Write What You Know – Research What You Don’t

Group of research related 3D words. Part of a series.

One of the most common pieces of advice that I hear when it comes to writing is to write what you know, but if people only wrote about what they directly knew the story would be pretty boring. Imagine if men could only write male characters or vice versa. Or the only career that a character could have would be the career, whether writing or not, that the writer joined. And fantasy worlds wouldn’t exist.

The good news is that writers aren’t limited to the things they know, nor should they be. The remedy to this situation is research and there are a lot of places that a writer can get their information. Here are a few if you’re looking for options:

  1. Books – Although it’s not necessary to be constantly reading books if you’re a writer (most likely you’ve read plenty in your lifetime), reading books can be very useful in the research process. Reading in your chosen genre can help you learn what’s typical to the genre. Reading fiction books in general can help you learn how to write a good book.
    And then of course there are the non-fiction books which will have concrete information on everything from how to write a book to everything you ever wanted to know about dinosaurs. Or planes. Or a myriad of other topics. One caveat is that not all books are created equal and books on certain topics can quickly go out of date. Reading multiple books and more recent books can increase your chances of getting good information.
  2. Wikipedia – Yes, I’m mentioning Wikipedia. Although it shouldn’t be the only resource you rely on, it can be a good start for the overview of many topics. As a bonus, there are usually references down at the bottom of the page that you can read and get more information. Take the information here with a grain of salt, but it’s a good start.
  3. Official Websites – These include government websites, well known organizations, and websites aimed at college research. No resource will be perfect, but these websites are more likely to be on point. The better websites will keep their information up to date.
  4. Youtube – Youtube is less likely to be reliable, but you can still potentially find good information here. There are awesome videos out there that teach you about all sorts of writing topics.
  5. Other People – When it comes to things related to humans (gender, race, sexuality, etc.) that you are unfamiliar with, it’s a good idea to seek out other people who are part of one of these groups. They can tell you about their experiences and guide you to how to sensitively portray a character that’s a part of that group. Just remember that everyone has their biases and opinions which may affect their answers.
  6. Experts – If you’re trying to approach something like a very specific scientific concept or depict someone in a job, you may want to try to reach out to experts in those fields. This can make your work more realistic. Like with lay people, even experts have their biases and opinions so beware.

The bottom line is that if you want to write about something you don’t know it’s a good idea to do some research. There are many options out there and it’s often smart to take advantage of multiple resources which can help you be sure you’re getting good information.

What resources do you use? Do you have advice on how to make sure you’re getting accurate information? Leave a message or contact me @alexisafurr on Twitter.

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