July 15, 2012

Should You Write What You Know About or What You Don’t Know About?




 Write what you know about.

“Find that specialized knowledge that you have already inside yourself, even if it seems totally boring to you, and delve into it and find the thriller in there. … Bring that knowledge to the reader.”

Although I don’t always write that way, I concede that Zachary Petit’s point in his article One Simple Question All Writers Should Ask Themselves1 is appealing.

Much of my writing has been in subjects outside my specialized knowledge. The historic romance novel I’m writing, for example, has taken me into the realms of post-Revolutionary land speculation in Ohio and Maine; 1790s history of the cities of Philadelphia Pennsylvania, Alexandria Virginia, and Gallipolis Ohio; Generals Henry Knox and Henry Jackson; the Le Procope Café in Paris; and plantations in British Guiana. The writing has entailed exhaustive research that has taken me into new worlds. It’s been much more difficult than writing about something with which I’m familiar. And it’s taking me years to complete.

To work outside your areas of specialized knowledge requires that you develop your research skills—the further you go beyond your knowledge, the more intense the research required.

Numerous persons have suggested I write a novel about my family. It’s tempting to drop the historical romance novel and attend to that task. After all, I’m familiar with that story. Like the columns I used to write for the newspaper, the story could flow from head to paper.

The point I like about Petit’s statement is the suggestion that a writer should incorporate his specialized knowledge into their writings. I can actually do this by representing how a main character, continually frustrated in accomplishing her goal, changes from being a woman admired for her strength and business acuity to being a witchy, whiny woman. I’m familiar with the steps she goes through—I have a pretty good background from working in the fields of domestic violence and abuse. I’ve also run businesses, so I am familiar with what it takes to be successful, what it will take for her to be successful.

Thus, I can argue for stepping out of your comfort zone and writing what is not in your specialized knowledge bank as well as writing within your specialized knowledge bank.

Examine where your specialized knowledge is: Write what you know.

Step out of your box: Write what you don’t know.

And note: your writing doesn’t have to be exclusively one or the other. It can be a blend of both these great writing clichés.




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