Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Odd Job to Nut Job

            Writers Digest’s website has published an article entitled ‘The Oddest Odd Jobs of 10 Literary Greats’. The article, while a fun look into the earlier years of some of our favorite authors, also made me think about my own odd jobs.
            I have worked as a: sales girl (clothes, music, movies, books, jewelry, house wares, pet supplies, garden equipment, craft supplies); residential and commercial space planner; food server (ice cream/yogurt, candy, smoothies, ballpark foods); party planner; nanny (various ages); administrative legal support team member (secretary, clerk, and assistant). And those are only the jobs I can remember.
            How do we draw upon what we know? This is an often taught lesson that I think many tend to glaze over in their writing. Writing books often tell budding authors to write what they know as they have the best chance of being factually correct in your writing—and thus the story being more believable and relatable. But, how do we do that when we, maybe, didn’t enjoy the odd jobs we’re being told to draw upon? Let’s face it—I’d rather not go back to my days scooping ice cream if I can help it.
            Disliking a job or not wanting to emotionally return to that place doesn’t mean that you can’t draw upon your experiences and turn the situation around for yourself. In order to do this, you must first ask yourself why you don’t want to go back there.
            For me, it was my bosses. The owners of the small, independent shop I worked at owned the business as a side investment—only it wasn’t doing real well at the time—and neither one had been competent enough to effectively run the place. When things didn’t go the way they had imagined, their first instinct was to point the finger at someone else. Surely, their staff who hadn’t been trained, had no previous work history, and were left alone for hours at a time to make impactful decisions for the business they were unqualified to make, were the reason the business suffered.
            Can you tell that I’m not terribly fond of these folks?
            Well, that right there is the reason I should incorporate my personal experience into my work. Discontent can be a wonderful springboard for a fantastic side story. What better way to get revenge on a pair of inept bosses who made my life a real pain than to write them into a fantasy scenario they may or may not survive? Really, as writers we have the opportunity to kill off people we don’t like. In any other profession, killing people would get you 5 to 10 in maximum security; so why not take advantage of this unique perk to the job?
            Not only does writing about our sometimes colorful work history add an element of realism to whatever you’re writing, it can also make a bland storyline a little quirky. All too often I pick up a book about a doctor or a lawyer and the author just glazes over the profession entirely? They’re popular picks in literature and relatively easy to write about, if you’re writing a gloss piece. But who wants to hear their readers say: “Yeah, it was good. No detail though”? Nobody.
What makes Tess Gerritsen so successful is that she was a practicing physician for many years. When she writes medical jargon it isn’t just fancy crap pulled from a textbook. It feels real and genuine because it is. The same can be said for John Grisham and many other writers. Just because they write what they know doesn’t mean it’s boring or that they can’t branch out and stretch their base of knowledge. You never know when the knowledge you acquire from any of life’s experiences is going to be the very thing that grabs readers in your work.

Friday, November 4, 2011

So, You Want To Write? It’s A Horrible Career. No, Really.

            Being a writer means that I’m fairly isolated from the rest of the world when I’m working. Sure, in my “off” time, I engage in social activities. But between holding down a full-time job, taking classes, and trying not to fail at this whole being a writer thing; I don’t have a ton of time for a social life. And that’s alright, because I’ve chosen this path.
            Lack of social life aside, the act of writing can be strenuous. Everything from choosing point of view to making sure the final draft is clean and error-free. Once in a while I need advice, or maybe just a little encouragement to get it right. I’m a writer, not a genius, and my knowledge of the written word and the English language are largely a work-in-progress. And I’m no fan of self-help books—in any form—so taking the leap to opening up a book on writing is a challenge for me. But then, even worse, when I do open up a book on writing, inevitably one of the first things I read about is how difficult being a writer is.
            Well, for starters—duh!
            And to add to that—you freaking think?
            Sarcasm aside (for now), I may not know everything there is to know about being a writer, but I do think I have some small clue. I haven’t finished my first book yet, so that should give you some hint at what the process of actually writing is like. It may be rewarding, but it certainly is no picnic. I have spent hundreds of hours working on this single body of work. I can only imagine how grueling the editing process will be; and I really don’t want to think about what will come of trying to get an agent and eventually a publisher.
            There are days, many days, where I have a moment when I ask myself “why”. I don’t ask myself why I choose to write. I ask myself why I feel compelled to write. I highly doubt the accountants of the world have the above issues and fears. And that’s not a knock at those who either don’t consider themselves creative spirits or really like numbers. In fact, I envy them in a way.
            So, when I open up book after book on creative writing and I continue to read other authors tell me how this career choice will break me, I get a little pissed off. Perhaps they feel that forewarned is forearmed. And yeah, I understand that point. But at what point does forewarning a budding author become overkill? I’d say around November.
            NaNoWriMo is hard enough without essentially being told that you can’t do it. When I first started writing I was under the impression that all of us writers were on one team; but there are days where I’m not so sure anymore. Does it make people feel better to tell someone else how hard they’re going to have it? Does it make those who are published more accomplished?
            I don’t think anyone who writes a book on writing is actively trying to dissuade anyone else from pursuing a career in writing… they’re just being honest. I guess, at the end of the day, honesty just really freaking sucks.