Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Write What You Know

Now we've all heard this before -- write what you know. (There's also -- Write What you Love -- but that's another blogpost.)

In REMEMBERING YOU, I didn't have to go far for Genna's career. I was a chef. Actually, I started out as a lavastoviglie (dishwasher) and ended up executive kitchen manager at a small inn/banquet facility in Rhode Island. I also had several other hundred jobs in the restaurant field over the course of my career. I have done everything in a restaurant except hostess. (Don't know why.)

So it wasn't much of a stretch when it came to carving out Genna's career arc and her story-line. People in the restaurant industry burn out quickly. Late nights, alcohol, long hours. It might be easy, fast money but the toll on a body and mind is great. Which is why there's such a big turnover in the industry. But once you find a great "house" you stay there for as long as you can. Sometimes you never leave and that was how I sort of felt about the inn. (I ended up being there for eleven years.)

For Genna, her main conflict was whether or not to stay at her job or come home to her family. When I worked, I missed several major holidays a year, not to mention lesser ones. Weekends, nights, days, mornings, were all eaten up by the job. No vacations, barely time off, it's a price you pay to be the best. Sure I made a boat load of money, and had excellent health coverage, but I didn't see my family for about 15 years. True story. I was focused on my career.

So coming up with Genna's storyline wasn't that much of a stretch. I was faced with a similar situation. I had the option of remaining in the head chef's position or leaving to start my own business. Which was a major decision at the time -- do I stay with the money, or keep my sanity? I decided to keep my sanity.

I knew it would come in handy someday. Now I'm writing about it.

Tell me -- Do you write what you know? Have you put one of your situations in a book (or perhaps stolen someone else's)?

25 comments:

Linda G. said...

Hmmm. Kind of, I suppose. More like I warp the stuff I know, and use that in my fiction.

Christine Danek said...

For my current WiP, some things I knew, but a lot I have to research. Leave it to me to write my hardest idea first. The opening scene of my WiP is a situation I came close to, but didn't get to "that" point. It's a tough topic, but I'm glad I'm writing about it.

Liza said...

So much of my writing is autobiographical but in my current, only, work of fiction, I used pictures in my mind of places and things I have known and described them. My story has an inn too.

On a side note, I am working for the first in more years than I care to admit part-time in a take out/gourmet type fast food retail shop/restaraunt. Yes, the physical toll is extraordinary. I love the product though...

Bish Denham said...

I'd have to say yes to that one. Some situations are more obvious than others.

Anne Gallagher said...

Linda -- I like that. Warp the stuff.

Christine -- You go girl! Tough topics are hawt!

Liza -- Oh don't you love it when the body revolts when we hit that certain age.

Bish -- Some situations are more obvious than others, like crabs and real smart dads.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Oh yes, most definitely. Especially in my third book. I just about wrote myself into it. lol.

Tracy said...

The story I'm querying now has a woman who grew up in Tudor England...so I'm gonna be honest and say I didn't pull that from my own experiences. But there are a lot her interactions with the other characters that can be paralleled to certain events in my life.

Except her problems ultimately get figured out...while I'm still working on mine.

Summer said...

Hmmm...probably not, actually. I mostly ask myself what the worst possible situation for me could be (under xyz circumstances) and make my story from there.

MT said...

Yes, I do - on purpose sometimes, and on accident other times. Even if we're writing sci fi/fantasy, our lives leak into our characters. But I also like writing what I don't know, so I can learn a little. Have a great week! :)

Falen (Sarah Ahiers) said...

for me, if i had the opportunity, i would always jump on the "start my own business" wagon

Crimey said...

I'm constantly finding myself working in little tales from my past into the characters' lives. There are things that people have said to me years and years ago that I've spun to fit characters dialogues and motivations.

Ann Best said...

At this point in my life, I'm finding that writing what I know is the only thing I can really write about well. Hence, my memoir soon to be published. (Sometimes I do "steal" a bit, too. I think it was Hemingway who said great writers steal. LOL. Need to look this up again.)
Ann

Rena said...

Nearly all of my MG stories are real things that I've done or have had happen to me. That's kind of scary to think about, since you're really putting yourself out there for the whole world to see.

My PBs are another story ... LOL!

Melissa Gill said...

Yes and No. I've never written a story based on my real life, but I do write about things that I know and love.

E. Elle said...

A lot of the things I put my characters through are inspired by actual events. I'm alive for a reason. I may as well use it to its full advantage.

I try to write what I know but I love learning more. So if it's something I don't know, I find out about it, a lot of the time just for fun.

The entertainment industry is a huge player in my writings. I'll leave you to make of that what you will. ;)

roxy said...

I always put my life experiences into my stories. Some might be stranger than fiction, however.

Amy DeTrempe said...

My problem with writing what you know is because I write historical romance. I don't have much experience living back then but I doubt emotions changed all that much.

DL Hammons said...

My first novel I wrote a lot about what I know. In my second novel I drew heavily upon WHO I know. :)

Donna Hole said...

There is a little of "what I know" from personal experience in my two novels. But mostly, its WHAT I know from my professional interactions with the culture. So, I guess I've stolen my character's experiences.

The third novel has moved totally into others experience. I asked a lot of questions of people who have been through my characters situations, researched case studies and online journals, studied characterization from the DSM IV, talked to professionals in the fields.

There is still a lot of personal experience in my last novel; but none of it is my own. Well, perhaps some of the romance concepts. Definitely not the sex (lol).

A lot of people have told me I write like a true barfly, and assume I must have loads of personal experience as such. But the truth is, I worked as a coctail waitress in a restaurant/lounge for 12 years. You get a feel for the consistent type.

I like the way you portray your diner scenes Anne. Your intimate knowledge shows without overwhelming a scene with info/proceedural dumps. The surroundings are vivid, lively, without the setting dominating the scene.

.......dhole

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Fantasy writers write what they know ... of human nature, of fear, of grace under pressure, and of alienation even within our own family. And if they write of those things truthfully, then their outlandish settings seem true as well.

Insightful blog post as always, Anne

Tara said...

Hey you! I missed last Friday's post - huge congrats from me!!!

My first attempt was writing what I know - cars and the race track. I grew up there, so I wrote about it. One day I'll go back and edit what is basically a pile of crap - writing-wise. The story (a basic romance) is pretty good.

I've got my fingers crossed for you, Anne. :)

notesfromnadir said...

I'm glad you chose your sanity & got out! But you & all your readers will be entertained by reading about your experience working in the restaurant industry & you'll always have a lot of realistic characters, settings & stories.

Reminds me of a time I applied for a job at a small but exclusive hotel in L.A. & the manager had worked there 10 years & had never once had an entire weekend off! He didn't even have 2 days off in a row--it was an alien concept for him!

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Ah, see, I just knew if you wrote about some of that awesome experience of yours (even pouring it into a character) it would pay off in spades. Keep at it! I can't wait to read that whole book. :)

The Words Crafter said...

You know, I'm thinking you should open a coffee house, find an amazing staff, and then you could write all day. You have the background....

I'm putting lots of pieces of me in my nano story. Real pieces, wishful pieces, and a few what if pieces. Makes sense, I know.

When your book is picked up, you should consider a couple recipes to be included from it...maybe in the back....? Can't wait!

coffeelvnmom said...

I definitely write what I know. Then I do research for what I don't, and make up the rest. =)