It’s a known saying to “write what you know.” And it’s true, your very best writing will come from areas of your life that you’re most familiar with. I’ve followed this advice in my own books – from writing about child loss and poverty in The Road to Hope, to actual stories of my life in Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows.
But if you only wrote about stuff you knew, your book topics would be severely limited. How would books like Harry Potter come about, where the magical world of wizards is completely made up? Or Twilight, where humans fall in love with vampires and befriend shape-shifting wolves? Or my novel, A Symphony of Cicadas, where the majority of it takes place in the afterlife – a place I don’t plan on going for a very long time…
While it’s important to use familiar themes in your writing, it’s probably a fair assessment that your story will include stuff you know nothing about. And that’s okay. That’s more than okay, that’s fantastic!
That’s where you get the opportunity to learn something new.
For instance, in The Road to Hope, one of the characters ends up at a winery in Sonoma County where she must learn the ins and outs of working in the vineyards. I grew up down the road from the winery I described in the book, and adding it in was like writing a love letter to my childhood.
However, I don’t know the first thing about working in a vineyard.
To compensate, I researched my patootie off. I studied what happened at each part of the season, how to graft vines…everything I could to learn what it would be like to work the fields at a winery. I think that was my favorite part about writing that novel, learning something I might never have known about before.
As you write, don’t be afraid to throw in a few interesting things you’re not an expert on. But follow a few rules when doing so:
Find an expert – You might not know much about that particular topic, but someone else does. Buy them a cup of coffee, and then have them tell you everything they know about the subject you’re writing on.
Read books – Become the expert on what you’re researching by taking from other people’s personal experience.
Search the net – This is my favorite, and easiest, way to find out information. Of course, be careful when you do use the internet to learn about your topic. Sometimes information can be a bit…wrong. Make sure you find several notable sources on your topic to ensure the information is correct.
Do it yourself – While you can’t exactly enter a world of wizardry to learn the ins and outs of attending a school like Hogwarts, you can work the fields at a vineyard when writing about being a winery worker. Take a class on your subject, grow something, travel, do whatever you can to get closer to knowledge on whatever it is you’re writing about. Don’t quote me, but you might even be able to get a tax write-off for your “research” expenses (so you should probably explore what it would be like to travel to Bali).
If you go off the cuff and write about something you don’t know anything about, someone who DOES know something about your subject will read your book and call you on your ignorance. Your whole book will be discredited just by stating misinformation as fact. So make sure all of your facts are in sync with what the reality would be through detailed research.
Have you learned about something new when writing your novel? Share in the comments!