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October 4, 2010

Staff Picks: Don't Quit Your Day Job

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 9:01 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

There are a great many (and many great) literary books about work. There are those that search for the deeper meaning of work by interviewing others about the work they do, such as Po Bronson's What Should I Do with My Life?, Studs Terkel's Working, and The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alex De Botton. There are wonderful business novels, from Herman Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener to Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full. There are humorous work memoirs such as Dan Kennedy's Rock On and Iain Levison's underappreciated A Working Stiff's Manifesto.There's even a great literary anthology about business in literature, called Minding the Store: Great Writing about Business, from Tolstoy to Now.
Now there is a book that sits near the intersection of all of those categories. Instead of interviewing workers as others have before him, editor Sonny Brewer asked a collection of southern authors to write stories of what they did before (and as) they made the transition to writing full time. The result is Don't Quit Your Day Job: Acclaimed Authors and the Day Jobs They Quit. You will probably recognize some of the contributors, like John Grisham (The Rainmaker and A Time to Kill), Winston Groom (Forrest Gump) and Daniel Wallace (Big Fish), and hopefully get to know some of the others—like Tom Franklin (if you don't already know him), the author of Hell at the Breach, Smonk, and the forthcoming Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. George Singleton, author of Why Dogs Chase Cars and Work Shirts for Madmen, begins his wonderfully written story entitled "Refuse" by stating:
I'm pretty sure that my blind headfirst leap into writing fiction occurred for the same reasons it occurred with my brethren: I had discovered some new types of music, I'd been scorned one too many times by a woman, and my summer job involved driving a garbage truck.
In "Tote Monkey," Josilyn Jackson writes:
I said, "Sure. I will be an office assistant. Why not?" I know the answer to that now. The job should have been called Paper Tote Monkey. Because that's what I did. I toted paper. [...] I learned quickly that since I had flunked out of school, gotten in a fight with God, moved away from all my friends, and was so ashamed that I was desperate to avoid my family, boredom was the worst thing for me. Being a Tote Monkey gave me way too much time to think, and I spent it dwelling on all the ways I'd failed.
Don't worry... it's gotten much better for Ms. Jackson. She's now the New York Times bestselling author of gods in Alabama, Between, Georgia, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming and Backseat Saints. Some people work to satisfy their creative urges outside of their day job; Their are poets in our factories, painters in our corn fields and short story writers in our used-car lots. Being a garbage man or an office assistant is honorable, and is fulfilling work if approached right. But Don't Quit Your Day Job reinforces that sometimes you have to (quit your day job), that there's also honor in pursuing your passion as your career. And, hey, sometimes it even works out.