With NaNoWriMo, the pressure to write anything in the thirty days is tough. Should you make it easier for yourself and write what you know? Does it help or hinder your writing? Portia MacIntosh tells us whether she thinks it does or doesn’t…
Stick with what you know, that’s what they say. Well when it comes to writing, sticking with what I know is something that has served me well so far.
The truth is that I never set out to become a writer, it just sort of happened. As a teenager I got ‘in’ with a few pretty big bands at the time. This lead to me spending a lot of time around touring musicians and eventually getting a job in the industry. With lots of cool stories to tell and lots of empty hours waiting around for soundchecks or struggling to sleep on the tour bus, I started thinking about ways to show people what life behind the scenes was like – not the approved version you read about in autobiographies or see in documentaries – and I knew that it was important to keep things anonymous, lest I get sued or, even worse, kicked out of the inner circle and no longer invited to the cool parties.
It was during the writing of my first two books about the music industry that I realised I loved telling stories, and that I wanted to write lots more books about lots of different things. That’s when I realised that I didn’t need to keep writing about showbiz to benefit from letting my real life influencing my fictional work. You don’t need an unusual job or to have been through something out of the ordinary, anyone can let their day-to-day life influence their writing. Here are some of the pros and cons.
It lends your work a certain authenticity. Basing your fictional writing on real things is a great way to make it more authentic, and your readers will appreciate this. If I told you to describe the inside of a spaceship in a way that was interesting to read, you might struggle if you’ve never been inside one. However, if I asked you to do the same with your bedroom, you’d have a lot more to say. I know what you’re thinking, that a spaceship is much more interesting than a bedroom, but your writing is what you make it, and remember that you’re writing fiction, so you can take the description of your bedroom and make it even better than the reality – change the colour of the curtains, make the walls thinner so you can hear all the interesting things going on on the other side of them or throw Henry Cavill in your bed. The same goes for describing a coffee shop, or the time you spend in a shopping centre. If you have a real location in mind, the geography is already set in stone. You won’t contradict yourself by saying that you went upstairs to the bathroom, and then saw someone you know walking past the window.
It’s like free therapy. One good thing about using events or experiences from your real life is that it gives you a chance to really think about what happened, and make them better. Sure, you can’t go back in time, but your new version of events will stay fresher in your mind. We’ve all been in those situations where we’re useless at the time then, as we’re walking away, we think of a zinger of a line we should’ve used. Put that into you work.
You’ll need a thick skin. Whether it’s your editor telling you a character isn’t sympathetic enough or a reviewer branding your leading lady an idiot, if you’ve put a little of yourself into a character, it can hurt to hear these things. When reviewers pick one part of your book and deem it too far-fetched, and you know that it happened in real life, it’s amusing. However, when someone says the main character is selfish and unrelatable, if you’re borrowing events and actions from your real life, that can leave you taking a long, hard look in the mirror.
It can be embarrassing. And confusing. I use a pen name for two reasons. The first is obvious, so that the musicians I am friends with/work with don’t think I’m using them for stories, and so that they don’t get upset at me using their lives for entertainment. The second reason is so that people don’t jump to conclusions, about the people I could be writing about – or about me. A quick look down my real life friends list combined with a bit of googling could see people taking educated guesses at who is who is my stories. Of course, my books are fictional, not an anonymised re-telling of real events, so that wouldn’t help them find out anything true, but making wrong assumptions could lead to people being viewed in a negative light. The same goes for protecting myself. My books are works of fiction, and just because I use real events to inspire my writing, it does not mean that my leading lady is me, or anything like me, but a lot of people jump to that conclusion. Every time I have my main character doing something ‘bad’ I am conscious of this fact, so the pen name goes a long way to making me feel more comfortable.
Whatever your job or living arrangements, your relationship status, the things you do for fun with your friends, the way you look at the world or even just the things you can see around you right now – try writing something influenced by real life. Describe a play you know, tell the story of someone close to you or even just borrow from that conversation you had with that handsome guy you met in a bar. With that realness to anchor your story in reality, you might be surprised by what you can come up with.
When she was fifteen-years-old, Portia MacIntosh fell in with a bad crowd… rockstars. She eventually landed a job in the music industry – but only so that she didn’t have to join the real world just yet.
Now in her twenties, Portia is ready to spill the beans on the things she has witnessed over the years. Well, kind of. If her famous friends knew that she was borrowing their lives to inspire her fiction, they would stop inviting her on tour and banish her from the inner circle. Then she really would have to rejoin the real world, and she’s still not ready. Her debut novel, How Not to Be Starstruck is available now. She is also the author of Between a Rockstar and a Hard Place and Bad Bridesmaid which was released in August. To view on Amazon, click here.