This month’s post for my publisher has to do with the necessary evil: making ends meet with a day job. But, it doesn’t have to be a total waste of time away from the writing we all love. Let me explain: (following originally published in a post here.)
All I really want to do is write all day. Even the editing part. Hell, even the writing the book synopsis part. But I can’t. I have a day job.
Lots, ok most, writers have day jobs. We toil away in our cubicles, behind our cash registers, or in our classrooms while story plot lines untangle themselves in our minds only to be knotted beyond recognition by the time we can sit in front of our keyboards again. I’m as guilty as the next writer of grumbling about it and pining my life away for the elusive “I write for a living” holy grail.
Since there doesn’t seem to be a winning lottery ticket or massive inheritance in my near future, I have to go to work, but I don’t have to have such a narrow view of it. You see, as a writer, work can be a microcosm of characters.
My parents and I were very active in our community theaters when I was growing up. Mom and I were the only ones on stage and would go to the malls, coffee shops, and other public places to “people watch” when we were figuring out what our characters needed to talk like or move like. We mentally collected walks, postures, accents, speech patterns, and facial expressions to distribute to the various characters we played over the years. As a writer, I find myself doing the same thing. So, why leave that skill at the malls and coffee shops? Why not take that skill to work to give my written characters the same life?
I have a unique advantage. Maybe only people who work at the malls, movie theaters, and other adult-run kid hangouts have a better advantage. You see, I teach middle school. What does that mean for my character research? I have a wide range of ages in the adults in the building and the kids in the halls and classrooms to study. The variety of language, speech patterns, social interactions, body language, and clothes to describe is vast. Stereotypes are knee deep and unique personalities surround me every day. I may be doing the teaching, but I’m also studying. Just not the stuff in the books.
Think of all the weirdo coworkers you have. Or not weirdos. Maybe just the normal people that have a way of moving, talking, dressing, laughing, that you’d know anywhere. Give those things to your characters to give them authentic life. To remind a reader of someone they met once at the DMV. A kid they were behind in the movie theater concession stand line over-trying to impress the girl from algebra class who happened to be in line ahead of him. Make them real and relatable by giving them features from real people.
The best part of doing character studies at work is that things are constantly changing with people even in mundane jobs. There’s always something new you can use. People change their habits with stress, joy, frustration, illness, or a great date the night before.
Work may take you away from putting words on a page, but it won’t keep you from giving your characters their special quirks, if you’re paying attention.