As the publishing industry evolves in the 21st Century, layoffs have become an all-too-common experience. Sometimes, it can be helpful to see how other writers coped with this devastating situation.
Journalist and author Matthew Newton published Death of a Good Job recently, a short memoir of losing his job as an editor during the Great Recession. We caught up with Newton to get advice for writers and editors:
The best advice I received was also probably the most annoying: Don’t take it personal. For me, that was impossible. Not only because the experience was so fresh in those first weeks, but because I had no job, no money, and a family to take care of. So at first, all I did was take it personal. Because, no matter what friends and family tell you, there’s a definitively personal element to every layoff. That way of thinking, however, was toxic and did nothing but make a bad experience worse. It’s hard to have perspective though when everything feels like it is falling apart.
Newton added this advice:
I primarily coped with my job loss by having fun. I was laid off on the first day of June, so I quickly realized that summer is the best time to lose your job. I spent more time with my wife and three-year-old son, I saw friends more often, and I started writing every day. A close friend invited my family to tag along with his family on their beach vacation, which was extremely generous. And that fall I borrowed from my savings and took my family on a road trip through the American south, ending in the Great Smoky Mountains. In the end, I did my best to make sure the good outweighed the bad.
He also shared some authors and books that helped him cope:
I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, so by default I’m drawn to postindustrial survivor stories or anything related to the collapse of industry and what happens in the aftermath. So I attempted to revisit Working by Studs Terkel, thinking I might have some sort of epiphany — either journalistic or labor-related. But reading about other people who worked thankless jobs just left me sort of depressed. At the same time, all the recession stories being published online seemed to be these rosy tales of laid off creative types who were downsized and then made massive life-changing decisions — i.e., the whole “losing my job was the best thing that ever happened to me” crowd. I realize that I’m skeptical by nature, but it all seemed disingenuous.
Almost by accident, however, I became fascinated with sports journalism. After finding a cache of old GEO magazines at a thrift shop one day, I came across an article from 1980 by Pat Jordan titled “A Football High,” which chronicled high school football in the mill town of Duquesne, Pennsylvania just as Big Steel was starting to collapse. Reading Jordan’s article it was impossible to ignore the fact that history continually repeats itself, often in the worst ways. And for whatever reason, I found that strangely comforting.
One of the first books I read after getting laid off was Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road. I finished the book in a Percocet-induced stupor after having a tooth pulled (COBRA was running out, had to get all my doctors’ visits in). Though a bleak story about a father and son’s road trip through a crumbling, post-disaster America didn’t sound even remotely uplifting, I’m a sentimentalist, so the relationship between the father and the son appealed to me. And at the time, the film version had recently been filmed in Braddock, Pennsylvania near where I live, which piqued my interest in the environment of the book.