14 October 2009

Putting Your Life to Work

Monday I posted a wonderful quote by (and a fabulous portrait of) Oscar Wilde. Experience is something we all have and none of us got it off a silver platter. Good, bad, ugly experience is what happens in life. In fact, we could go so far as to call it life. If we aren't experiencing anything, we aren't living!

As writers, we feed off experience, our own and that of others. Countless books are out there written out of the depths of some one's joy or sorrow, from tragedy or triumph. Many times I look at these books and think, "If I was able to travel to Tahiti, go back to school, drop off the grid for seven years, I, too would have a published book." Sadly, it is true that those with the most sensational story do capture the publisher's eye.

That being said, don't be dissuaded you from your own stories. I may not have lived the adventurous life I dreamed of and longed for as a child (yet, at any rate), but I have had many experiences in my thirty two years that have potential for story making. Some are unbelievable, some are hilarious, others are tragic or down right boring. However, they all make up the rich tapestry that is my life.

No matter where you are in life, no matter where you're going, you have a story to tell. "But I don't WANT to write about living in the middle of no where and working as a receptionist who dreams of traveling to Egypt and discovering a forgotten Pharaoh's tomb!" you may whine (or was that me?). Well, no, I don't see much in that plot line. But what I do see is valuable insights into life that can be used in the telling of a story. Then again, maybe you could write about a receptionist who DOES travel to Egypt and discovers a forgotten tomb.

See where I'm going with this? We don't all wake up every morning to sip champagne and chat with literary giants over crumpets and Earl Grey (we can't all be Oscar Wilde). What we can do is sift through our memories, through the vast storehouses of life past and present and unearth some gems that our characters could benefit from. Some may glisten like diamonds. Others may take a bit of polishing. You may find a few lumps of coal. Give them enough pressure and they'll shine eventually. If nothing else, toss them into the fire and keep your hands warm as you scratch out those tales.

Use what you have. Write what you know. Take your unique voice and your most mundane day to day and turn it into something beautiful. And remember: most of your readers can't identify with riding camels in the Sahara. What they can relate to is honesty and a new way of looking at something they see everyday. Even a grocery cart could spark a story. Especially if you use them to play bumper cars with in the parking lot! (Disclaimer: I do not advocate destruction of public property in the name of storytelling. IF it happens, however, completely accidental of course, then by all means put it in! Just remember to change names to protect the guilty-er-innocent ;) Who on earth would play bumper cars with a grocery cart anyway. . .

(Day Dreaming by Daniel Ridgway Knight. Image found here)


Helen Ginger said...

Good advice. Even our mundane, boring lives can be enhanced, if not in reality, then in fantasy...or romance...or mystery...or thriller...

Straight From Hel

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Sensible advice for us all. I don't use my own experiences, per se, but I do use my knowledge of people's behaviour, and certainly my own.


Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Haha! May you ride up to the pyramids on a camel, Friend!! You have such incredible stories inside of you. I cannot wait to own them one day!

Experience is crucial to a great story. It can give credibility to imagination. This is a great reminder!

Jody Hedlund said...

Awesome, post, Jen!! That was inspiring! I think because I write historicals I'm in the mindset of living out adventures that I couldn't possibly experience in real life. But I think that's part of the fun of writing for me. I get to experience things I wouldn't ever get to in real life! The imagination is so fun!

ElanaJ said...

I just took a class at a writing workshop about generating ideas from your real life. And it was amazing. So I agree 100%!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

i'm all about using the mundane. who knew that client i saw for a year would end up the fodder of my newest book? excellent [rubs hands together evilly] :)

The Character Therapist

Ratty said...

Excellent! Everyone's life is a very unique story that if told in the right way can be compelling. And a vivid imagination can go a long way too.

Karen Walker said...

Since I write memoir, this post makes perfect sense to me. But I love your example of playing bumper cars with grocery carts. I can see I have some work to do in developing more of an imagination.

...mmm... said...

Very good notes of encouragement indeed.

you know, sometimes one might have actuayl lived that exotic far flung life that now at an old age, it siply can't be shared as no one woudl believe it and the village gossip mongers would stir up things. Such is the life of my mother.

Stephanie Faris said...

In a two-year period I traveled to England, Paris, and across the southern part of the U.S. and nothing I learned in my travels was half as enriching as the experiences I've had right here, near home. I think it's not so much about where you go...but what you do, day in, day out. Something as simple as a trip to the downtown area near your own hometown could provide fodder for a great book...

Jen Chandler said...

Helen: I always put a little bit of myself in my characters. It makes them feel more real.

Elspeth: That's a great idea. Using what you know about people and how they act/react can really help create believable characters

Kristen: When I do, I'll have Jon take a picture and you'll be the first to get it :)

Jody: I understand; I write mostly fantasy so I'm constantly having to live in other worlds I can't visit. I always love reading about other places where you still feel you know the place because the author put a bit of home in them :)

Elana: That sounds like a great class!

Jeannie: I've often wondered if therapists ever used some of the stories they hear for ideas for books. Now I know!

Ratty: A vivid imagination is key to creating a beautiful life wherever you may be!

Karen: I really, truly did that with a friend once. We were much younger, but it was fun and we didn't get caught!

...mmm...: I would love to meet your mother! She sounds like a very interesting lady.

Stephanie: I dream of taking a 2 month trip to travel Europe. But you're right; we always learn the most right here, in our own back yard! What a marvelous time you must have had!