Sometimes my job-job gets me down. (“Job-job” meaning the job you have to have in order to survive, as opposed to the work you’d rather be doing, namely, your latest writing venture. Duh.) In my case, the job-job is transcription—you know, listening to sound files of interviews, speeches, focus groups, etc., and converting them into hardcopy via computer keyboard. I’m lucky enough to do it only part-time and to work out of my apartment, which makes it a heck of a lot more palatable, but still… Like I said, having to devote so many hours to it can occasionally give me the gloomy-dooms.
Recently, I had a little power surge when it occurred to me that if it weren’t for my job-job, I may not have become a writer at all. I remember one day when I was working in the office of our company on East 42nd Street… [CUE FLASHBACK MUSIC AND WAVY SCREEN] I was doing a transcription for a regular client called the Trumpet Club. I don’t know if they still exist. They used to do radio broadcasts of children’s book authors reading from their published works for classrooms. Some of it was fantastic, awe-inspiring stuff, but some of it was—well, honestly, I remember thinking, “Ugh. I think I can do better than that.” I was so overcome with this personal challenge that I began composing a poem on the way home from work that very day. “The Monster Inside Me” I think I’d called it. Anyway, that poem turned out to be the catalyst for many other poems, articles and short stories that would see the golden light of publication in several magazines—which led to a few writing classes—which led to a great critique group—which led to two published middle-grade novels and another one on the way. Thanks, Trumpet Club!
To this day, I’m always jotting things down as I transcribe for use in my writing. Interesting words, names, places, phrases, facts, expressions, dialects… In fact, the inspiration for my third novel came entirely from a transcription job I was working on in which there was a discussion about something called the “whispering gallery” in Grand Central Station. I had never even heard of it at the time, but it’s an unmarked area just outside the Oyster Bar Restaurant where a whisper in one corner can be heard clear as day in the opposite corner. (Very cool. Something to do with the curved ceilings.) I immediately thought, “What a great concept for a novel! What if someone who wasn’t aware of this phenomenon happened to be standing in the corner plotting out a crime with his cohort—and it was accidentally overheard by an innocent bystander?” That little nugget of a thought turned into my middle-grade novel, Boondoggle, which was recently acquired by Walker Books.
I know, I know—inspiration can come from anywhere, not only yelchy job-jobs. But if you happen to be stuck in one (and you probably are) do keep your eyes and ears open and your notepad ready. You can get more out of it than just a paycheck.