of Truman, Arkansas, who is also my husband of thirty years, and takes a lot of pride in the fact that his wife is educated and free to pursue a life of arty leisure …. We were introduced over a pew, and when we shook hands, it was a magical moment. I looked at him, he looked at my chest, and it was a done deal. It was Cracker kismet.”
Janis Owens, author of My Brother Michael, Myra Sims, The Schooling of Claybird Catts and The Cracker Kitchen.

And William Gay writes of a horrific job at a boat paddle plant where “you got high on the miasmic fumes rolling from the heated vat. Drunker as the night progressed. Not just gently high but drunk as a lord, drunk as a bicycle, drunk as a fiddler’s bitch, sleeping it off in the gutter drunk.” When he decided to quit, his friend Curtis had asked what he would do. “… I wondered that myself. I would find some way to make a living and I would write at night. I had no words for the way the snow looked drifting down in the streetlights and I wanted those words. If they were anywhere I would find them.”


This book sounds great! Still laughing at the "cracker kismet."

I know Joni and I have each held some hilariously-horrific (hilarious now, not then) day jobs on the way to writing books. But that's how you learn the secrets of dialog and motivation (mainly, motivation to get the heck out.) Many, many working writers keep a foot in "real life" (usually not by choice) by continuing to work day jobs that offer benefits and a more reliable way to keep the roofs over our heads.

Thanks for the great post, Lucinda!
Joni Rodgers said…
Who but William Gay says "drunk as a bicycle"? That's awesome.

And yes, I've never tried to hide the checkered past in which I was a waitress, assembly line factory worker, bull semen dispatcher, ship-to-shore operator, cleaning lady at a porn theater, grocery checker/bagger, and Dulci the Singing Clown.

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