Do You Write What You Know?
Writing what you know if often an adage told you upcoming writers. In some ways, this is a truism. It helps, especially for new writers, to start off with a topic or an area of their lives that they are familiar with.
Hence, when I was first starting out I started a manuscript, Against Her Will, about teens in a psychiatric ward, based on my experience working in one. Wow! Were they messed up. Of course, some of them were just thrown in there because their parents were the broken ones and couldn't handle their kids. Naturally, I made myself and some of my friends as nurse characters - the jaded one who had been there for some time and was just sticking around for the paycheck, and the idealistic one (me -= lol) who really wanted to help those kids. Many of the kids in the book were based on ones that I really met at the hospital.
The manuscript was never finished because having already made a few books sales - This Bitter Ecstasy and Daughters of Desire - both historical romances - I was already at a point when I could sell a story and obtain a contract based on a few chapters and an detailed outline. Since I didn't have a buyer for Against Her Will, it languished in my drawer.
I went back to it a few times to see where I could perk it up and even started writing a script for it, but then other projects took precedence.
Last year, when my wonderful manager new manager, Italia Gandolfo of Gandolfo -Helin-Fountain Agency, asked what other projects I had, I dragged Against Her Will out of the closet. To my amazement --either we writers have a low opinion of our work or one that is too high-- she loved it.
Because it had been so long since I wrote the first outline and chapters, I had to go back and check some of my facts on current conditions to make sure that the story was up to date. So, even though I thought I knew the material, it still required some research.
Now, getting back to the original question - yes, it helps if you know something about your subject. But with lots of research, you can write about almost anything.
When I am facing an area that I am not familiar with, I first go to the children's section of the library. Those simplified books explain things to me, give me a background and terms that I can grasp, so that I can advance to the intermediate and adult material on the topic and not be totally lost. It takes time and effort to do this research, but it's worth it in the end.
I have been asked, especially when I am researching something tedious like a historical period or a tangent of the topic, why I don't hire a researcher. But there is no substitute for reading the material yourself. It is usually when you are slogging through diaries and historical texts that you will find that one quote, that one description, that inspires you and makes your character or setting come alive.
So, while it helps to start with something you are familiar with, you don't have to stick with that. You just have to be prepared to work it… and work it takes…but it's worth it in the end.
Because of my other deadlines and projects, she teamed me up with another accomplished writer, Jo Schaffer, and together we finished Against Her Will which is out now with True North Press and garnering Hollywood attention.
I hope you'll pick it up and enjoy it!