There is nothing wrong with trying new things. Variety is the spice of life. You learn a lot of new things, you’re going to get a bigger brain, or rather a healthy brain with shiny new brain cells, ganglia and improved, efficient neural network that will help you adapt rapidly to a changing environment. So is the process of neurogensis and evolution; survival of the fittest. But if you want to write a good piece of fiction, you better know what you’re talking about – your audience wants to believe your stories. For that, you better know what you’re talking about.
Where to Start
Regardless of genre, fact, fiction or “how to” book, it’s always a good idea to write about what you know. There are multiple reasons why:
• You know what should or could happen
• Genuineness comes through in writing when the author knows the experience and what they’re talking about
• The story can “write itself” at points
• What you write makes sense to the reader
• Your dialogue, characters, situation & plot, and world hang well together and ring true
• Those who know what you know will be your fans because they believe what you believe
• Those who are new and come to believe “what you know”, they will be your biggest fans because they are the converted
There will be some writers whose experience and knowledge will immediately lend itself to great story-telling: law enforcement, black market trader, veterans, ranchers, national park rangers, and fire-fighters, viral-pathologist for the CDC, adult industry workers and deep-sea salvage operator. There are other experiences that at first blush might seem uninteresting but you could see how things could get interesting such as tax attorney, stay-at-home dad or mom, executive assistant, taxidermist, precious metal excavator, real-estate agent and dentist. However, writing what you know is a solid start but it often requires to other ingredient – creativity and passion.
Creativity and Passion Are Made Not Born – Text, Non-Fiction & How To Books
I’ve been lucky to be able to read and use psychological, psychiatric text books in my work as a therapist and as a professor of mental illness disorders and psychopathology. You would think that while some of the subjects would be interesting, any text book that focuses on the minutia of statistical analysis, speculations about how psychosocial environment and biology would affect mental health is boring. To people like me, it’s all interesting, but as an “entertaining” piece of work these texts are pretty technical and dry. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders – 5 for example is a perfect example in that it’s a “cook book” for mental illness, prevalence, coding, co-morbidity, gender ratio and rule-outs, but it does not draw you in to want to read more. (I do love the DSM-5 but you have to love the data to enjoy it and you have to be creative and passionate to teach it). However, take the same material and put it into narratives and stories that exemplify all the symptoms, intensities, prevalence, frequencies and durations and then write with some creativity, then you got something like DSM–5 Clinical Cases by John W. Barnhill, MD or the DSM-5 In Action by Sophia F Dziegielewski. Here’s were you really see creativity.
Creativity and Passion Are Made Not Born – Fiction
While text books and facts might not lend themselves to creativity, certainly fiction does.
When you’re writing science fiction and you don’t have firsthand knowledge of being in an alternative universe, or talking to anthropomorphic AI units or engaging in faster-than-light space travel and global time distortions, this is where research – or getting to know what you need to know – becomes imperative. It is here that creativity pushes what could be interesting points into a narrative or a story that captures the reader’s imagination.
Then there’s passion. This is hard to describe but it could be said that passion in writing is the ability of the author to transmit to the reader in symbolic fashion (words) emotions, thoughts and the desire to know more. When you have a writer who conveys passion in their work, you feel it, taste it, experience it and you either wish you were there or feel that you are already there. How exactly this is done is still a mystery to me. I know that when people point out a section of something I wrote and they said they were “moved” or “I wished I was there” or “I was pissed when they died,” those were all points in the story I remember feeling strong emotions when I wrote it. Somehow I found the right symbolic representations (words) to convey that to the reader. Pretty wild, huh?
When it comes to fact or fiction, writing what you know gives you a big advantage to gain the minds and hearts of your readers. Add creativity and passion, and you are well on your way to being a good writer regardless of genre. Think of these elements as the chassis of a vehicle. It is very important to have a strong base. But you have to have an engine – like plot, characters, story, cadence; and you have to have a place to sit and keep you in – like editors, book cover-artists, and text formatters. More to come on these other elements needed to be a good writer.