Over at Write Anything today, Annie’s column Use Everything, talks about using the raw experience of life, both good and bad, as fodder for writing. The thing which strikes me most when I read the “about the author” page in a book is how most writers have had something of a chequered, varied or interesting collection of jobs before finding their way to writing. There seems to be plenty of both good and bad from the variety of paths they have walked.
My list of jobs to date includes waitress, hotel cleaner, camp cook for a harvest crew, truant officer in a highschool, receptionist at a car dealership, mature aged student, director of after school and vacation care and restaurant supervisor, president of the psychology association at uni etc etc. Years in hospitality took me to all manner of places, from breakfast to dinner, buffet to five star, on land and sea – you meet all manner of people. Same goes for working with children and teenagers.
It was recently noted by my friend Edwina when she was reading my Christmas story, that I do teenage angst well. While I was a relatively “good teenager” in the scheme of things, eighteen months of working with teenagers gives you a pretty darn good insight into teenage states of mind and emotion.
But this isn’t meant to be a post about the jobs I’ve held down on my way to being a writer – this was about the raw experience which informs our work. My early short stories were horrendously derivative – of life! Now I’d like to think I wind it in a little more subtly. The raw becomes the cooked on the page.
I am always most influenced around Christmas for some reason. Perhaps it is the one time of the year I hone in or because it is the only part of the year where I stay within the realm of “realism”.
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 and the lights on the top of the mill (which I still miss), a friend who goes by a name other than the one she was given as a child, Pearl Jam (it was about time they got a mention again), a friend’s take on the seven swans a-swimming prompt which involves some football commentary, the upheavals I’ve seen in blended families, and most vividly, if we’re talking raw, washing up after having had coleslaw on camp when I was 12. Last year it was the visceral feel of rum balls, this year it is coleslaw.
All this in 5,500 words.
The most awful of life experiences can always be turned around into something profound or funny on the page – this is the literary, magic wand we all carry.