“Write about what you know.” It is a piece of advice much used, and abused, in the teaching of writing techniques to beginners. As an exercise pointer it might be fine, but when it comes to getting published it may turn out to be far too limiting.
I prefer “write about what interests you.” What is the difference? Let me give you an example.
A while back I was thinking about a story involving scenes at an auction of fine art. The problem was as a starving artist I had never been to an auction except to buy a second-hand car. So I contacted the Society of Fine Art Auctioneers (yes, there really is one for everyone!) and spoke to several of their members. They were extremely helpful and provided me with lots of background and procedure; some of it even finished up in the story.
Generally, when you tell people that you are an author doing research they fall over themselves to help. This method has uncovered some fascinating areas for me, from poisonous plants to seafood cookery, and even an interview with a smallholder on the tribulations of country life. None were areas that I knew, but they were interesting and made it easy to write something fresh. And they got me published.
I have two works in progress at the moment. One revolves around computer fraud, of which I know a little from my time in information technology. The other is about a serial killer, and I assure you that I have no experience whatever there! But that is what makes research so much a fun part of the writing.
So remember, rule no topic out just because you are not an expert. There are so many fascinating things in this world. You wouldn’t want to miss any of them, would you?
Mike Dale a freelance writer, lecturer and critic, and lives in Manchester, UK, with his wife Sue.
His background is in senior business management, but he now writes both fiction and non-fiction on a range of topics. He has been published in magazines as disparate as Twisted Fairy and The Countryman. He has also had published many short stories and has won several prizes. None have been the Booker.
Mike is working on a novel, but the need to eat is slowing down progress. He persists.