Write what you WANT to know

Anyone who’s written anything has heard the old adage: Write what you know. While I get the basic idea behind this, my initial reaction to it was, booorrrring. I mean, most of us probably think our lives are pretty dull. Who would want to read about any of the mundane things that go on in my ho-hum life? I had a teacher once who translated this age-old advice a bit differently. Write about what you know emotionally. Inject the emotions you’ve experienced in your life into the story. Beyond that, research the rest.

This, I like. Research used to scare me to death. (Hey, there’s a mystery plot in there somewhere!) Calling strangers and trying to get them to answer my questions gives me hives. Okay, I get a lot of my information from the Internet, but you can never be sure how accurate some of that stuff is. You need real, human verification of facts.

So I’ve altered the write-what-you-know phrase. Write what you want to know.

If you’re going to have to ask questions and talk to those strangers who might laugh in your face and tell you to get lost, the subject should be something that fascinates you. Maybe you don’t know it now, but you’d enjoy learning about it.

For instance:

I owned horses for twenty-five years. Past tense. I no longer own any, but I still love everything about those beasts. I never owned a racehorse, but I love watching racing on TV or, better yet, live. So I decided a couple of years ago to write a murder mystery set on the backside of a racetrack with a veterinarian as the protagonist.

I’m not a veterinarian, but I strongly considered that path for a time. Anytime my vet came to work on my horses, I pelted her with questions and studied every move she made.

I had been on the backside once, years ago, when a friend sneaked me and my horse in to see the track vet for a second opinion on a leg issue.

I use a different vet these days for my cats, but he’s full of wonderful information that he’s happy to share with me. And I’ve befriended another veterinarian through a Yahoo group who is equally giving of his time and expertise. I enjoy picking both their brains.

Last summer, I connected with a trainer at Mountaineer who let me tag along after her and ask questions and experience the world I was writing about. I thought I was reliving my childhood. I was playing with horses at the racetrack. All in the name of research. How cool!

Recently I had lunch with an old friend whose husband is training his first racehorse. This morning, I met him at Mountaineer Racetrack and worked as his go-fer. He got a helping hand and I got to do more research for my second mystery of this series. And I’m going back again next Saturday. I can’t wait!

So if you think what you know isn’t going to interest anyone, try writing about what you want to know and then go out and play…err…research.


lee pletzers said…
You might be interest in my article of the same thing at

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