• Writers at Work at Work: Dana

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Writing at Work     Comments 4 comments

    Workplace frustrationHappy July 3rd, WriteByNighters! We hope most of you are blessed with the day off and can get your Fourth of July celebrations started the right way.

    Speaking of days off, our latest Writer at Work at Work, Dana, never again has to go work at her electric co-op, which we imagine is a big relief, seeing as how her office was “a mash-up of kindergarten and federal custody.”

    Once again, this series sprang from a conversation I had with a friend who told me that he works on his novel when his boss isn’t buzzing around. I asked for some brave volunteers to share their experiences with us of writing at work, and the responses have been flooding in. Though we’re still taking more! If you’re interested in sharing with us, drop me a line and I’ll get you started. So far we’ve heard from Raymundo and Jake; today we’ll hear from:


    Please describe your work setting: do you have privacy in which to write, or are you out in the open? An inspiring view of nature, or cubicle walls? Computer or longhand?

    My writing at work happened several years ago when I was working for an electric cooperative. I had a dull cubicle that I didn’t personalize or decorate because I was not allowed to. I had a computer for word processing, although I liked to write longhand, but absolutely no access to the Internet and no capability to email.

    Working there was like being in a mash-up of kindergarten and federal custody. Plus, even though I had been hired as a writer—and the hiring manager had led me to believe that my chops were so good and the need for my contribution was so keen—I had hardly any work. The deadlines for the small snippets of writing I did were long and drawn out and protracted, with multiple reviewers who knew nothing of writing but nitpicked the copy because of paranoia and the need to cover their asses.

    The proofreading process was a laugh. Two people had to proofread together. Seriously.

    [Tweet “”Working there was like being in a mash-up of kindergarten and federal custody.””]


    Have you ever been caught writing at work?

    I never got caught. I always wrote head down, pencil or pen on paper. Never looked up so never looked guilty.

    I went to the storage room once to get office supplies and found a stash of the nicest, most beautiful white writing paper, and I grabbed all of it for myself. I wrote letters to friends! Even friends in town. I wrote a story about the hiring process for that very job, a cattle call with a group interview and various characters of all shades of ability. So weird. Must keystroke it sometime and make something of it…

    My manager was a lifer at the co-op and very proud of it. She was smart and skilled but, oh, she had drunk the Kool-Aid. She doled out our assignments on pieces of paper she called buck slips. Rather than toss a task to me verbally from her chair ten feet away, she labored over a small form and then stood up and walked three paces and deposited it in my cubby. I would wait a beat, embarrassed, then stand and retrieve my assignment. With its deadline in the distant future. Which gave me plenty of time to work on my novel and write letters to my friends and family.


    Do your co-workers know you write at work?

    Who knows? I doubt it. I mean, what else could my co-workers have been doing? On staff were three writers/editors and three graphic designers, our manager, and an administrative assistant. Maybe I was the only one who wanted to poke my eyes out every day from boredom. It was sort of don’t ask, don’t tell, though. People were reticent about it—again, very paranoid.


    What would your boss say if he/she knew?

    I think if my manager knew…but how could she not know that I must have been occupying myself with something else? There wasn’t enough work! And the rules for when one’s butt was in one’s chair were strict. Exactly 8 to 5. Lunch was noon to 1, in your chair. Each person had two breaks, strict 15-minute intervals of misery (that’s me talking). At least when I worked at a magazine, when the work was slow you could disappear for a few hours, catch a movie, go for a swim.


    Are you forced to write in fits and starts between tasks, or are you able to set aside blocks of time?

    In this instance, it was b l o c k s   o f   t i m e with no interruptions. I mean, if I got an assignment, I’d find the buck slip in my cubby. My phone never rang. This was before omnipresent cell phones, and I was not even allowed to phone home on my work phone.

    [Tweet “”I never got caught [writing at work] … Never looked up so never looked guilty.””]


    Does your writing style/process at work differ from your style/process at home?

    I like to write my fiction and my letters with paper and pen. At the co-op, it was not unusual to write for work that way, so my doing it didn’t raise any red flags.


    Does your job involve any writing? How do your personal writing and your work writing impact each other?

    My work now is writing, and I write in coffee shops. Love. My bread and butter work is writing online continuing medical education modules. And now I am actually writing this and looking like I am working! Ha. Fooling everyone!

    Note: I lasted four months at that job. A colleague of mine hooked me up with a cool writing job in a high-tech startup, and when I told the co-op manager I was leaving, she did not flinch. Showed no emotion. She said that I probably had learned a lot working for her. I feel like she was really pissed off.


    What are you presently writing at work? Plug your project!

    I am doing writing for pay on a CME module called Adolescent Substance Use, to guide health-care providers in identifying and screening for substance use in adolescents and teens, managing the disease, and referring when necessary. The website is txhealthsteps.com.

    As for my present creative writing venture, I am returning to a nonfiction story I wrote years ago called “Traveling with Horses,” about a trip I took with my husband and children up to Moab, Utah, hauling a trailer with three horses and two dirtbikes. I have only a hard copy of it, so I’ll get it rekeyed and then edit and intensify the marital conflict/story/resolution within it.


    Do you have any advice to pass along to anyone who wants to start writing at work but doesn’t know how, or is scared to try?

    Write in the style and posture you use to work, and no one will be the wiser.

    [Tweet “”Write [on company time] in the style and posture you use to work, and no one will be the wiser.””]


    Many thanks to Dana for sharing her story. If you want to tell us yours, email me at david[at]writebynight.net, or leave a comment below.

    Now get back to writing at work!

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    A writer can never not write or think of writing, it seems. When I was teaching school full-time, I found that many times during the day I would daydream of the novel sitting in my work space at home. Like Dana, I always carry pen and paper, my favorite way to get my ideas down.


    Great post, Dana. Your kool-aid imbibed manager sounds so much like mine. What I find tragic is that even those that have a little bit of a clue cannot imagine living any other way. I just can’t be like that and it’s why I write.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x