Write what you know…?

Writing tutors, whether in books or the classroom, or by podcast, or webinar, often tell their students, ‘Write what you know.’

Personally, I think that’s some of the daftest advice ever.

First of all, how do you define ‘know’? Know in depth? Vaguely aware of? Have heard about? Worked in that field for thirty years? Know second-hand through others?

Let’s add a bit of common sense. I mean, if you’re writing a self-help book on the subject of ‘Open heart surgery for beginners’, you probably need to know your stuff. I don’t think reading a few books will be enough to make that one work. After all, lives may be at risk. Not to mention kitchen implements and the new lino.

But I’m talking–as always–about fiction writing, which is a whole other ball game. Because if you are writing fiction, you can know anything. That’s called research. You write what you come to know.

There is a whole world out there full of podcasts, webinars, YouTube movies, books in digital, audio and paper formats. There are so many search engine, something-pedias, sites and blogs. Someone will always be able to give you an answer to any question you want to ask. You can even create and download calendars for begone years. I do that for my 1930s Dottie Manderson mystery books.

For my own books, I have researched social culture, art, history, music, languages, religious beliefs, criminal forensics, icky medical stuff, popular figures, myths and legends, psychology, archaeology, literature, historical weather (yes you can do that). I’ve read old books, old newspapers, gone to museums, exhibitions and spoken all sorts of people. I’ve have drunk a serious amount of coffee and eaten siege quantities of cake, all in the name of research. ( I could write a book on coffee emporiums of the British Isles.)

Joking aside, the point is, whatever you’re writing about, you can research it. I mean, how many people who write about Vampires actually are one??? How many people who write about time travel or missions across the universe have actually been into space? If we only write about ‘what we know’, why do any of us write anything other than books about being an ordinary person in an ordinary home and job, who never does anything extraordinary apart from pay their bills on time?

So next time someone says you can’t write your book about back-packing shape-shifters in the Serengeti, tell them that’s a lie. You can write about anything.

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