The Manager Who Couldn’t Write
By Gary Sledge
What launched Amy Tan’s career was not a big break, but a kick in the butt.
Before the million-copy sales of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife and The Hundred Secret Senses, Amy Tan was a writer. A business writer. She and a partner ran a technical-writing business with lawyer-like “billable hours.”
Her role with clients was largely that of account management — but this daughter of immigrants wanted to do something more creative with words, English words.
So she made her pitch to her partner: “I want to do more writing.” He declared her strength was doing estimates, going after contractors and collecting bills. “It was horrible stuff.” The very stuff Tan hated and knew she wasn’t really good at. But her partner insisted that writing was her weakest skill.
“I thought, I can believe him and just keep doing this or make my demands.” So she argued and stood up for her rights.
He would not give in.
Shocked, Tan said, “I quit.”
And he said: “You can’t quit. You’re fired!” And added, “You’ll never make a dime writing.”
Tan set out to prove him wrong, taking on as many assignments as she could. Sometimes she worked 90 hours a week as a freelance technical writer. Being on her own was tough. But not letting others limit her or define her talents made it worthwhile. And on her own, she felt free to try fiction. And so The Joy Luck Club, featuring the bright, lonely daughter of Chinese immigrants, was born. And the manager who couldn’t write became one of America’s bestselling, best-loved authors.