It's probably the first -- and one of the most important -- pieces of advice new writer's receive.
It doesn't really seem like it's a big deal -- to write what you know-- until you start comparing what you know to what other writers know. Then you might start thinking: How in the world could I possibly know as much about (insert your topic here) as Jodi Picoult does about the courtroom? The doubt those questions and comparisons cultivate are enough to push writers ever so close to what Christine Fonseca calls "The Ledge," that nasty place where you throw up your hands and say, "Forget it. There's no way I can compete."
The nice thing is (and pardon me for getting all Richard Simmons on you) Yes You Can!
How? The same way other writers, including Jodi Picoult, do it -- through research.
And that brings me to my topic for this round of blog chaintasticness: How do you do research for your settings, your story and your characters' quirks? What interesting tidbits about yourself and the world you live in have you learned along the way?
In a way, I'm dreading the research I'm working on for my new WIP, Whisper. It takes place in the mid-1970s, and the Vietnam War has heavily shaped the personality of a couple of the characters. One is a free-spirited hippie. The other is a vet (that's veteran, not veterinarian) whose memories torment him.
Aaahhh, relationships fractured by the world. Who could resist? Right?
The problem is that I was born in 1974 (shhhhh, don't tell), and I know very little about the Vietnam War, other than what I learned from the history books, saw on TV or surmised from talking to surviving veterans.
Because I'm an emotional writer, I prefer getting firsthand accounts so I can read through their expressions the depth of the grooves left on a person's soul. Since the vets I know don't like talking about their experience too much, I'm going to have to forget the sweet, savvy interview techniques I've learned as a reporter and try the conversation method.
My hope is to come away from this research with a better understanding of the world in which I live.
Time will tell, but if it's anything like the research I did for Long Road -- where post traumatic stress and a shattered happily ever after lead a Cinderella-type down the road of addiction, I'll come away richer than I am right now.
I've learned a lot from some really good people doing research for that story. Victoria Miles took me on a first-class tour of The Hill in St. Louis, where a good portion of the story takes place. Max Carl, who wrote the former No. 1 Billboard single "Second Chance," offered his take on certain facets of the music industry. Lynn Rush, a former drug and alcohol counselor, gave me the scoop on the daily routine of folks in rehab. And my husband, who will be three years sober in July (YAY!) gave me a front-row seat in the "What It's Like to Survive Withdrawal" class.
I approached each person in a different way. I met Victoria through a forum on The Hill's community Web site. After corresponding, we became friends. Max and I had mutual musician friends. I had corresponded with him on a couple of occasions about projects he'd been working on before I decided to approach him about my research. And Lynn . . . well, she's a blessing that swept through my life at a very convenient time. I didn't know she had been a counselor until after we'd been leaving messages on each others blogs for awhile.
Research has taught me so much more than what I initially sought to learn. It has taught me that there really are no stupid questions. It has taught me that most people, when asked for advice, are more than willing to give it. And it has taught me that knowledge can be a powerful asset.
How about you?
Now, head on over to Christine's blog and see what she has to say.