5 Tips for turning your day job into a novel

 

We had the opportunity to chat with Lindsay Cameron, author of BIGLAW. Lindsay's debut novel tells the story of a young NYC lawyer climbing the partner-ladder. It's been called the next The Devil Wears Prada and Harper's Bazaar recently named it a must-read. BIGLAW also won a 2015 USA Best Book Award and the film rights have been optioned. Way to go, Lindsay!

Lindsay worked for six years as a corporate attorney before turning her career experience into this highly acclaimed novel. Here's what she had to say about segueing your professional life into a fictional novel: 

5 Tips for Turning Your Career into a Novel

By Lindsay Cameron

Some of my favorite authors have written novels about jobs they once held. Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus worked as nannies before they wrote The Nanny Diaries. Lauren Weisberger was an assistant to the editor-in-chief of Vogue before she wrote The Devil Wears Prada. These writers inspired me to turn my own career as an associate in a large New York law firm into the novel BIGLAW. If you’re working at a job you think is just crying out to be turned into a novel, here are five tips I’ve learned along the way.

 

  1. Remember you are writing a novel rather than a memoir. There’s a reason you chose to make your story fiction, so be sure to utilize all the creative freedom that comes along with the genre. This means you can include events you didn’t witness, rewrite history, and even incorporate all that juicy office gossip that you never were quite sure whether it had any basis in truth. So go ahead and tap into that creative license! 
  2. Change the names to protect the innocent. It’s okay to use real people as inspiration for characters in your novel, but nobody should be able to recognize herself in your novel. Change names, hair color, accents, marital status – any key detail that will save you from having the awkward “I promise this character is not supposed to be you” conversation. Frankly, there aren’t many real-life people that make compelling characters without some significant tweaking anyway!
  3. Parts of your job aren’t very interesting. One of the comments my agent had about the first draft of my novel was “we need to take out some of the legal technical stuff.” After some thought, I realized she was right. Readers want to hear about the compelling parts of a job, but could do without the boring bits. So, when editing your novel, critically examine work descriptions and ask yourself “would someone working outside my industry understand this part or find it interesting?” If not, take out your red pen and delete.
  4. Don’t rely on your memory. When you’re working at your day job, take some time everyday to write down your observations – amusing conversations you overheard, situations that make your industry unique, poignant moments you think would be perfect for your novel – whatever comes to mind. You may think you’ll remember these, but you’d be surprised how your mind goes blank when you’re staring at an equally blank page on your computer monitor.
  5. Ask yourself if you’re okay burning bridges. Before you publish a novel about your career, you need to ensure that you are fine with closing the door on working in that industry. Even if you think your novel portrays the industry in a positive light, others may disagree. If you’re not ready to burn the bridge, put the manuscript on the shelf and give yourself a bit more time to reassess.

Happy writing!

 

 

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Comment by Karen Szklany Gault on January 7, 2016 at 9:44am

Good reminder about the risk of burning bridges. ~:0)  I do have someone who has stepped on my toes so many times that I am ready to make her a villain in the story I am writing, but I think that I'll change some things and transport her from our original environment of acquaintance into another (thought it isn't a work environment), so it isn't so obvious.

Comment by Alyssa Mayley on January 6, 2016 at 7:12pm

I loved this post. I never really thought about how my previous experiences with past employment could be used to create a setting in a novel. For some reason I was only approaching my past job experiences as potential jobs for characters in future books, not basing an entire novel on the job and then building the characters to fit into it. Thanks for posting this Lindsay! Great Advice!!!  

Comment by Mary Hutchings Reed on January 5, 2016 at 1:08pm

Warming Up; Courting Kathleen Hannigan  Congratulations on all your success.  My debut novel was set in a large law firm in 1976 (the year I started practicing) and goes through about 1990, covering the time Michelle Obama started working at my firm.  Courting Kathleen Hannigan is loosely based on Hopkins vs. Pricewaterhouse and reveals big firm culture at the time.  I will look forward to reading your novel to see how much, if at all, perceptions of women in large firms has changed.  (I just retired from Winston & Strawn; the novel is based on my experience as an associate and partner at another nationally-prominent law firm in town, Sidley Austin.  I self-published in 2007 when 1) publishers told me they didn't believe men "behaved that badly" and 2) Hilary Clinton was running in the primary for president.  Hilary and I grew up within 15 miles of each other, went to Eastern schools and both graduated from Yale Law.  (She was graduating when I was entering).  Had Hilary come home to Chicago, Courting Kathleen Hannigan tells you what it would have been like for her. 

I'm also a SWP author, Warming Up, my second, and non-legal, novel. 

Comment by Liz Gelb-O'Connor on January 5, 2016 at 11:46am

Lindsay, congrats on all the success! Great advice...

Comment by Irene Allison on December 19, 2015 at 8:26pm

Great advice! I love reading fiction that weaves  a very real depiction of professions and environments I'm not familiar with. Somewhere I read that Stephen King believes readers love to learn something when reading  novels. Yes, count me in. I'm looking forward to reading your book! 

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