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Wisps of Writing Wisdom: Write What You Know March 7, 2012

Posted by shannonmuir in analysis, characters, wisps of writing wisdom.
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When it comes to writing, one of the pieces of wisdom often bandied about is “write what you know”. That’s always harder than it sounds.

THE PHOENIX RISES (on Kindle and Smashwords) depicts a reference librarian who falls for the intern that Spring, but at least has the decency to approach him at the end of the semester. Although I have mentored interns in the past, I want to make it quite clear that I have never done what the lead character does in this book and personally don’t advocate her actions. The only things I drew from in my own life writing that situation was my own experience mentoring interns, and the course of study I did for a Certificate in Library Technician studies similar to the intern’s own.

On a wider scale, though, I did draw from personal experience on relationships in the workplace and my own mistakes. This is always tough to talk about, because it’s a struggle talking about people and yet trying to maintain some sense of anonymity. I’ll do the best I can, but in this first example, it’ll be harder to not be obvious.

The first one is actually a pseudo-workplace experience, because it actually happened when I went to college, where even the structure of going to classes together and having to work together in labs and the like is similar to a workplace environment. I went to college part time my senior year of high school and no one from high school asked me to my senior prom. It wasn’t a secret to anyone in the Radio-TV department I went to high school and was seventeen (this was how I learned the term “jailbait” when someone needed to explain a joke to me by the way). Anyway, that spring I worked on a sporting show that we did live weekly on the school’s cable channel, where my job every week was to plug in the lights on this giant control panel based on the numbers the Lighting Director called to me as to where he’d plugged in various stuff. As it turned out, over the headsets one day, the Lighting Director asked me to the prom – and I said yes. I thought it would be a one time thing at the time. Long story short, I ended up dating him all summer – I turned eighteen in July – and we both ended up on staff at the college “radio station” that ran on the cable channel when TV programming didn’t air under a rotating computer scroll of our programming schedule, with him in charge and I ended up Music Director. Tragedy struck, and the end result was he ended up reconnecting with someone and as I learned from multiple sources starting dating her behind my back, and they both would end up being a thorn in my side until he graduated two years later, and I made some poor choices as well under the pressure. I did have one other boyfriend in that stretch of time, but that didn’t go too well between the pressure of the situation and our personalities being a horrendous mismatch. I couldn’t even start getting my life together until my first boyfriend and his eventually wife graduated. Let’s just say my first boyfriend eventually got what he deserved (in my opinion, anyway) when the woman he left me for left him, but it took about twenty years and I had nothing to do with it. I do feel some discomfort in telling this story because I don’t know if his kids know about me and what happened when their parents met up again, but I do know all our lives would have played out much differently if the tragic event never happened, including he might not have married their mother, but I do know in the end that saved me to become who I am today.

There have been a couple other occasions where I admit I’ve been interested in people, not at the same company and about a decade between each. In both cases, I arranged to have lunch or coffee with the other party, and just try to talk it out and move on – hoping I could keep what relationship we did have with my honesty. In one case, I learned so many things about the other individual I realized who he projected himself to work did not resemble in any way who he was outside of work, and it actually made it extremely easy to avoid that person in the future because I actually felt uncomfortable around him. The other more recent situation, this person and I started to build a friendship outside of work and he’d proven very helpful to me and I knew we did have a lot in common (unlike the other situation I described above); however, at the time I thought he still was in a relationship and I knew I was, so I thought we could just talk it out and move on, but once it was clear his relationship was unexpectedly over the whole ball game changed. I can’t go any further than this in describing the situation, other than nothing more happened and to say we still worked together for quite a while before life took us varied ways. This is the one case I wish my integrity and honesty didn’t bite me in the rear, and while I’m grateful for not compromising that, I lost a good friend who was uncomfortable after the whole thing, and at times we’ve had our rough spots since, that I still miss and probably always will. I don’t ever expect he’d be willing to try again to build something new even though we’re not coworkers anymore. He might not even be happy I’ve written this much, but I need to be as honest I can to explain the question at hand while protecting people. Like I said in the beginning, it’s a very tough line to walk. I’m talking about my life, but yet, it’s not just my life.

I dread if I ever need to write an autobiography. I really do.

From these kind of experiences, I drew a little for how my lead male and female interact, but mostly from the darker sides of this story, I took inspiration for the villain of THE PHOENIX RISES and some of the ways he could be a scumbag. He’s definitely a villain not an antagonist, I didn’t write that character with any redeeming qualities.

In the end, I brought together what I knew either directly or indirectly about the human condition of male and female relationships in a particular setting, combined by the desire to take what I’d recently learned and try to use that particular setting as the backdrop, and ended up with the story that I did. I tried to avoid the pregnancy trope theme that seems to crop up, but as I realized how certain things fell into place, I realized the story dictated going that direction as much as I tried to fight it. So in the end, I gave in and let the story lead. Interesting enough, that is an area where I am not directly writing what I know, so it would seem best to avoid it. This is where the “know” part becomes more defined as knowing family relationships both being part of one and from observation, as well as from what I’ve desired from my own relationships. If we only wrote one hundred percent of what we knew, I personally don’t think it would be creative writing, nor do I think we’d be able to protect (when applicable) those who serve as our influences.

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