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Write What you Know?

I belong to a writers’ group, Writers’ Ink, and at our last meeting, I read a short story that I had written and submitted to the CBC Canada Writes short story contest at the end of last year. The genre is a thriller and I would love to share it on my blog, but I am trying to submit it for publication into a magazine, which means I can’t publish it anywhere else – at least not just yet. In any case, my audience was captivated. When I had finished reading, one member said “Wow! What kind of life have you had” or something to that effect. I explained that it was all fiction and not a drop of anything I had personally experience. This, of course, led to a short discussion on writing about what you know.

Since becoming an author, I have heard that you should only write about what you know. For example, if you’re a nurse, your stories should have elements of nursing or health related issues and not, say, writing about the trials and tribulations of a bank manager. The thing is, I don’t agree, and neither did the other members of the writing group. If writer’s truly only wrote about things they have experienced, then how could Stephen King write his novels, or Diana Gabaldon, or J.K. Rowling, or ??? fill in the blank.

Yes, there are elements of every story that an author has experienced, if only just in a dream. However, from my own story writing, not everything I have written about has been a personal experience. As a writer, I have, and have always had, a wild imagination. As a child, I could easily envision monsters in my closet. My heart would race and a sense of tremendous fear would come over me at the sight of some strange shape in the dark. It was only after convincing myself that what I was looking at was not a monster but a pile of clothing or stuffed animals that I calmed myself down enough to investigate. As an adult (and sometimes worrier) I can imagine a multitude of scenarios with the tiniest bit of information. A strange phone call might be a stalker, a hit man, or someone checking to see if you’re at home in order to surprise you with a sweepstakes cheque at the door – it’s always just a wrong number. And while I can imagine some pretty wild things and the feelings they evoke, there are subjects that really only those who have experienced them should write about.

Recently, I saw a post on Facebook from another author stating that he was on his way to Istanbul to do research for his next book. He wanted to know where other authors were heading to conduct their research. As I scrolled through the comments, I first thought I was missing out as other authors listed their travel destinations. I began to feel that, perhaps, I WAS doing it all wrong. Then I saw it, an admission from another writer that the only research she would be doing was online. I commented with something like: Thank God for Google street view, it’s the only traveling I will be doing and it’s a great tool when your character leads you to somewhere you have never been. It turned out, I wasn’t the only author who traveled by Google street view.

So, do I write what I know? Well, there’s a little bit of truth to my stories and I can take an experience and expand on it, but there’s a lot of imagination too. The internet is a wonderful research tool.

If you would like to know just what parts of my stories are real and what are made up, you can sign up for my newsletter. Journey Behind the Scenes is set to make its debut on May 30. This monthly newsletter will inform readers about upcoming events but will also delve into my books, reveling fact or fiction, deleted scenes and alternate endings. There will be special promotions, offers, and contests for subscribers only. The 25th person to subscribe will receive one (1) $25 Gift Card.

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