There’s a saying in the writing world – “write what you know.” This time-tested advice is sound in many ways. If you are going to write a mystery set in Paris, and you have no knowledge of French language or customs, you’ve never even been out of the country, and foreign police procedure is foreign to you, maybe you should write about something else.
Or let’s say you’ve been married to the same man for 25 years, and you want to write about Internet dating from the perspective of a newly divorced woman? A mother of five healthy children writing about pregnancy loss? You’ve lived in Iowa your whole life and you’ve never been to the beach. Maybe skip a nautical story?
Especially if it’s your first foray into writing. I found when I sat down to write my first novel that the craft of writing fiction was a learning curve, never mind the mechanics of editing, formatting, beta reading, publishing, getting reviews, etc. You get the picture. It’s a lot more complicated than it looks when you open that book on your Kindle or turn that first page of your fresh, new paperback (yes, I still love real books).
However, unless your own life is so full of intrigue and drama, fun and excitement, tension and passion, that your autobiography would equal a dozen bestsellers – LEARN NEW TRICKS!
Now that I am over the hump of the first time author, I am having great fun with researching and reaching beyond my comfort zone for book 2. Every heroine can’t be like me, as much as I am a bit of a character. And unfortunately, a lot of my own adventures have only been lived in my dreams and imagination.
YES! There it is – imagination! Isn’t that what creative writing is all about. We MAKE SHIT UP!
Unfortunately (or fortunately – depending on how to choose to view it), there are many who are experts on any damn thing you want to write about. And guess what? They know their shit and they expect that you have done your homework.
So don’t write a courtroom scene if you haven’t sat in on a trial, or at least interviewed someone, read a book. Something. Don’t write about the emotional drama of loss or abuse without talking to people who have experienced it firsthand. Don’t write about places you’ve never been without visiting, or taking on a few beta readers who live there now.
People WILL call you on your laziness in the form of bad reviews, so do the work. And have fun with it. I know I am a bit of a nerd with the “learning is fun thing,” but your thoroughness and love of discovery will shine through in your work, and your readers will say – “wow, I can’t believe she isn’t really a paleontologist/astronaut/bereaved widow/pastry chef.”
So take risks and learn new things. My next main character loves cats and swimming and has never been married. And I am divorced dog lover with a HUGE fear of putting my head underwater. Even in a pool. She also isn’t a mother. Doesn’t care about being one. She’s going to do a LOT of things I’ve never done.
The anti-me, for sure. BUT if we connect with a character, we can find parts of us in her. We’re all complex people.
And don’t forget – as you do your research – it’s all tax deductible, including the trip to Paris.