Writing About Work

I had a female foreign student once who bought me lingerie as an end-of-semster gift. As I held up the see-through teddy and matching g-string, I tried my best to thank her with a straight face.

A large kid (almost 200 lbs) I babysat in high school threw a tantrum at McDonalds when I refused to order him a Big Mac. I thought I’d have to call the cops. He was double my size and I couldn’t get him off the ground where he laid, kicking. When I finally got him into my car, he spat at my windows the whole ride back to my house, then, once outside, pelted  me with the landscaping rocks that lined our bushes.

One morning before umpiring (my summer job all throughout high school and college) I slathered my cheeks with new acne ointment. It was an overcast day, so I didn’t heed the warning that it would make my skin sensitive to the sun. That is, until I took my mask off afterwards and couldn’t smile or close my eyes, so taught was my burnt skin. I had to go to my spring dance with bulbous blisters in the shape of a catcher's mask. The sores cracked and oozed when I talked or blinked, and I had to dab perpetually at my face with a Kleenex.



Not one of us moves throughout life without having a job—whether it pays lots, little, or nothing at all. And because of the personality clashes, the menial tasks, and the creative pranks, each of us is bound to have a work story to share.

When I teach my freshmen Expository Writing class, I always give the same first-day assignment—write about about your first kiss, your worst job, or your biggest obsession. The majority of students always pick the worst job prompt. Even at ages 18 and 19, these students have tales to tell—about working in the family corpse-embalming business, cleaning bathrooms at a beach house, or falling in love while working at Dunkin Donuts.

The amazing thing about writing about work is that you are an expert. You might not think so, but you are, and you have the ability to share this word with your readers. You have an insider’s perspective. What is it like to be a Christmas elf at Macy’s? David Sedaris wrote an amazingly comedic essay on the subject that launched his writing career. How are your gourmet restaurant meals really prepared? Anthony Bourdain exposed the world to chaos in the kitchen in his memoir, Kitchen Confidential. Ever experience a workplace tragedy? You’re not alone. Jo Ann Beard’s piece, Fourth State of Matter,  describes such an experience.

So, I urge you, the next time you’re out of writing ideas, think about the things that have recently happened at work. Make a list of anecdotes. Choose one that has possibility. Read Sedaris, Bourdain, Beard. Get inspired. Write. Better yet, take my Grub Street class, and we’ll do all of the above, together, in a friendly yet organized environment where you’ll have to produce something. You'll feed off of the hilarity, heartbreak, and havoc in each other’s pieces.

Because whether we want to face it or not, writing about work takes a little bit of, well, work.

About the Author See other articles by Nadine Kenney Johnstone
by Nadine Kenney Johnstone


Craft Advice

Rate this!

Currently unrated