Write About What You Know and Research What You Don’t Know

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As beginners we hear the phrase: “Write about what you know” a lot. And I mean a lot. But what does that even mean? Well, I’ll tell you. It means that you need to know about something before you write about it. It’s meant to deter beginners from writing something they know nothing about. Why? So they don’t embarrass themselves. Imagine a writer whose whole book revolves around a volcanic explosion, but they didn’t know anything about explosions, so they just winged it. This will get a writer into a lot of trouble.

The phrase “write about what you know” isn’t the most constructive way to explain what we want young writers to do. It sounds like we want writers to just write what they already know. What we really want is writers to have knowledge about what they’re writing, before they write it. If they have knowledge about what they’re writing it will create a more authentic experience for readers.

If a writer already has knowledge on their topic of choice, they’re on the right track (however I will never discourage more research). If a writer DOESN’T have knowledge on their desired topic, then they need to hit the books. Always research the topic you want to write about, especially when you have no knowledge or experience with that topic. Let’s go back to the volcano example. What that writer should have done was research volcanoes, before writing the book.

Here’s a short list of information he should have gathered:

  • Where are active volcanoes on earth?
  • Why do they form there?
  • How are volcanoes made?
  • What is the difference between active and dormant volcanoes?
  • What are the dangers of being near an active volcano?
  • What can trigger a volcano to erupt?
  • What kind of volcano is it?
  • And so on…

When we research topics for books we need to be careful where we get our information and how we use it. I will go into more detail when I make a post on Research, but for now let me give everyone a piece of advise. Go to the library. The internet is full of unreliable sources cough Wikipedia cough. However, published books on topics like volcanoes are usually based off of real research and reference their sources. Also look for academic articles on the internet. Whenever you are looking at a source, check if they have references, then check the references. Follow the trail to make sure the source you’re using has strong sources of their own.

So to sum up: Always research what you want to write about, even if it is fictional.

Thanks for reading,

-Lalia LaRose

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