On May 19, 1993, I reported to work for my first real job…or more precisely the first one I held after graduating from university. Prior to that I had worked three years as an electronics salesperson at Sears while attending Texas A&M, and before that I toiled in the pit room of a barbecue restaurant for three other years. Unlike a lot of my friends, I didn’t enjoy bouncing from one job to the next, so as far as teenage employees were concerned I was about as loyal as they come.

In May of 1993 Nirvana were still writing songs for the September release of their third album, In Utero. Bill Clinton was in the fifth month of his Presidency. The Dallas Cowboys had recently annihilated the Buffalo Bills 52-17 in the greatest Super Bowl ever played. Heidi Montag was six years old and was still sporting her original face.

Then, this past April 8, after almost seventeen years of employment with the same company, I was laid off for financial reasons, along with 63 other employees.

When I first began my new job, I had moved to Tulsa from Texas. My girlfriend came with me and it was like starting life over again. But this didn’t seem all that unusual to me, since as a kid I had moved countless times, rarely living in any town for more than two years. It didn’t seem likely I would be in Tulsa very long, since my home was Texas and also because I had recently decided I wanted to write novels for a living.

Of course most anyone on this site knows that making money writing fiction isn’t something you simply decide to do. There is a process of paying dues, and even then you might not make enough money to support yourself. As I wrote my first novel I approached this reality first with naiveté, and later denial, while reporting dutifully to work every day.

But oh, I hated it. For the first six years I worked as a Customer Service Representative. During that time I answered around 100,000 phone calls. There were days when I wondered, as I drove to work, exactly how much it might hurt to drive my car into oncoming traffic or perhaps off a highway overpass. The idea being that I could collect long term disability and accelerate the novel writing process while I healed. Toward the end I was a terrible asshole to people on the phone, in creative ways that would make all of you hate me, but I simply couldn’t help myself. After all, when someone called, I didn’t pick up a handset and place it against my ear. I didn’t push a button to admit the phone calls into my headset. No, I was always on, always available to receive a call, and I sat there like the victim of a firing squad, waiting with my back turned to the callers, who picked up their telephones and fired into my head and I was helpless to stop it. I hated them. I was Sartre on steroids.

Eventually I got smart and realized novels weren’t going to pay the bills any time soon. My company wanted to a launch a massive and sophisticated web site, so I applied for one of the relevant jobs and landed it. Suddenly life was amazing. I wasn’t tied to a telecommunications fence post any longer. I could go to the bathroom when I wanted. If I didn’t make it back from lunch in an hour, I wasn’t forced to weather dirty looks from my co-workers. Also, after a year or so on the job, I was promoted and began to make a lot more money.

I realized my prior logic had been flawed. While in Customer Service I had chosen not to apply for more important jobs because I thought it would mean working longer hours, and I didn’t want to take time away from writing. But a happier work day made me a much more effective writer, and a few years later I finally found an agent and sold my first novel. My contract was pretty good, and my editor wanted a second book, so I figured my days working in the corporate world were numbered. For this reason I flourished even more. I became a changed man, a real man. A confident man. I’d picked a difficult goal—selling a novel to a major publisher—and achieved it. I was very proud of this, and it was reflected in every facet of my life…including my corporate job.

Eventually it turned out that I remained naïve about the publishing industry and what it took to be financially successful in it. Even as I became a better writer and wrote a good third book, it wasn’t picked up by my publisher. My agent suggested I write another one. I didn’t react well to this idea because it would delay my emancipation from the cubicle by another couple of years, and subconsciously I was already out the door.

The odd part of all this is I never looked at my corporate job as my life. It was something I did to make an “interim” living. In the years after Customer Service I earned plenty of raises, and combined with my contract advance I was certainly not struggling financially. I imagined the day I turned in my resignation letter would be one of the happiest of my life, and certainly the most fulfilling.

In fact, on the last day of my employment, when I realized why I had been called into an unscheduled meeting, I passed through the stages of shock quickly. Adrenaline shot through me, turning my hands sweaty, doubling my heart rate. After seventeen years of the same daily routine—almost half my life—things were never going to be the same. But once I heard the details of my dismissal, and after I calculated the severance pay in my head, a sense of calm settled over me. I realized I had a wonderful opportunity to take time off and finish my next novel. My agent and I had been going back and forth with successive drafts of it, and I knew I was close to something we could sell.

On top of that, I had gained enough expertise in web marketing to start a consulting firm if I wanted. Seventeen years of making friends and business contacts in Tulsa meant I would have no trouble meeting potential clients. And I would finally be free of those four gray walls I despised so much.

To be clear, the company for which I worked is a good one. Employee retention levels are extremely high because the people who work there enjoy the corporate culture. I never disliked anyone in the office and in fact built many strong friendships. I enjoyed the chance to be creative in my work and the opportunity to travel overseas for the first time. The God Particle is set partly in Switzerland because of the many times I flew there for my job.

But because of such a strong, lifelong desire to write novels, I never developed the passion for my day job that it takes to become truly successful and happy. When people asked me what I did for a living, I would tell them I was a writer and, oh, I also did web marketing for a company here in town. Which wasn’t exactly the proportional truth and certainly not fair to a company that had given me so much.

I realize many people have been laid off from their jobs. I certainly can’t complain about the situation I find myself in, because I don’t have a family to support, and I have every chance to land squarely on my feet.

But since I never really considered the marketing work my trade, since I didn’t think it was an important part of my identity, it’s odd to now find myself so directionless. I can write 5,000 words a day if I really want to, and I wrote almost 1,000 a day when I was working a full time in the office. So why have I written almost nothing since I was let go? Why haven’t I posted here? Yes, I’ve filed the paperwork for my S-Corp, I’ve designed business cards and met with possible marketing clients, but mainly it seems like the days come and go with disturbing speed and I can’t remember exactly what I did with them.

When I think about this behavior, especially considering how driven to succeed I’ve always been, it becomes easy to see how someone can drift away from a structured life. It’s not difficult to imagine how someone might become lethargic and lose their sense of direction. We’ve all heard stories of successful people losing their way, even becoming homeless, and I’ve always wondered how someone could allow themselves to drift so far off course. But now I have an idea. Laziness is insidious. It sneaks up on you and caresses you and pretty soon you see nothing wrong with getting up at noon every day. After seventeen years toiling away in a cubicle, you’ve earned it, right?

Intellectually, the flaws in this thinking are obvious. And feeling sorry for yourself is absurd when there are so many people in the world suffering through terrible lives I can’t even imagine.

But experience is subjective, and in any life you have to find your own way. I would never, under normal circumstances, make public something that demonstrates such frailty of character. Writing about lost spelling bees in the sixth grade might be cute, but revealing inadequacies of the present day is something I don’t do easily.

I’m doing it anyway, even if I’m the only person who reads this post, because it’s a way to hold myself accountable. The opportunity to remake your life doesn’t come around often, and when it does, you’ve got to make the most of it.

So there you go. No more screwing around.

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RICHARD COX is the author of The Boys of Summer, Thomas World, The God Particle, and Rift. He can be reached on Facebook or at his personal web site, www.richardcox.net.

144 responses to “The Temptation of Doing Nothing”

  1. Slade Ham says:

    well, at least one other person has read this. Now, rock the fuck on.

      • sheree says:

        Ahahaha! yeah, what Mr Smithson said!

        Remarkable write. It reminded me of an “every man” story. Something i think a lot of people can unfortunately relate too these days.
        Cheers to no more mucking off. A shimmer of focus beats the crap out of no focus. Best wishes for a wonderful second act in life.

  2. Lorna says:

    Now, two have read it…unless someone beats me to the comment. This sounds like a perfect opportunity to fulfill your dream. Go do it!

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Lorna. It’s weird to look at losing your job as an opportunity, but people always say these things turn out for the best. So that’s what I’m doing. Now that I’ve taken a vacation. Haha.

  3. Greg Olear says:

    You’d mentioned to me that this happened, and I was wondering how you were holding up, so I’m glad you posted this.

    Some thoughts:

    I don’t think you’re being lazy. It takes time to reorient yourself, and after 17 years of the sort-of same routine, you need, and deserve, a break. It’s therapeutic; even if it feels like lost time, it’s not. I’m a firm believer in this. Writing is not always about writing. It’s also about breaking from writing to allow your subconscious — where the big ideas are generated — time to operate. Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.

    I always work best when I have other things going on. When I have to deal with the kids, or write an article, or mow the lawn, or whatever. If I ever went to Yaddo or something, I’d probably sit there staring at the wall like a moron. On those rare occasions when I do have a few hours of nada, I feel pressure to write write write, and sometimes I do, but other times I smoke a cigar, or go for a walk, or read. Enjoy myself. Relax. It’s important.

    Re: the relationship between the day-job, the writing, and your identity (and by “your” I mean “one’s”). It was always hard for me to disclose that I was a writer before my book came out; that has not changed with my book coming out, oddly, even though I don’t have a true day job now (because of the kids, not because I make enough dough writing). The only job I have is “writer,” and yet when someone asks, I’m obliged to mention the being-a-dad thing, and if they ask what I write, I almost always tell them, “Oh, I write for Hudson Valley Magazine,” instead of mentioning the novelist business.

    It recalls a quote by Roy Blount Jr, which I’m paraphrasing: “What did Jesse James say when someone asked what he did? He probably said, ‘I’m in the railroad business,’ or, ‘I work with trains.’ I find it very very hard to say that I’m a writer.”

    Anyway, this break is going to be good for you. Something good, many good things probably, will come out of it.

    • Richard Cox says:

      I agree with you about taking a step back if you’re talking about a few weeks off. It’s been more than a month now so that’s why I think I’m getting antsy. Normally I get all weird if I don’t write for a few days. It seems like running in place, going nowhere, even though I know you’re correct about letting things breathe.

      It’s a fine line between relaxing and fucking around. A writer writes, right? Or at least attempts to secure some kind of gainful employment.

      Anyway, the vacation has been nice and now the batteries should be recharged. I appreciate the kind words. I figured you’d tell me to fuck off after your most recent post. 😉

      • Greg Olear says:

        Gainful employment is for chumps. And writers don’t write — we procrastinate. “Make notes” is the euphemism I use.

        Now get to work, you slacker. ; )

        • Richard Cox says:

          I’ve always wondered if I had taken the struggling artist route, where I would be now. Still waiting tables? Hooked on amphetamines and writing pulp science fiction? Stephen King?

          Here, let me toss my manuscript in the trash and see if Tabitha will fish it out for me while I drink myself into oblivion. Or not.

        • Greg Olear says:

          As long as yo didn’t wind up rooting for the Red Sox, I think you’re good.

        • reno says:

          ha. nice one, greg!

          richard: i totally understand where you’re coming from. i’m an ex-teacher and am disgusted by the job market like i’m disgusted with sherri shepard. good luck out there, sir. tulsa, eh? my ex-wife hails from broken arrow. up until we ditched each other i’d go to okhema every year to visit family and of course to the damn woody guthrie festival. whiskey. brisket. indian tacos. good times.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Whiskey. Brisket. Indian tacos.

          Good times, indeed. Although I’ve never been to Okemah. Or maybe I did storm chasing once.

          P.S. I had to Google Sherri Shepherd.

    • Megan says:

      “It’s also about breaking from writing to allow your subconscious – where the big ideas are generated – time to operate…smoke a cigar, or go for a walk, or read. Enjoy myself. Relax. It’s important.”

      Greg, this is some Writer’s Digest gold. It’s tricky, knowing when to fold and when to hold. When am I avoiding writing vs. when am I legit taking a break? I hardly ever know.

      • Greg Olear says:

        Thanks, Megan.

        I think a lot of people advise you to writewritewrite, write every day, write all the time, and I haven’t found that to be effective. I write something everyday, usually, but not The Project, whatever The Project happens to be. Fits and starts. That’s how it’s worked for me.

    • Rachel Pollon says:

      (I love this paraphrased quote by Roy Blout Jr., Greg, and am going to use it. Somewhere.)

      There are 80+ other comments to read that I can’t get to right now but I just want to say, Richard, that I appreciate reading this and relate way too much. I’ve rolled this awareness around inside my head but hadn’t given it a name. Drifting is the scary word for it. Thanks for the smack. I, also, think there is something to stepping away from things, gaining experience, living life, but it always comes back to actually sitting the frig down in front of the computer and providing the opportunity for creation to happen.

      Having said that, I have to go walk my dog now.

      R 😉

      • Greg Olear says:

        Wish I could find the exact quote, because it’s much better than how I wrote it, but it didn’t pop up on Google, alas…

      • Richard Cox says:

        Yes, Greg has it right with the occasional deep breath, and taking the time to think about what you want to write. But also, the road to publication is littered with people who never quite made it because they spent too much time preparing to write and not enough time doing it.

        Like everything, balance is key.

        Did your dog eat any flattened frogs during its walk?

  4. Judy Prince says:

    Wow, Richard, what an eloquent deep-down dig into your frustration at your current behaviour! I recognise you now in your novels’ protagonists: cubicle-haters who itch to escape. One difference is that you have had the unquenchable desire to write novels during the escape, and they did not.

    I’m now a self-regulating person, delighted to be so, and eternally grateful to a pension that allows me freedom from The Office of Chains And Torture.

    Yet I recall right after retirement, for a time (can’t remember how long) having wild swings of guilt for “not doing anything” as well as relief for “not having to do anything”. But with the new freedom from restricted movement, actions and worries, ideas started bubbling up in my mind. I loved burying myself in them, marrying idea to idea, bringing them through to a finish—–and that’s the way I’ve stayed.

    So, p’raps you need to cut yourself some slack.

    I’m eager to read your new book!

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Judy. I wondered if someone would equate this to retirement, and it’s interesting to hear your take on that. I’m glad to know it can be a source of inspiration (and relaxation!)

      However, I’m not retired yet, unfortunately. Man, wouldn’t that be nice.

      As far as cubicle haters go, when you read the new book, you are going to laugh. I have taken that plot device to its theoretical extreme. I’ll have to look for a new angle in the next one.

      • Judy Prince says:

        Aha, Richard—-now you’ve whet my curiosity even more! I’ll laff, huh?

        As long as you’ve got some awesome love-interest stuff going on, I’ll accept a cockroach-sucking robotic cesspool cleaner (who happens to inhabit a cubicle, natch).

        No love interest, then I want my money back. 😉

        • Richard Cox says:

          Yes, Judy, the new one is a love story at its core. More than any of the others. But it’s a whacked-out love story that Philip K Dick would write at his most delirious. So we’ll see how that works.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Wow, Richard, more romantic than any of the others?!

          And whacked out?!

          I might have to buy a copy for my beautiful daughter-in-law; she’s an omnivore of novels and especially bodice-rippers. What I think is cool is that your books don’t have that “man book” or “woman book” feel going on.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Well, Judy, there isn’t as much sex this time around, I’m afraid. It’s more love and less lust. At least on the page.

          But there are a couple of brief sex scenes. I’m not a complete fool. 😉

        • Judy Prince says:

          Hey, Richard, note I said “romantic”—-not “sex”, scenes. I make no apologies for saying and thinking and demanding “romantic”, just as I can enjoy a good sex scene. “Romance” and “sex” are not easy to do well. Key, of course, is excellent thinking and excellent writing. Both which you’ve got. Let us know when your book’s available. I think it’s time I got an autographed copy, too.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Good point, Judy. You threw me off with the “bodice ripper” comment. And I always appreciate your kind words about my writing. As much as I crave strong critiques, the warm, fuzzy stuff is what motivates me to sit down every day and keep after it.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Richard, strong critiques is what I’ve been giving you!

          I generally avoid reading novels, ok? That began back in middle school, the one exception being Mary Ann Evans’ _Middlemarch_, and it continued through my uni English Lang & Lit degree. I couldnae avoid one big fat course called, appropriately, THE NOVEL. We read 12 novels, did 12 papers plus a Big Paper using EM Forster’s _Aspects of the Novel_ as the tool for analyses. I credit the professor for assigning novels that blew my head off with every emotion known to one of the TNB deities. But my truest brightest sexiest love (other than with dear Rodent) is for plays and for playwrighting. So I concentrated on that and then poetry until TNB writers began chipping away at my no-novel-reading stance.

          Back to you. So I bought your books and kind of hated you bcuz they didnae give much time to sleep. That is, I kept wanting to see what would happen next. I ATE those books, Richard. Therefore I think you should send me replacement copies (with your autograph, please).

          Oh, “bodice ripper” as far as I know applies pejoratively to novels that “only” females read. I love the phrase “bodice ripper” itself.

          One professor said that women write differently than men, which may well be true, but I didnae like her assumption. I countered that there’s no more “girly” fiction (using her standards for such) than Tolstoy’s _War and Peace_.

  5. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Ahhh…. I cannot and will not share many details (to my chagrin) but please believe that I know exactly where you are, my friend. A few lifetimes ago, I was already given a choice seat in the lifeboat while my manager had unknowingly been marked for going down with the ship. I made a compelling argument to his boss for me to trade places with him. I thought I’d take a few weeks to screw around, catch up on some living….

    I was out of two years. And became almost entirely new man – a far better and freer one. Lots of opportunity here, my friend. I envy you and appreciate your coming out so publicly. Congratulations and let me know if you might be traveling northeast during your sabbatical. I’m losing track but believe I owe you a drink.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Hmmm…no details? Again I remain convinced you are in the WPP. Haha.

      Two years? How did you pay your mortgage? I wouldn’t feel so bad if I didn’t know I would be insolvent in about six months. I suppose I could sell all my worldly belongings and move to Australia…speaking of that, Simon, where are we on that exchange program??

      Seriously, I’m glad to know it worked out for you. It’s like a life reboot, no? If I can get things on track here I may decide to travel a bit, and your state is one of my favorite destinations. And I think we owe each other a drink? I’ve lost count as well.

      • Simon Smithson says:

        I’m ready to trade when you are amigo.

      • Andrew Nonadetti says:

        I, um, had some rainy-day funds put aside to hold us over but it was getting lean towards the end. If not for my wife’s biological clock, I likely would have started hocking stuff to stretch it out further ;).

        Drop me a line if you’ll be in the neighborhood.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Rainy day funds, yes, but two years worth? That’s amazing.

          I mean, I could dip into the 401k, I suppose, but that doesn’t seem like the smart way to go. I applaud your dedication to savings. If everyone in the country did that, including the government itself…but that’s another discussion. One that is probably causing Becky to writhe in her sleep at this very moment.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Sorry – just noticed this. I had made some good investments in the years prior, didn’t have kids yet (; and found a ton of areas in which I could save money. Few financial smoke tests are more effective than the desperation of a creative man seeking to avoid employment.

          Yeah. I need to go to bed. Politics will have to wait – thank God/Guy/Tricia Helfer.

  6. Simon Smithson says:

    “The opportunity to remake your life doesn’t come around often, and when it does, you’ve got to make the most of it.”


    Right there.

    Eerily, I got a text from a friend this morning. She’s spent the last week sending me quotes and sayings, one a day, via SMS. Today was one I’d never heard before – ‘the problem with doing nothing is not knowing when you’re finished.’

    Eloquence (well put, Judy), is probably the best way to sum up this piece, RC. I’m looking forward to whatever it is you create next.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Simon, do thank your friend for the message: ‘the problem with doing nothing is not knowing when you’re finished.’

      Reminds me of Yogi Berra’isms and Samuel Goldwynisms (where’s Uche, his champion?!). It’s a keeper.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Simon, that text is what we call in the business the SSSHRCE. Otherwise known as The Guy. Fuck that guy!

      I figure a guy like you, who up and moved to SF, knows a lot more about life rebooting than me. I think I’ll go back and re-read that post. Experience is relative, to be sure.

      You guys still coming to Dallas? Unfortunately I can’t make it to LA because I’m conserving funds for the time being.

  7. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Maybe it’s not laziness as much as a necessary reboot. I left a perfectly good job (teaching four subjects at an all-girls college preparatory, which generates an ungodly amount of work) not too long ago to be able to devote more time to writing. I went from being an overloaded workaholic to being a complete slacker. Maybe a change like that is just a shock to the system for a bit. I eventually found my momentum again. Here’s to finding yours! By the way, I graduated from TU 😉 I haven’t heard a tornado siren since.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Yeah, you’re probably right. But I think Simon’s quote above is key…knowing when the doing nothing is over is important. Seems like it worked for you. Glad to hear it!

      Hey, tornadoes are one of the best things about Oklahoma. Then again, I’m a storm chaser on the side so I’m a bit biased. It’s actually been quite nice to have days free because I can get out in front of the storms earlier. Ha!

      TU is a pretty good school from what I understand. And they had a great basketball team a few years ago. Made it to the Elite 8 one year.

      • Tawni says:

        Was Shea Seals on the TU team that year? He’s my next-door neighbor. Isn’t that funny? He and his wife are awesome neighbors.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Ha! He was on the teams that put TU on the map but I think he might have graduated the year before the Elite 8 appearance. When I first moved to Tulsa I couldn’t believe there was a small school that was a force in basketball. TU remains the only Oklahoma school that I’ll root for when it comes to sports. I’ve gradually accepted my identity as a Tulsan but not so much for Oklahoma in general. I don’t really think of Tulsa being in Oklahoma. I’m sure you understand.

  8. Lenore says:

    but isn’t there something valuable about laziness? getting up at noon every day? maybe it just seems that way when your alarm clock is set for 6:30 am. i dunno, it sounds to me like you deserve to sleep a little. for christ’s sake, you’ve done a lot.

    • Richard Cox says:

      I will say that I was having trouble sleeping for several years before this. Taking Ambien and all that. Now that I don’t have a deadline to wake up, I sleep like the dead. That’s the best thing so far about this sabbatical.

      That and the sudden end of my exposure to industrial fluorescent lighting.

  9. I used to work a real shitty job for 12 hours a day. After work I’d spend another 8 hours working on Beatdom. After that I’d put effort into other writing projects.

    Of course, when I quit my job and found myself with free time I didn’t really write much. Instead of spending 8 hours editing and a few hours writing, I’d spend half an hour editing and no time writing.

    Later, when working a shit job in Korea I did the same – the harder I worked, the more exhausted I got, and the more energy I had for writing.

    What I’m getting at here is that I think I am, to some extent, driven to achieve my goals when faced with the fact that other things are consuming my time – things that I don’t particularly want consuming my time.

    Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe this doesn’t apply to you at all. But it shows that our minds and bodies work in weird ways. We don’t act in our own best interests, necessarily. Sometimes we can’t explain why we do what we do.

    • Richard Cox says:

      “We don’t act in our own best interests, necessarily. Sometimes we can’t explain why we do what we do.”

      Man, is this ever true. I am always shocked by my ability to sabotage myself, and I don’t even think I’m the worst offender I know. In fact I know I’m not.

      And I absolutely agree with your observation that writing takes on a heightened sense of urgency when other things are competing for its time. I am the world’s greatest procrastinator when I have more time than I know what to do with. It’s like I need the pressure to get anything done. That might be the thing I dislike most about myself, and yet I have used it to my advantage more times than I can count. I think if I could capture that intensity and have it eight hours a day, I could write ten novels a year. Easily.

      • Simon Smithson says:

        “I am always shocked by my ability to sabotage myself”

        Yeah. Man. What the fuck is up with that?

  10. Zara Potts says:

    Glad to see you back around here, Richrob.
    I’m sorry about the job. Even though I’m positive good things will come of it, it’s still a bit of mindfuck to have to contemplate next steps.
    When I left television, even though it was what I wanted, it took me some time to get to grips with it. I had been in it for so long that part of my identity was very much tied up in my job, even though I knew that the job itself wasn’t doing me any favours. It took me some time to realise that my job didn’t actually define me, and I think I went through a minor depression of sorts after I left the industry.
    And yes, it is incredibly tempting to succumb to laziness. I am inherently lazy and will always find something more worthwhile or pressing to do instead of just sitting and finishing off my book. But reading this has given me a bit of a kick up the arse and I think I will be a little more diligent about setting time aside to write. So, thank you Richrob. I will buy you a drink in Dallas.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, ZaraPotts. I’m not sure why I wasn’t commenting or posting here when clearly I had more time than ever to do so. I went storm chasing and played a lot of golf, but still I had plenty of time to get on the computer and just didn’t feel like doing anything, even including emails, Facebook, etc. Weird.

      I know how hard you worked in your television job and I can see why your identity was tied up in it. When you’re forced to reevaluate your identity, it can make for a stressful time in your life. I guess that’s what’s happening to me on a smaller scale, even though it’s still odd because I’ve always WANTED to divest myself from that work.

      If anything I said here inspired you a little, that makes writing this piece even more worthwhile. You can buy me a drink and I will buy you one back. Or maybe an entire bottle of wine, you lightweight.

  11. Matt says:


    I agree with Greg: after seventeen years, you deserve a fucking break.

    Being let go from a job is always a bit of a shock to the system, regardless of whether or not you care about it. I was fired from a job I hated three years ago, and found myself in the surreal position of fighting tooth and nail–and ultimately, unsuccessfully–to keep it.

    Did I want it? Hell, no. It was all pride. There was something about the idea that I’d been declared “not good enough” to work there just eat at me…but once it was over, I just felt free. Gave myself about four days to enjoy it, and then I threw myself into the minutiae of getting another job and writing freelance to make ends meet in the meantime. I was able (barely) to scratch out a living as a freelance copywriter for a year before I landed another corporate gig. One that is much more interesting than the one I had.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Matt. After the layoff I was thinking about how, in seventeen years, I’d never been away from work for more than thirteen days in a row. So I think that’s part of the reason I’ve been taking it easy since then.

      Part of the confusion lies in that I’m sort of simulating the life of a full-time writer, and if this is how I’m going to spend it, then I better write one book that sells really well. Ha.

      So you wanted to keep the job you hated out of pride? I suppose that makes sense. If you’re going to leave it, at least you want to do it on your own terms. How dare THEM get rid of YOU?

      I felt a bit like that because even though ten percent of our Tulsa workforce was let go, ninety percent remained. Why the hell wasn’t I in the ninety? But I spent a lot of money in my job and they were intending on saving more than just my salary.

      I’m glad you’re in a more interesting job than you were. It seems everyone who’s commented has described a similar situation. I hope to find the same outcome.

  12. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    “I was Sartre on steroids.” I got a straight shot of laughter out of that one.

    This is certainly a manifesto of the “if you want to get something done give it to a busy person” mantra. I can say that I have, of late, been utterly frustrated by my race against time. I would kill for someone to pay me to go home for 6 months and finish my book. And I LOVE my day job.

    But then I think: if I wasn’t a fantasizing, frustrated single mother who is very busy with her lovable son and her lovable day job, maybe I’d be too caught up in yoga and mani-pedis and coffee dates with girlfriends to chit-chat about dinner dates with boyfriends to bother seeking out universal truths in prose. I can’t picture being that person. Doesn’t sound like you picture yourself as this person either.

    Do me a favor. Write your novel, you lucky man. Or I will conjure a time bandit to capture your good fortune and give it to me 🙂

    • Richard Cox says:

      You know, the dumbest part of this whole thing is the damned novel is already written. I’m on like draft four. The changes in this version are significant to a degree, requiring me to make personality changes to the protagonist and creating a few new scenes, but it’s not like I’m writing it from scratch. This is my favorite part of writing. I pretty much hate scratching out first drafts.

      And still I’ve been playing golf three days a week or going out of town or staying out so late with my friends that I’m non-functional the next day. Sheer stupidity, right?

      Like if I had taken the FIRST four weeks of the sabbatical to finish editing, I’d have sent it to my agent by now and I could goof off with almost zero guilt. But no, I’d rather front load the fun and then write with pressure.

      But as others have pointed out above, this seems to be human nature. Give the work to the busy person, as you pointed out. All I know is I haven’t had any mani-pedis, so there’s at least that, right?

      I’ll finish the novel soon. And if I have any time left over I’ll send it your way.

  13. Marni Grossman says:

    I’ve never been fired. But I’ve also never had a real, long-term job.

    When I started college, I thought that I’d take some summer internships and then, by graduation, I’d be on my way to an editorial assistant position at some women’s magazine.

    Instead, four months into my “real life,” the economy crashed and, with it, all my expectations for the future.

    I’m not in the same place as you are, but I’m also at a crossroads. And it’s fucking scary. But, luckily for you, you’ve got a lot to look forward to. Can’t wait for the new book!

    • Richard Cox says:

      Things never turn out how we think they will, do they? I know it’s been disillusioning for you, the lack of opportunities out there for you, and you probably get sick of people saying “You’re young. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.” But the fact is you are and you do, and you’re way too smart to be held back for long.

      I’d never lost a job either, and luckily I can still say I’ve never been fired, but it was still fairly insulting to be among the ten percent picked. That being said, it’s the easiest possible way to lose a job primarily because you don’t have to tell a possible employer you were fired.

      Either way, it’s still a bit weird to be at that crossroads, no?

  14. Megan says:

    Richard, great post. After 17 years you have earned, at minimum, 2 full years of waking up at noon. It’s strange how we can’t enjoy the freedom we yearn for once we have it. Freud and his Pleasure Principle.

    This year I’ve been a full time grad student and I get exactly what you mean about necessity of structure.

    I’ll leave you with an extract from Tony Hoagland’s “Sentimental Education”:

    and next thing I remember, I’m working for a living
    at a boring job
    that I’m afraid of losing,

    with a wife whose lack of love for me
    is like a lack of oxygen,
    and this dead thing in my chest
    that used to be my heart.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Megan. And speaking of having earned it, I reported to this job less than a week after I had worked at Sears for three years, where I began working about a week after I left the barbecue restaurant. So the reality is I have been working with never as much as two weeks off for 23 years. Since I was 16. So yeah, maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad for waking up at noon. Two years might be a bit much for me, but I totally get what you’re saying.

      I read the rest of “Sentimental Education.” I love the ending lines as well:

      And I was eaten, I was eaten,
      I was picked up
      and chewed
      and swallowed

      down into the belly of the world.

      Thanks for that.

  15. If I have enough money, I will definitely fire my boss to travel all around the world. The fact is that no money, no time.

  16. Jude says:

    Ah your post is a sign of the times, is it not? So many people have been laid off over the past few years and here you are telling it like it is. I’m sure there are a few people reading this and feeling like there’s someone else who knows what it’s like to lose a job – even if it’s one you hate.

    I left my job of eight years nearly 3 years ago now. It had got to the point where swearing at him came fast and furious! Knew it was time to go then…

    And like you went through a ‘down’ time of wondering what the fuck I was going to do next. Dusted myself off and started my own business training businesses in Adobe software. I’m only saying this because you have marketing skills and web skills and have thought of starting your own consultancy business. sounds to me like you have everything you need – as well as all the contacts.

    I’m now in my third year and it’s going very well. I’m not spending mindless hours in traffic that used to drive me crazy; I don’t have to put up with the same idiots all day; I’m not anywhere near as stressed as I once was; and best of all I don’t start work before 10am and finish early so I miss the traffic both ways.

    Admittedly I wouldn’t have been able to do this without Zara’s help – she’s just lovely and such a kind person (as you’re soon about to find out). So a big shout out to you Zara – THANKS gorgeous!

    But Rich, the opportunities are there. As the Chinese proverb says, “there is no crisis, only opportunity’. Go for it!

    • Richard Cox says:

      I’m glad to hear your career rebirth has gone so well. That’s exactly the model I’m hoping to follow. A good friend of mine left the same company and she restarted herself in the same way, and she’s been helping me understand the transition, which has been an enormous help.

      Ah, the traffic and the rat race and all that. The most ironic thing about all this is that in the novel I mentioned, the exact same thing happens to the protagonist. In fact he suffers through so many complicating factors that I first wrote and then they happened that I’m beginning to wonder if I don’t have the magical power of writing reality into existence. Which is even more ironic when you consider the plot of the book.

      They say write what you know, not what you expect to know, right??

      And I can’t wait to meet Zara. She’s been nothing but kind so far…except she can’t seem to get my name right. Baahaha.

      • Zara Potts says:

        I am the ONLY one here who gets your name right RICHROB.
        And kind? HAHAHAHAHA. If only you knew.

  17. Jude says:

    Oops – swearing at *my boss* I meant to say…

  18. Don Mitchell says:

    I never lost a job (although once I was told I was going to be retrenched from my teaching position, which sent me looking for something else to do for a couple of months) but I did retire.

    Apart from the emotional part of losing a job, I don’t know that it’s very different — or at least that’s what I’m seeing from the other postings.

    All that time on your hands . . . and then discovering that you’re wasting it, or seem to be. There’s always something that needs doing — the things I let go before, because I was too busy. Work you don’t really have to do expands to fill the time available, if you let it. And I’m susceptible to letting it.

    Greg wrote about letting your subconscious get to work. I’ve always thought of that as my “background jobs,” and I try to pay attention to feeding them data or ideas and then being aware that it’s all churning back in there somewhere. It can get a little too easy to avoid hard work by deciding that the background jobs need a little more time, or a few more cycles.

    I think the age business is important, too. It’s hard to imagine what being cut loose at, say, 35 would feel like. At 63, when I packed it in, the worst intrusive thought was “you’re too old to start something new, you’re trying to get into a young person’s game, all your training and experience was in other things, you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, you’ll never catch up . . . .”

    In your case, Richard, it’s maybe important not to forget that hey, you’ve been doing the writing thing, and successfully, too. Now you’re going to start doing it in a different way. Should be interesting to see how that different way takes shape.

    • Richard Cox says:

      “It can get a little too easy to avoid hard work by deciding that the background jobs need a little more time, or a few more cycles.”

      This is how I get chores around the house done. Whenever it’s time to sit down and write an important scene, I first decide I need to do the dishes or clean the bathroom or even rare items like cleaning out the spare bedroom closet. And it’s definitely how I talked myself into planting the garden. So I totally know what you mean by this.

      I thought a lot about what it would feel like to be much older going through this. I know that must have been tough on you. There were people who were in that position that I was living this with and I felt pretty bad for them. I think age definitely can be a factor to yourself, and sometimes to prospective employers, and it’s something that at this point I don’t really have to worry about. How did you handle that?

      And yes, at least I’ve published already and have a mostly-completed book on my hands. I’m sure hoping we can sell it, but the fiction market is really tough right now. Although the story and theme of the book are certainly relevant for the times.

  19. Tawni says:

    Dude. Seventeen years? Shit. Sorry to hear about your lay-off, Richard. But I am happy you have the opportunity to polish and finally publish what I think is a great novel. (Sorry, you will only get Charmin-soft compliments from this girl. I like your writing style too much.)

    You mentioned filing the paperwork for your S-Corp in a comment recently, and I was thinking, Sheesh. He writes novels, he chases storms, he works a corporate job, he gardens, and now he’s starting a company? This guy needs a vacation. Ha.

    Interesting that the busy 9-to-5 lifestyle and structure seemed to be feeding your massive amounts of energy, rather than draining you. I don’t see anything wrong with a head-clearing vacation before you transition into a new lifestyle, but good for you for making sure the vacation doesn’t become your new lifestyle. I’m very impressed with this public promise to hold yourself accountable.

    Telecommunications sucks. I sold Nolan Mills photo packages over the phone, and also worked for the R.L. Polk company to pay for college. For the latter, I had to call people and get entirely-too-personal information for marketing purposes under the bogus guise of “completing the city directory for the firefighters and police.” When the people I called (and grilled for life details) told me to fuck off, I couldn’t blame them. To this day, because of that experience, I am so much nicer to telemarketers than most people.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks for the compliments on the manuscript. I like it, too, and now the challenge is getting my agent to love it enough that he will take it to publishers with passion. I think I’m close.

      Doesn’t it suck taking calls? I think some people really get into it, but I never could. I don’t think everyone is cut out for that many interactions with the general public in a day. When I worked at Sears I was decent at selling electronics because I enjoyed the products and maybe had ten real sales interactions a day. Not 60 or 70 or 100. Ugh. Luckily I found a job there that was more like my personality.

      I always hated when the picture peeps called to ask me to come in and have photos taken. I wanted to say, “Why don’t you come let me take pictures of you?” But I’m the same as you now…I never get mad at customer service reps because I know that the job is like. Occasionally I get hung up on and I realize it’s just part of the business. I did that on purpose plenty of times, so now I have to accept the karma when it happens to me.

  20. Becky says:

    I am a lazy person by nature.

    Or not lazy, necessarily, it’s just that the tasks I put myself to are not usually, visibly, outwardly or financially productive.

    That being the case, I hate just about any job and love the idea of quitting mine to sit at home and write about what I want, when I want, etc.

    But I’m a little like a parrot. If left alone/undersocialized or not given enough physical, structured tasks on a regular basis, I start pulling out my own feathers.

    The irony of it is that I’m not an extrovert. At least not in a notable way. I don’t need interaction to feel stimulated. It’s the opposite. I default to living in my own head, and without external obligations/input to break that up, I can become reclusive, self-neglectful, etc.

    About 5 or 6 years ago, I was barely working. In that time, I wrote close to 300 poems, but I also regularly forgot to eat and lost 20 lbs I couldn’t afford to lose (I was 25 or so and weighed the same as I did when I was 15). I wasn’t depressed. I just couldn’t be bothered to take care of myself because I found it to be a distraction and a nuisance. My body was just another thing getting in the way of me doing what I wanted to do. My capacity for prolonged, intense concentration is high, but obsession and fixation lie on the flip side.

    So for me, it’s a scary proposition. I’m more grown-up now than I was then. Maybe now I could make productive, healthy use of having that much time on my hands. Maybe I’m wiser from that whole experience.

    Or maybe I’ll turn into Gollum again, which is no fun for anyone.

    • Richard Cox says:

      I hear what you mean about pulling at your own feathers. It seems like one of the great ironies of life that an introvert (or less of an extrovert) can still crave that social interaction. I’m sort of in the middle…I grew up introverted because I was too shy to make friends, but as an adult I love being in groups and sometimes having the attention on me. But still I need, really need, my alone time. So when I first was at home all day, my house was cleaner than it had ever been, and I worked on the garden and my lawn and felt quite industrious. Within a few weeks, however, I started letting dishes pile up and mail and didn’t sweep the floors. I looked around one day and I said, Whoa, this could get out of hand in a hurry and then I’ll be that guy with piles of newspapers and garbage everywhere and people wonder how he ever got that way. But that sort of thing happens gradually, I think, it sneaks up on you, and if you don’t constantly maintain yourself and your place of residence, you can end up down that path more easily than you think.

      In any case, don’t turn into Gollum again. We don’t want you stealing any more rings from hobbits.

      • Becky says:

        But Richard, I was so THIN. I was the envy of all my friends, on the rare occasion I saw them.

        I have since tried to put on pants I wore back then and scared the living shit out of myself.

        I could barely get them past my knees. I gave them to my 13 year-old niece.

        Fucking GROSS. *shudder* I’m lucky I transferred to UMN when I did. I was in dire, dire need of structure.

        If I ever do try to make a go of writing as a career, I will most certainly need a hobby. And not just any hobby. Some hobby where I’m accountable to other people.

  21. Gloria says:

    Man, oh man – do I ever understand phone call hell. When I first moved to Portland, I worked as a receptionist at a software company and answered about 1600 calls a week. I was snarky too. But, in my defense, the people on the other end of the line could be pretty nasty themselves. One time, a lady asked me what our mailing address was. I gave her our PO Box number. She said, “Do you also have a physical address?” Being fed up with stupid questions, I replied, “No. We all show up at the post office at 8:00 AM and shove ourselves into the little tiny box.” Luckily, she laughed. I couldn’t help myself. You have to find a way to be self-entertaining or you’ll go in-fucking-sane.

    When I envision tendering my resignation to The Man, I always imagine that scene from Reno 911.


    The ironic twist and all. Because the universe is a bit of a ruthless cunt with a sick sense of humor.

    “Laziness is insidious.” Yes. I postedthis on my Facebook page today: Question of the day: if you were to die today of one of the seven deadly sins, which would it be? It looks like today you’d most likely die of sloth. Here’s wishing you lust, Richard.

    • Richard Cox says:

      1600 calls a week? Holy shit! I would have never survived that. In my role it was more consultative and sales, which you think would be better, but I spoke to workers from the construction industry all day. Which, hats off to those guys and gals, but our personalities didn’t really mesh. Hence the crankiness.

      I love your response to the physical address question, and also how when you hear the same things over and over it can turn you into a raging inferno of hate over small things. She was probably asking for the physical address instead of whether it existed, but used the wrong syntax. I jumped all over people for things like that. In retrospect I hate that I did it, but as I said before I think some people just don’t deal very well with repetition.

      That scene from Reno is amazing. I love that.

      As far as the question, if you asked me before yesterday the answer would have been sloth. Today it’s maybe vainglory. Mostly because I like saying vainglory, but also because whenever I post something here there is a little part of me that thinks, What sort of hubris do I have to think people are going to want to read me musing about myself? And another part of me wonders when people are going to realize I’m the best living writer in the world. Baahahaha.

  22. Slade Ham says:

    I was shooting out the door last night when your post went up, hence the incredibly succinct comment. I had so much I wanted to say in response.

    I never went the starving artist route either. I paid my dues on the road to be sure, but I always managed to creatively find a way to finance my life without relying solely on gig money. I know that I am a thousand times more creative when I am not stressed about rent, bills, etc. I don’t know how any artist gets shit done under those circumstances. I really don’t.

    I owned a comedy club for five years while I went out carving my place in the comedy hierarchy. I made plenty of money, stayed in the comedy business, and more than anything, stayed busy. I got up early. I had shit to do. I had responsibilities.

    I closed the club, moved to LA, moved back to TX, and after a hectic few months dealing with family stuff, I settled into a new apartment in Houston. For the first time ever, I didn’t have anything to do. I was just a comic. Book gigs and travel. That was it, which is great when you’re working, but I only “work” on the road maybe ten days a month.

    It’s still hard to get myself into a rhythm of being productive considering I really don’t have to. I know the struggle too well. I haven’t beaten it entirely yet, so I can’t offer any sage advice. I will swing my sword at that beast right alongside you though.

    I am quite impressed by your determination not to fall into that trap though. I think you’ll be much better off when all is said and done. I really, really do.

    • Richard Cox says:

      How the heck did you finance owning the comedy club? That sounds like a great job. I’ve always had this inkling in the back of my mind to open a bar, an upscale-ish place with TVs that could be a sports bar or host an open mike or literature readings. Bring people together from different walks of life and make it cool. But I think even if I made it work I would spend too much time there consuming the product and giving girls free drinks.

      I’m curious about your club and the choices to open it and close it. You should write a post about that sometime.

      As far as the starving artist thing, I never really imagined doing that because deep down I knew it was going to take a while to get published, and for years I was too concerned with impressing my dad to not appear to be “making it.” I kept the whole writing thing to myself because I didn’t think he would give the idea much credit. But in the end, as you say, it made me a better writer to not be struggling with things like how to pay for food or why doesn’t the air conditioning work?

      Although some people need that kind of bare bones life. None of us work exactly the same. But it sounds like you and I were similar in some ways, which could easily be because of our shared Texas heritage. You don’t find a lot of starving artists outside of Austin.

      • Slade Ham says:

        “But I think even if I made it work I would spend too much time there consuming the product and giving girls free drinks.”

        Man.. you’re not kidding. The club is a long story -and probably quite worthy of a post – but I will attempt to sum it up.

        I was working in radio in my hometown, and the Sales Manager at the station and I were bantering about promoting a comedy show through the station. I put the show together and he sold sponsors for it, and together we made a pretty good chunk of cash. When the radio station closed, he and formed a promotions company and put on comedy events once a month. Once a month soon turned into once a week, and a year later we moved out of the hotel ballroom we had been renting and into a stand alone venue with a full bar, etc. We ran the club on sponsorships – it was really brilliant source of revenue for a bar – and he managed to “trade” a lot of the initial costs.

        Still, a bar is expensive. Thankfully I had saved quite a bit of money between my radio days and our last year together, and I sunk most of it into the club. For five years, things went unbelievably well. As I ventured out more on the road, I left more of the business in his charge… a decision that proved fatal for the club.

        This is the part of the story where cocaine gets involved, money disappears, and I almost hit people in the face. It’s the ugly part.

        I managed to force him out and financed the end with what was left of my own money. I was quite emotionally attached to the club. It fucking sucked. That particular period of my life was an interesting one actually, with the club closing and my father passing away withing three months of each other.

        I needed some serious regrouping time. I guess that’s where my understanding of that “you’ve earned it, right?” mentality comes from. It took a lot to not just flop down on the couch and say “fuck it”.

        Must be out Texas heritage indeed.

        I miss the club – certainly the camaraderie of hanging with the comics and staff and crowd every week – but I don’t miss the business headache that the partnership brought with it.

        • Richard Cox says:

          That’s a hell of a story, even in summary. I would love to read a post about it. I can’t tell you how many tales I’ve heard of business partnerships going bad because one guy steals/loses all the money.

          And I know what you mean about everything happening at once. Some other things are going on here that I didn’t include because I was writing specifically about the job, but man it seems like when it rains, it pours.

          I have several buddies in Houston. Tell you what: I’ll move down there and we can start a comedy club/literature bar in Rice Village. I’m sure Matt wouldn’t mind visiting since he is into leggy coeds, and there is no shortage of them there.

        • Slade Ham says:

          I will have to toy with a post on the subject now…

          And hahaha, don’t even kid like that. It’ll have to be the first comedy club/literature bar/dojo though, for Matt’s sake.

          The only comedy club inside the loop here closed down in December actually. There is a huge gap in the scene, and the idea has surfaced more than once from a couple of parties down here. I keep ducking at the conversation like a battered spouse.

          One day, when I’m rich and famous and it’s not about the money… then I will open another bar. For me and the coeds of course.

        • Dana says:

          “comedyclub/literature bar/dojo” Brilliant!

        • Richard Cox says:

          We could do commercials with the Gallery Furniture guy.

          “We really will MAKE YOU LAUGH and THINK and LEARN MARTIAL ARTS!!”

  23. Mary McMyne says:

    Lack of structure is difficult to overcome. Good for you, for publicly vowing to do so. Now set the alarm clock, brew some coffee, and write!

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Mary. I got up at 8:30 today, believe it or not. However in place of coffee I typically drink Diet Code Red Mountain Dew. My recycle bin is filled with so many of those cans that I should be ashamed of myself.

  24. D.J. Morel says:

    This post is the first I’ve heard of you, and I wanted to let you know how much I got from it. You’re definitely not the only person to read it.

    Our lives seem to have had some similar paths, except my published writing has been mostly book reviews. I also worked customer service on the phones. I remember my finger hovering over the button to let the next caller explode in my head. I hated that job, but did eventually parlay it into a better job at the same company. Seven years and four promotions later, I was escorted out of the building. I had already quit a week before, but assumed I’d be there for another two weeks to wrap things up and leave on my own terms. I wasn’t going to work for a competitor, but my manager–who was a big reason for me leaving–wanted to make sure that I understood who was boss.

    For the next month I slept a lot, didn’t get a whole lot done, and felt like a big slob. I did have another corporate gig lined up, but it was a contract position. Eventually though, I landed on my feet in a new job with better pay and benefits, and most importantly much better work/life balance. I also started writing fiction again. The job I quit involved a lot of 80 to 100 weeks. It snuffed out my writing. Once it was gone, I expected the writing to snap back in place. It didn’t. It took almost a year before I really got rolling with it again, and as I look back on that time right after losing my job I realize that I was grieving it. Yes, I had grown to hate that job and fantasized about the day I could quit and become a full-fledged novelist, but I also loved parts of it and my identity had become wrapped up in it. Once the job disappeared, it took me a while to separate myself form it and get back to my writing.

    Happy to have discovered your books. Look forward to checking them out, and hearing about the next one as it develops.

    • Richard Cox says:

      That’s the weird thing, looking back on a job where you were unfulfilled and missing it somehow. Of course I miss the people there, but the gray walls and fluorescent lighting and the status reports and all that, I surely don’t miss that. And I didn’t think I liked getting up every day to go there, but then when I went back to turn in some paperwork I felt all weird and out of place and somehow upset at the idea that I wouldn’t be going back inside anymore. I guess we somehow come to love the things we hate. I don’t know. I’m still not that far removed from it.

      Thanks for sharing your story. It helps knowing how to interpret things when you read others’ experiences. And if you check out my books, I’d love to know what you think.

  25. It’s funny, for the past three years, I haven’t had an office job and I’ve barely written anything. It took all my willpower to battle the insidiousness of laziness to write one post a month for TNB. But I’m back in an office and have been writing more and more lately. I think you’re onto something about structure leading to productivity. Or maybe it’s just that I want to avoid work so much that my brain starts coming up with other things to do. At any rate, even though I hate being stuck in this office, I am grateful that I’m finally writing again.

    Good luck on finding some motivation! You should check out articles about the writer’s grotto. It was a group of writers in SF who rented out an office so they FELT like they were going to work every day so laziness wouldn’t sneak up on them quite so easily. I’ve always thought it was a great idea. It’s grown to something different now, but you can read the history here: http://www.sfgrotto.org/faq.html

    • Dana says:

      “Or maybe it’s just that I want to avoid work so much that my brain starts coming up with other things to do. ”

      Oh crap Rebecca. Thanks for that. 😉

      I’m not a writer (although holy crap didn’t I have the weirdest dream ever last night about this place? This TNB place? And didn’t I write a poem in my sleep about writerly people and their writerly thoughts?) but can I ever relate to that sentiment. I’ve come to attribute it to being Capricorn because I know several Caps that have the same issues. But it’s funny that I do, since I pay about 0% attention to astrology.

      Anyway though some of us just excel at procrastination. Ridiculously so. Is it so we can be rewarded for the awesome job we accomplished in such a short amount of time? Hmmm. I can’t explain it, but it’s certainly a part of who I am.

      Richard – absolutely take some time for golf and friends and gardening and storm chasing and showing Simon and Zara around town and whatever the heck else you want to do while you can. Just because you’re not sitting in front of the computer or your manuscript doesn’t mean you’re not working on your rewrite. I’d be willing to bet that you’re spending boatloads of time thinking about your characters and the direction you’ll be pushing them or finessing some dialogue. You’ll be great. You’ve outed yourself to the WWW. NOW you’ve got a deadline.

      • Gloria says:

        Dana, if you were my FB friend, I’d’ve posted this on your wall. Instead, I’ll post it for you here. It may be my favorite thing from The Onion ever – it is so spot on.


      • Richard Cox says:

        You have weird dreams. Ha.

        I’m an excellent procrastinator but also amazingly fast at shoehorning work into a short time frame. I guess that’s how it works, though, right?

        I think to combine your suggestions I should take Zara and Simon stormchasing. No?

        • Zara Potts says:


        • Dana says:

          Weird dreams? You have no idea. :p Last week I was sitting in a bar at the White House wearing jeans and concerned about being so casual when meeting Bill Clinton, but he was cool with it. Next thing I recall I was washing dishes in the kitchen of the WH — (because of my lack of decorum perhaps?) and Ed McMahon was assisting me. So. Yeah.

          And YES — take the down unders on a wild and crazy ride through tornado alley and video it for us!

        • Richard Cox says:

          Have you considered professional help?

          Although last night I had a dream where I dug up my garden for no reason. I looked down and all my hard work was a big pile of dirt and plants. Then I was hitting on an ex-girlfriend at someone’s house.

          No, there is no correlation between those two. Dream interpretation is totally bunk. Hmph.

    • Richard Cox says:

      You know, Rebecca, I always looked at writing like a job because I was inspired to start by reading Stephen King, and he always talked about how he wrote every day of the year except Christmas and New Year’s or whatever. And since I wasn’t coming from a particularly literate background, I felt like the only way I was ever going to make it was to outwork the next guy. So before I was published, every day felt like one more day I was putting between me and my goal. One more day before I could get out of the cube.

      Like, when my agent initially read my first novel, he said he loved it except he didn’t care for the villains. He wanted me to keep everything the same except come up with a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT REASON the for primary plot complication. He said if I was willing to do that, he would agree to represent me. I was so excited that I sat down and rewrote almost every page of a 100,000 word novel in seven days, working 16 hours a day, writing from the moment I woke up until I went to bed. So I know almost anything can be done if you want it badly enough.

      So I don’t know why it’s different now. I think when you accomplish a goal you’ve set for yourself, the next challenge is to set another goal and reach it. But it seems like somehow the goals follow the law of diminishing returns.

      I suppose you just have to keep pushing that carrot farther away and try your best to be motivated by it.

      And thanks for the link. I’ll definitely check it out.

  26. angela says:

    lucky duck with your severance! when i was at a low point with my old job, i prayed every day to get laid off and a severance package.

    i had a similar experience after quitting my NYC corporate job which i had for 10 years and moving to SF to write full-time. i really didn’t know what to do with myself at first and spent a lot of time at macy’s. then i found a routine, which i loved, but several months into it found that it wasn’t enough. i’ve been so used to writing around my job (and at my job) that to have all that time on my hands just to write was daunting.

    i find that i’m more productive the less time i have. if i know i only have an hour or so before or after my job, i’ll focus and write more than if i have a whole day. with a whole day, i tend to waste time surfing the internet.

    after seven months of no job, i finally decided to start working again. i’m part-time now, which right now seems like the best of both worlds.

    • Gloria says:

      I fantasize about being laid off all the time. I’ve never even added the severance package to the fantasy. I also fantasize about careening into oncoming traffic, as Richard describes in his post. My desk job is slowly and quietly sucking the entirety of my will to live out of me.

      I also work best with deadlines. I wonder what I would do with all that free time on my hands? Oh wait, I know: I would raise my own children and not pay other (usually less competent) people 1/3 of my wages to do half as good a job.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Lucky duck with my severance. All these “congratulations” comments must have something to say about the general disillusionment with corporate life. What does Peter Gibbons say in Office Space? People weren’t meant to live this way!

      Also, your assertion that you are more productive when you have less time dovetails with everyone else’s, which leads me to believe that people in cubes are basically working one hour a day or less. Ah, the wasted time and lack of productivity. Amazing.

      And of course the Internet is both the best thing in the world and the biggest time waster in the world, no?

  27. Irene Zion says:


    This was a really smart tactic! Now you have all of TNB to nag you.
    Personally, I don’t think you need any nagging. I think you need a bit of a break and then the story will come flowing out again.
    I trust in you.

  28. Jessica Blau says:

    You know there is that saying: “If you want something to get done, give it to the busiest person you know.” Indeed, people who do a lot get a lot done. I am AMAZED that you were working full time when you wrote the first THREE novels. That’s pretty darn admirable.

    Also, they’ve done experiments where they’ve (don’t ask me who “they” are!) shown that the more structure an “artist” has, the “greater” the piece of art. So, essentially, when you hand someone a computer, endless free time, and tell them to write, they will probably write a less great book than the one they’d write if they were only given two hours a day to write.

    I have faith that you’ll finish this novel. You finished 17 (SEVENTEEN!) years at the same job. Of course you’ll finish this novel. And it will be great. I can think of very few things that I have done for 17 consecutive years.

    By the way, in case it helps, I think you should limit your writing time to however much time you put in while you were working. I write two hours a day. Any more time at it and I’m just dilly-dallying around. So if you only wrote two hours a day before, you should only do that much now.

    Did they throw a party for you? Just curious. This was a really great post. You clearly did something worthwhile today (writing this!).

    • Richard Cox says:

      There was even one before those, the original “first,” which was turned down by like 50 agents before I gave up on it. So I guess I’m nearly done with number five. But that’s over a sixteen year period, which seems awfully slow to me. Although the one my publisher turned down after The God Particle was 150K words and went through so many iterations that it took a really long time. I’m still going to publish that damned book. It’s probably my favorite story of all of them. Anyway, thank you for being amazed. 🙂

      Nice disclaimer, too, because I’m definitely the kind of guy who would ask you who “they” are. Haha. I think your mysterious researchers are definitely onto something, though, because I’m always (except recently) WAY more productive rewriting than writing. The first draft is a root canal for me. I hate it. Once I have structure in place, though–the first draft–I can do anything with it. I’ll rewrite the entire thing from scratch and still have an easier time of it than making up the original story, because there’s something to work with.

      There wasn’t a party, no. I guess with 63 other people there were too many of us. Ha. My friends all seemed happy for me, though. The world is weird sometimes.

  29. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Many years ago, I was laid off from a position I’d had for several years. Money was not a problem, but I was completely freaked out that I didn’t HAVE A JOB. I was totally miserable. Years later, I left a toxic work environment with no new job to go to. I was scared as hell we’d lose our house and starve—but that didn’t happen. THAT period of my life gave me the seed of confidence that I could work for myself one day. I haven’t had an in-office job since 2003.

    I don’t think you’re being lazy. You’re transitioning. Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, it might well turn out to be a gift. We live in a culture that pays lip service to “relaxing”—but what we collectively value is busting our asses.

    Good luck with your novel.

    • Richard Cox says:

      “We live in a culture that pays lip service to “relaxing”—but what we collectively value is busting our asses.”

      Isn’t that the truth. The company I worked for was based in Europe, and the home office over there had maybe four times more paid holidays as the U.S. office. Plus you were awarded more vacation time as well. And the France office, well, everyone knows I suppose that they basically take off the entire month of August.

      I love the U.S., and I know our country has achieved many great things by working harder than the next guy, but after reading a lot of these posts I have a feeling that many American workers build their work/life balance directly into their workdays but goofing around on the Internet. We talk a big game but we need to relax just like everyone else. Problem is, I wonder if we’d ultimately be more productive if we worked fewer days but took the work more seriously on the days we did work?

  30. TammyAllen says:

    Lots of comments. I got laid off. Your outlook is inspiring.

    WHen I was a bartender/designer/in a band, I used to say “I don’t need my job to define who I am” It’s still true to some extent. I’m a laid off advertising copywriter and a mother. Add to that soon-to-be divorcehhh (?) and ther it is.

    All people inspire me with their drive and motivation. Your attitude is stellar. Bravo Richard. THanks for the read and the kick in the pants.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Tammy. But of course it’s easier to talk about it than to do it. If next month I have nothing to show for all this talk then I’m going to look like an ass, eh?

      Which is the whole point I guess. Trying to find a way to hold yourself accountable.

  31. Jordan Ancel says:

    Great post, Richard. It reminds me of when I was stuck in passionless jobs to support my artistic career— web, startups, advertising. I eventually got to a place where I realized that they were just jobs. They afforded me a lot of great things in my life, and provided me a salary so I could also pursue what I love.

    In a sense, I was being paid to do what I love, except that from 8am-7pm, or whenever, I just had to do something else in exchange for doing what I love at night, on weekends, etc.

    It sucks (to say the absolute least) to be laid off, especially if one can’t afford to be. And sudden change can be jarring, especially after years of the same routine, but it, DAMN, it feels good once we realize we can then do anything we want.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Certainly we owe those “jobs” a certain amount of respect for giving us the chance to do what we love. That’s something I also gradually came to respect about my corporate work. For me the weird part was how to identify myself. When people asked me what I did for a living, how was I supposed to answer? A lot of people (especially men) wrap our identities up in our work, and having made money writing I felt like I deserved to finally credit myself for being a writer. But when I didn’t keep selling novels year after year I began to feel like I was lying about, especially since most of my income still came from the day job.

      It’s a complicated thing. And interesting to write about for sure. And it does feel terrific to be able to do what we want, as you said, as long as we don’t end up homeless.

  32. Ryan Day says:

    King of getting fired here… I won’t give you a list, but it’s extensive, and almost always deserved, speaking of self-sabotage, hehe… I think I used to think of jobs as ways to pay that months rent, and that months rent only.

    But, I agree that the most productive times as a writer, for me, have been my most productive times more generally. Inertia and time seem to work sort of counterintuitively in relation to one another… The more movement there is in your life, the more creativity … to a point. There’s nothing wrong with a nice fat rest where you distill all that experience that’s been wearing out your synapses and get ready to pour it out on some paper once you’ve effectively ‘rebooted’.

    I was born in Tulsa by the way… my bro and sis and dad and grampses are all still there. I usually pass through in the summer or around Christmas. We should grab a drink one of these times.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Regarding our most productive times, I totally agree. After the first novel sold I wrote the first draft of the next one in about seven months, while doing back and forth edits on the first and expanding my role in the corporate job. The energy earned from success can be huge. And the confidence that you are being paid to do what you were meant to do in this world (or what you believe you were) can’t be underestimated.

      Absolutely we should grab a drink the next time you’re in town. I know a few good places, as I’m sure you do, too.

      (P.S. I spent too much time last night reading the debate that followed your piece about Arizona immigration law. I missed it when you posted and didn’t have a lot to add, but it was interesting (and exhausting) to read all of that. Well argued. You encountered Becky at her most contrary. I typically lose debates to her even when I think I’m right simply because she wears me out. Ha.)

  33. Angelina :-) says:

    This was post was WONDERFUL! Thank you for writing it.

    Even though it may not feel that way today, I congratulate you on your liberation!

    As I’ve told you several times over the last 4 years, I think you’re an amazing writer. Not just the books, but blogs and articles like this one really highlight your awesome abilities as a story teller. Anytime you get personal, it is not only an excellent read, but it is so endearing! I know it’s not easy, but it makes you accessible, and, for me at least, makes reading your work all the more interesting.

    I’ve got the same battle you describe here on my hands now, and post-Thesis, post getting out of real estate and back to creativity (how did I ever get caught in that loop?) I have been trying to imagine how I’m going to maintain some level of structure and productivity for myself when I get up on May 31st. I think it’s a problem of extremes. When we are doing something we feel binds us, or is not in alignment with what we’d like to be doing, when we get a chance to go the other way (doing things such as getting up at noon…..or obliterating stressful deadlines), we can easily go too far.

    Here’s to coming back to the middle, and to your next novel! I can’t wait to read it, and to see you going towards your next goal!

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Angelina. You know how I hate to get personal.

      You’re totally right about the extremes. But then again, as noted in many comments above, that’s often where the magic happens.

      Weird, huh?

  34. Wow, Richard. I started to read this the other day but then realized I was going to have to come back to it.

    I think you know I’ve always looked at you as somewhat of a mentor. A guy whose done what I so badly want to do. It’s amazing to read this, then, though I’m not sure I can express why. It’s not so much that idea of thinking someone else has what you want and realizing he doesn’t, quite, because it’s not what’s going on here, for me. Maybe it’s more like editing, like seeing your own dream more objectively, like getting a glimpse of a bigger, perhaps clearer, picture.

    I’m not sure. But I think it takes balls to do what you’re doing, and I continue to admire that. I’m really glad to have met you and shaken your hand, and I look forward to doing so again. Maybe buying you a beer someday.

    “But because of such a strong, lifelong desire to write novels, I never developed the passion for my day job that it takes to become truly successful and happy.”

    That’s probably why. I’ve struggled so badly with this over the years. I could have done so much else, so much more easily, and doing so might have helped me not be in the situation I’m in right now, which is struggling at best and outright anxious at worst. I could have gone to med school, or something. Stuck with teaching, gone alternate route. Stayed an editor instead of chucking all that and going to USC, and then Regis, and now Jersey City.

    Not saying I’d give up where I’ve gone and what I’ve done for a little more comfort, a little more security. Nothing like that, I don’t think. Just: Christ, what a dilemma.

    I wish you the best as you get to it, though, brother. I know you’ll do fine.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Sometimes it’s good to know someone else is struggling through the same things you are, whether they are Stephen King or Richard Cox or Will Entrekin. There are many paths to financial freedom but only one that you and I really care about.

      Here’s to both of us getting there soon. Thanks, man.

  35. I could really relate to this piece. I don’t have that job as identity thing because I just have the writer thing so bad. But I know people that have been laid off and I see them just get crushed by it–not just financially, but identity-wise. It’s so devastating.

    As far a putting in the writing time–for me, it’s almost better when I’m inordinately busy because I have to carve time out and then really appreciate it. I have young kids, so I’m almost always busy–job or no job. I heard recently that Cheever would put on a suit and act like he was going to work, just to get himself oriented in a working frame of mind. Easy as a writer to stay in pajamas and sleep late instead of working. And yes, the reality of making a living as a writer is just so grim.


    • Richard Cox says:

      I’ve thought about that, about if I should get up and shower and go sit in my study and whatever. It’s funny because for years now I’ve done all my writing on the sofa, after work with the lights down and stereo blaring. But once I don’t have a day job and a cubicle and all that, maybe the sofa writing isn’t structured enough? I dunno. I wrote two books on that sofa.

      Thanks for your comments.

  36. Erika Rae says:

    No, no – not laziness. Reorientation. 17 years is a long go and like it or not, part of your identity is wrapped up in it. Man, 17 years. That’s almost unheard of in our generation. Seriously, that’s just impressive. As an HR type gatekeeper for a few software companies, I have to say that I rarely ran into that. More like 5 years at a whack. Anyway, it’s good you’ve been given the chance to enjoy life for a spell. Enjoy it, too. It’s part of your journey.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Erika. I thought it was fairly unheard of as well. I meant to say something about that in the post but forgot. I don’t know if that makes it good or not, though…I probably could have made more money changing jobs more often. But I was looking for stability instead of a fast-track career in web marketing.

  37. Mandy says:

    I’ve noticed this same phenomenon every time I’ve been unemployed, laid off, free for a summer, working as a bartender…whatever, the less I have to do, the less I get done. I’ve had some of the same thoughts while on maternity leave, though I have a 9 lb. dictator watching my every move and demanding all of my attention. But the dictator naps. And what do I do when she naps? Run to my computer to read blogs and check my Facebook account.

  38. Joe Daly says:

    Riccardo, you are dealing with your temporary unemployment in a far more positive, creative way than most, including myself in a couple past situations.

    I found this tremendously informative, as I find myself mired in outlines for my own debut work. Reading about your passion and singleness of purpose provided me more encouragement than you might have intended or anticipated. I owe you one for that.

    Sounds like we’re in similar situations now. My S-Corp was approved in October and right now, while I collect income for non-literary pursuits, my eventual hope is that it becomes the entity under which I operate as a full timey writer guy.

    Thanks for having the guts to put this our there. I have no doubts that you are on the path to some pretty awesome things.

    But then again, what do I know? I’m just a pundit.

    • Richard Cox says:

      I am so sick of your punditry. I mean, honestly. When will it ever be enough?

      I appreciate your words. I thought I was handling it well at first and then I realized I wasn’t handling it at all. Hopefully the ship is righted, but if not I can always come work for your S-Corp, right?

      Good luck in your full-time pursuits, literary or otherwise.

  39. dwoz says:

    A very interesting thing (health-related) happened to me last year. I won’t bore you with the salacious details, but I will share that one of the possible outcomes of this interesting thing is to find yourself looking at the grass in the field from the wrong side, the root side.

    Another high-percentage outcome from this interesting thing is that survivors report suffering from depression.

    Now, after having this interesting thing happen to ME, I did not find myself staring at the roots-side of the grass with pennies on my eyelids, and I did not particularly feel depressed, because, well, I was not staring at the roots-side of the grass with pennies on my eyelids.

    In fact, I saw it as being a very opportune circumstance in one way…I was knee-deep in writing a novel, and really felt like I needed to be more like neck-deep in it. So the forced hiatus from daily grind that was to be my convalescence would be a welcome opportunity to kick-start my writing.

    But I would sit here, laptop-in-lap, fingers poised for action, and not a damn word would tumble out.

    Not a damn word.

    Interestingly enough, EVERYTHING that involved creativity was impacted. I was blocked. I may as well have been dead, for all the writing I got done in the ensuing three months. What I realized, at the end of six months, was that I WAS in a depression. But my style of depression was not to feel lousy and sad and like sex was pointless and hey, converting oxy to CO2 was pointless too…Not at all. my personal style of depression was to fail to be creative.

    So I did the only thing that one CAN do in that situation. Self-medication.

    Seriously, though…losing a job of seventeen years is a lot like a kind of death. Something in you died. If nothing else, the quaint and naive notion that you matter, and that what you do will be important two years from now (in the corporate setting), has died.

    So, mourn that death. Preferably with an Irish wake.

    And write.

    • Richard Cox says:

      It’s all relative, isn’t it? When you bring mortality into the picture, pretty much everything else doesn’t matter as much. I hope everything is okay now.

      Depression is difficult to self diagnose, I suppose. I’m sure most people don’t want to admit they might be depressed. Especially if you’re a guy from the South. That’s just weakness, or so the culture would have you believe.

      Losing my job didn’t feel like a death, but it’s definitely required adjustment. I am writing again, finally. Thanks for the comments.

  40. […] Sometime employer of Vulcan logic.  Onetime employee of an ill-fated BBQ restaurant.  Current employee of…himself. […]

  41. Gerald Mixon says:

    My ficticious web site name came about on the day that I cleaned spider webs out from behind my motorhome rearview mirrors. Ayway I came across you by chance while trying to do some research on another Richard Cox. I believe that I read yur book The Rift unless that was another book by the same name. The one that I read was a book about a modern day New Madrid earthquake. Since there appeared no recent comments I don’t even know if this site is active, but to the point. I am 62 years old. I graduated from college next to the bottom of my class and got married to an alcoholic with round heels on the day that we graduated. I’ve had many, many jobs, being fired from most of them. I eventualy had to take a medical retirement from an employer who had previously fired me five different times. Today I live in a beautful home with a garage bigger than the house that I grew up in. To be continued

  42. Gerald Mixon says:

    uuh oh, should have made up a name, too late now. Said garage has three beautiful cars, all purchased with cash. I have been married to my wonderful fourth wife for 14 years. I have survived prostate cancer, skin cancer and am living several years into Parkinsons with a wire in my brain. For someone who should be dead or in terrible circumstances I think that I’ve done pretty well. Before Parkinsons I was told that my IQ was 165 and now they tell me that it is 125 although I can’t spell a lot of words and can’t remember what I did yesterday. So what’s the point? It’s nice to enjoy the journey but sometimes you have to concentrate on the destination. I made a long range, flexible plan and for once in my life stuck to it. No, I don’t sell vitamins or anything else except a few collectbles for fun. My one big ambition which will never happen is to be a writer so I envy you. to be continued

  43. Gerald Mixon says:

    Two chickens stand on opposite sides of the road. One yells “How do I get to the other side?” The other chicken yells back “You are on the other side.”

  44. Ebony Harris says:

    This is so relevant to a lesson that I have to teach today to a Youth Development Center….the center has great vision and purpose but if we do nothing but wollow in whats going wrong and whats not happening for us, we will lose focus and DO NOTHING out of fear. Thank you

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