‘Write what you know’ is perhaps one of the oft most parroted lines of writing advice from those who rarely write. It’s not strictly bad advice, but it is somewhat limiting, wouldn’t you say? It can—and has—been interpreted as ‘Don’t write what you don’t know.’
This explains why there are far too many books about the coffee barista’s adventure through Target and the Math teacher who works at a gas station on summer vacation doing battle with the landlord who won’t fix the leaky toilet.
Better advice is ‘Write what you want to know’. It’s generalized, it’s hopeful, and it’s not an uncommon tweak on the advice that started this post. Many people have made that leap and felt good toting something that sounds and is fairly effective advice. It’s enough to lead a kid to researching what it takes to get into the FBI or an adult reading up on how you might hack a website even if he had no intention of doing so.
It was to make the words they strung together one thing that ‘write what you know’ can’t achieve. Credibility. Whether you believe that kid washed out of FBI trials or that a middle-aged fellow did bring down a leading news site is not entirely relevant. You believe they could have. What they write does not stand as fact but it stands as possible—or even likely—fact.
If I were to take on a southern militia here’s how it would happen.
If I were to build myself a suit that would allow me to be invisible, here’s how the science would work.
If I were going to swim across the English channel while blind, here’s how it’d feel.
They’re things very unlikely to happen, but as a writer we can make people believe that we experienced something we haven’t. And that is a pretty cool super power.
This is Clover.
But before Clover was Clover she was Clover:
A bundle of gold shot out from the cabin door. Jackson, a man of little adrenaline, jumped in surprise as a dog barreled toward him, likely the youngest thing aboard the Raven apart from the gull poop scattered about the deck.
“Clover! Clover you get back below, y’hear?” Smithe yelled as the dog bounded toward Jackson, barking up a storm. Jackson leapt up the steps and onto the gangplank, glaring down at the dog.
“Captain, this expedition has no room in it for pets such as this.” Jackson pointed down as the dog jumped up onto the steps and peered up at him, wagging its tail fiercely.
The first was born January 2, 2015. The second was born sometime in November 2013.
The second inspired the first and now the first can inspire the second.
If you followed that, congrats, you know how wobbly it is in my head. If you didn’t, let me explain.
In November 2013, I was working on my alternate history novel FLIGHT OF THE HAWK for NaNoWriMo. I put a retriever in the tale by the name of Clover.
When it came time for my wife and I to get our first dog together, we picked a retriever and named her Clover.
And now I’m back to working on my novel while my first novel, DEATH OF AN ASSASSIN, makes its way through the editing process with Curiosity Quills.
So I’m placed in a very interesting position that many writers (hopefully) find themselves in. Writing what you don’t know then writing what you learn.
While this certainly isn’t the most unique research I’ve done for this book (horseback riding, touring a 16th century warship, and walking through a park of statues to name a few), it certainly is the most adorable.
What research have you done to change what you don’t know to what you do know so you could write with credibility?