Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Knew All Those Jobs Would Pan Out One Day...

So you may all not know, but I've had about 247 jobs in my life. This is because:

1. I started working when I was 12 (a friend and I were hired by a craft fair woman to tie tiny ribbons and hot glue them on to napkin rings---in retrospect, this is a little like the young Chinese girls in the silk factory, burns and all, but we'll pretend I wasn't paid pennies for each piece bc I didn't know any better).

2. I never fell in love with anything long enough to stick with it for long (which is why my life is so exciting right now bc I'm so in love with writing/editing/publicity).

3. I love working.

These jobs have included: kickboxing/aerobics instructor, Blockbuster employee, bookkeeper, dental front desk assistant, feminine hygiene product copywriter, secretary, Weight Watchers employee, forest preserve construction worker, barista, waitress, camp counselor, office manager, producer, talent negotiator, house painter, stage manager, box office manager...well, you get the idea.

Add to this my interest/volunteer/hobbies: Sunday school teacher, homeless shelter overnight volunteer, rape crisis counselor, gifted education supporter, knitter...blah, blah, blah.

The point of all of the above is not to show you how capricious I am (cough, cough) or how I am a Jane of All Trades, Mistress of none, but rather to let you know how critical researching your manuscript material is. Because I certainly can't be the only intern out there with information about the inner workings of myriad businesses. And yet this lack of research happens ALL THE TIME. I've read enough manuscripts to know when writers have no idea what they are talking about and have gotten information from sitcoms instead of real facts.

My best friend Rebecca is a pediatrician. She won't watch doctor shows unless they are completely unrealistic (i.e. Off The Map) because all the inaccuracies of "hospital" shows annoy her too much. I worked in advertising for almost ten years. The movie "What Women Want" bugged me to no end because first, no one has a chance to land the Nike account (ahem). Also, you don't come up with commercials that way. The whole process was absolutely wrong and I couldn't stand it. It is one thing for us to accept Bewitched as the model for how advertising works, but in an age of research and information access, I thought it was downright irresponsible for "What Women Want" to perpetuate a false model.

So too is the case with writing. If you are writing contemporary, make your stuff plausible. Make your problem be a real problem (not able to be solved if the MC just did one very obvious thing). Do your research. Because I guarantee, your readers will call you out on things. And you'd rather not be rejected for something easily solved by a trip to               .

How do you do your research???


Jennie Bennett said...

Even if it's not contemporary there is still research to be done. For example my book has horses and I know very little about the care of hourses so I've been reading similar books and talking to horse lovers to get a better idea. I might even take a ride before I'm done. We'll see it goes :)

Miranda Hardy said...

Several months in the library.

Heather Howland said...

Hear, hear! I've also dabbled in just about every job in the world (metrologist, anyone?) and went to college for 15 years because I'm THAT much of a nerd, so I know enough about a lot to call an author's unresearched bluff.

As I always tell authors, you're only allowed to ask a reader to suspend their disbelief once in a book. Don't waste that on something you could have gotten right with an extra hour of research!

AliyaPM said...

Wow, you've done EVERYTHING. That's cool.

I like it when I'm reading a book and think "Wow! I bet this author went somewhere like this/to that place and sat and took notes." When you think that you know the author did a great job.

Talli Roland said...

Wow, you've done a lot of jobs!

I've had quite a few too, which is really helpful when it comes to writing characters. And your words about making the problem and real one... very very true.

anthony stemke said...

You are absolutely correct; and not just advertising but virtually everything, including lawyer tv etc, etc ad infinitum.
There are no shortcuts, one must do proper research.

kah said...

I might have you beat on the number of jobs. If not, I'm very close. :)

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Yes, a wealth of life experience to draw from. That's awesome. I read a book recently where the author didn't know what she was talking about and I felt really frustrated she hadn't done better research. It's a good reminder that as we're writing we have to make sure to write what we know OR be willing to put in the research hours.


Alexis Bass said...

I work for an environmental consulting company (I'm in charge of marketing) and weirdly a contaminated groundwater lawsuit popped up in my latest WIP. Teens like to read about environmental law, right? haha.

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

So true Christa- a lack of research can ruin a book for me.