No Experience Is Wasted

Crunch time in the marketing department. Only a week before the biggest trade show of the year and I was making sales literature for products that didn’t exist yet. Everyone else had gone home. The factory workers left hours ago. During yet another trip to the copier in the engineering department, I stopped on the catwalk and leaned against the cool metal rail, listening to the sigh and wheeze of the ventilation required even when the assembly lines sat idle. Then I saw the forklift. A colleague and I had a running joke. When the job broke us, who would be the first to commandeer a forklift and race it across the factory floor? I didn’t want to wait. I longed to climb into the cockpit and take the beast for a spin before crashing it through a plate glass wall.

And because of my secret identity as a writer, I didn’t have to wait. It went into the novel. Everything goes into the novels, eventually.

The three hours I spent in synagogue, makeup, and pantyhose when a former boss performed her bat mitzvah via interpretive dance on a 95-degree day in a non-air-conditioned building that used to be the town flea market, while my husband fumed and sweated beside me on a metal folding chair? I’m sure I’ll use that somewhere.

Totaling a rental car on my honeymoon and waiting forever in the parking lot of a cheap motel, watching hookers parade in and out while the proprietor charged us fifty cents per call to get the mess straightened out? That’ll be in a book one day.

The stint I did as a correspondent for a local newspaper, forcing myself to stay awake through stultifyingly dull public meetings about zebra mussel infestation or whether some self-important alderman’s property extended two inches past the zoned property line? I gave that to a character. Let her write the lead paragraph in her head while she races home to meet the midnight filing deadline.

The college roommate whose pet name for me was an ethnic slur, the boyfriend joined to his mother at the hip, the colleague who was mysteriously fired after one week when he was caught doing something no one would talk about? Oh, I intend to squeeze the juice out of each of these incidents for my fiction.

Seeking out adventure is wonderful. I’m not putting down writers who step off Main Street to find something to write about. But I don’t have to run with the bulls or join the foreign legion or become a circus roustabout like Michelle Chalfoun to get material for my books. All I need to do is mine my own life experience. So can you.

I don’t think any experience we have, as writers, is wasted. The next time you bemoan your crappy day jobs, your weird coworkers, your insufferable in-laws, or the number of times you’ve said, “You want fries with that,” take a deep breath. It’s all material.

Author: Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. Learn more about Laurie at her website and her Amazon author page.

28 thoughts on “No Experience Is Wasted”

  1. So true. And encouraging! Had to tweet & repost this one — thanks for invigorating a tepid Tuesday!

  2. Great post, Laurie. I have tons of those where I need to mine my mind, too. I love the one where I was living in Hawaii, driving cars from the pier for Nissan and delivering them to lots of different places. The white new Nissan Sentra had run out of gas on the Stevedore loading dock, female boss came with big 15 passenger van to put a few gallons in it. I ended up behind her, she got impatient because a huge forklift was in her way so she through the van into reverse and without looking rammed the van into the new car I was driving and totaled it.

  3. Wonderful post, Laurie and I love the idea of filing away real life scenarios (truth being stranger than fiction). But, please don’t include any mention of pantyhose in the summer…bad memories…bad, bad memories…

  4. Nice post, Laurie, but…
    Am I alone in being the only person who doesn’t write about his real life becuase I’m too bitter? I write sci-fi to escape from this God-forsaken world (yes, I do use bits and pieces from it, especially if there might be a good joke in it). If I ever tried to write anything serious set in the present on this world, it would be so cynical and bitter there’d be no point making it public, whereas you guys seem so incredibly well-balanced.
    Just sayin’ *sigh*

    1. Chris, people tell me all the time that I should write my autobiography. What they don’t get is that I’m trying to FORGET that stuff. LOL So no, you’re not alone.

    2. That’s one reason I write fantasy. I like to give readers(and myself) a little escape from the real world, but I’m sure my real life experiences worm their way into my stories without my knowledge. Pesky subconscious.

  5. I have my suspicions, Big Al…I think it had something to do with ladies’ underthings. Or jello wrestling. Nobody would tell me the truth, so that gives me license to make up whatever I want! 😉

  6. Someone once suggessted to me that I write the ultimate how-it-really-is story about radio. I told her it had already been done — “WKRP in Cincinnati”.

  7. I just use the interesting stuff. Or where it will suit a particular character. Believe me, there’s PLENTY about my life no one needs to know or would even be interested in!

  8. I also write SF but I use my past life in the RAF for the MilSF I write. Admittedly I’ve never gone vampire hunting but I can happily talk about weapon training & military procedure until the cows fall asleep from boredom.

  9. I’m writing about aliens who are either psychopaths or garden variety sociopaths and I have a lot of work history to draw on. 😀

  10. I used to think my life and the people in it were so weird until I rediscovered writing. And then it all made sense. Great post, Laurie. Can’t wait to read about *that guy* in one of your books. 😉

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