Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Better Than An MFA

John Grisham wrote in the New York Times recently (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/06/opinion/06Grisham.html?_r=1&th&emc=th) of the various jobs he held before becoming a popular and successful author.

Though always an avid reader, Grisham comes from a working class background. As he points out in this article, writing was not his childhood dream. He came to writing after a series of low-paying, dead-end jobs, a general law practice and a period as a legislator in Mississippi.

A Time to Kill, his first novel, was inspired by witnessing the testimony of a 12-year-old rape victim. It had a rocky road to publication and was not an immediate success. The Firm, his second effort, was the seventh best-selling novel of 1991 and paved the way for his new career.

In the Times article, Grisham calls writing the most difficult job he’s had.

Most of us who have come to writing—whether it was a childhood dream or not—have suffered a variety of other jobs over the years. There are few overnight successes in this business.

Personally, in my jobs resume, I can list periods as a waiter, fruit/vegetable picker, laborer on a roofing crew, clerk, warehouse worker, antiques picker, painter, chicken factory worker, among others before becoming a reporter and later newspaper editor. In the Army I went from rifleman to military police trainee, to reporter and editor.

Though I didn’t like many of these jobs at the time, I no longer regret any of them. They provide me a broad canvas of characters and knowledge. If we’re honest, I think most of us who write can be thankful for the insights into other ways of life these varied opportunities provide. It can’t be equaled by reading or in a classroom. Such knowledge is second-hand. Experience is the greatest teacher and imagination craves such stimulus.


  1. John - What a well-taken point! I've had a lot of different sorts of jobs, too, and every one of them has taught me something and put me in contact with all kinds of people. That does, indeed, give a writer plenty of experience and background to draw on...

  2. I so agree, I have had a variety of jobs too, John and it is so handy when you are looking for a job for a character. Besides, variety is the spice of life. One of my favourite jobs was as a waitress at Schrafts!