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Use Everything

December 2, 2009

Unlike most writers I have met either on-line or in person, I’ve not dreamt of being a writer all my life, nor did I start clutching a crayon and write my first novel by the age of 4 and a half. Between you and me, I get a bit of a complex sometimes; feeling unworthy of not having served a long enough apprenticeship to be able to utter the mention that I might write. However, getting over that pathetic pity party, thinking back on the skill I have used throughout my patchwork career; its obvious to  me now that my expertise in people watching.

The best actors, teachers, HR and recruiters, waitresses and salespeople have outstanding people watching skills; fine tuned and moulded to their particular usage and needs. Certainly when I was earnestly seeking some sort of fame and recognition as an actor, watching people; modeling behaviors, accents and particular idiosyncrasies were some of the most important skills I utilized. I see writing as requiring very similar skills with character building – with the added bonus that characters created can have 5 arms, be as beautiful, ugly, old, short or slender as your imagination will allow; without having to go through lengthy prosthetics and make up set ups.  As an aspiring actor, I was told to use everything ; every experience, every smell, touch, taste and emotion, to create a different state and reality.  I see writing as no different.

Use Everything – even the bad stuff

Had a bad haircut? Got ripped off when you bought something? Got lost? Been dumped?All raw resources desperate to become the foundation of your next story.  While its fine to wallow in self pity when things have gone wrong, the next step as a writer is to ask yourself how you can use that experience in your next short story, article or as backstory for a character in your novel.  I’ve just come back from holidays – on a cruise  – a different experience than our family would normally undertake – but one rich with inspiration, characters, plots and storylines.  A cruise ship is full of charactures, relationships exploding in front of ones eyes,  a veritable  buffet of the human condition. During our time on board, my partner and I played versions of the same game – guess the occupation,  guess the name or guess the disease/ affliction.   Not only did it keep us privately amused for hours, but it served as a foundation for character notes for my future writing.

I wouldn’t go as far to say we didn’t enjoy our holiday, however it was a different style of break than we’d expected. Rather than being miserable, I turned it about in my own perception, and began cataloging the experience for future projects. Invariably, as one does, we went to one of the ‘shows’ on board. The introduction to this particular night involved an intricate lazer light show.  Every moment during that show, my mind questioned what I was feeling, what effects I could see,touch, smell; as I was transported into another realm.  As it proceeded about me, my mind was galloping at lightspeed; drinking in the experience and visual effects; ready for my next Sci Fi story which involved characters either being captured or entrapped by light forces or cages or battling with lazers.

Raw material resources are wandering about you every day. People watch (and covertly listen) and be gifted with storylines your wildest imagination could never have created. You don’t have to have traveled to a particular country to be able to write with authenticity – why not use the experience you had in the restaurant which features its food, the images conjured when listening to music from the region or the textures from homewares or craft originating from there.  Use every shred of experience which you are gifted; in your writing. Turn every experience you have into an opportunity to explore, uncover or discover a character or storyline. But try not to be too obvious about it; or you’ll have fewer friends willing to spend time with you!

Image by Mark Berry via Flikr

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Annie Evett is thankful for ALL experiences – good and bad…. and that NaNo is over!  And thanks – I did have a good break.. and birthday! Follow her here on Twitter and catch her growing amount of websites and blogs here
One Comment
  1. December 2, 2009 1:00 am

    The thing which strikes me most when I read the “about the author” page in a book is how few writers haven’t had something of a chequered or interesting collection of jobs before finding their way to writing.

    My friend Edwina (whose first book was published last month) mentioned her first job was cleaning – and for those of us who have ever had to clean someone else’s toilet for a living , you will never forget it. All the crazy jobs writers have had to make a buck on their way to getting published makes for interesting reading further down the track.

    As you mentioned with the laser show, whenever I find myself somewhere new or different I try and and absorb every dimension of it – like a literary sponge – to store away for another day, another story. And it is amazing the things which come through in your stories.

    I am always most influenced around Christmas for some reason. This year’s Christmas story includes inspiration from a Tweet outburst by a Melbourne writer about the stupidity of the paperwork involved in her daughter busking Christmas carols, memories of Christmas in the canefields, a friend who goes by a name other than the one she as given as a child, Pearl Jam, a friend’s take on the seven swans a-swimming prompt and most importantly – in respect to this post, washing up after having had coleslaw on camp when I was 12.

    The most awful of experience can always be turned around into something profound or funny – that is the literary magic wand we all carry.

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