Write What You Know?

Questions and answers signpost

The six most common questions

I’ve often come across the phrase Write What You Know. I think it’s meant to help, but while it may make life easier I don’t actually believe it’s necessary.

I’m glad I hadn’t heard the advice before I started writing otherwise it would have stopped me in my tracks. The Ambition & Destiny Trilogy is set in Birmingham (UK) between 1846 and 1890, and is based on my Family History. The problem is, until I started writing the book I had never been to Birmingham in my life (our branch of the family moved to Liverpool in 1890) and none of those who were born in Liverpool had ever been back. In addition, the information I knew about Victorian England, was virtually non-existent.

This might have fazed me, but one of my objectives at the start of the project was to understand what happened to my ancestors.  If I’d known about the subject upfront, curiosity would never have got the better of me and the book would not have been written.

Research has been part of my life for as long as I can remember and now in a world with so much information at our finger tips is there any excuse for staying in our comfort zones?  Since I started writing I have visited Birmingham and it’s library a number of times, as well as museums that cover Victorian living. In addition we now have one of the most useful sources of information available to us: the internet.  You can research a vast array of subjects in great depth, and as well as providing background information for the book, it can supply inspiration when ‘writers block’ strikes.

So how do you go about effective research?

Tip number one is Be Thorough. Wikipedia is great (better than I was expecting if I’m being honest), but it shouldn’t be your only source. Always check things on multiple websites to see if a common theme emerges. There is a lot of plagiarism on the internet and sometimes you can read half a dozen websites with the exact same words, but just because you see the same thing repeated, doesn’t mean it’s true. Look for sites that are original. If they confirm other sites, great, but if not, keep going. Use information that the majority of sites agree on (and repetitive information should only be counted once), to give you a sense of confidence in your findings. If you see an outlier, read it for what it is and ask why is it different? Is it simply wrong or perhaps it offers a different perspective? Does it enhance what you have already learned or contradict it? In these situations, you need to use your judgment, but don’t follow one reference that flies in the face of twenty other sources.

Over the next couple of blogs I am going to look further into how to use the internet effectively to research background for your novel (12 Tips for Searching the Internet: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). In the meantime, attached is an article I read while I was preparing this post. It talks about why it is so important to do your research properly and gives 5 Research Tips for Writers to provide an authentic and believable setting.

Do you think we should only write about things we know? Your thoughts please…

If you want to know more about The Ambition & Destiny Trilogy, visit my website here.

About Val McBeath

Born and raised in Liverpool (UK), I live in Cheshire with husband, youngest daughter, and cat. In addition to family history, interests include rock music and Liverpool Football Club. Prior to writing, I trained as a scientist and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for many years. In 2012, I set up my own consultancy business and now split my time between business and writing.
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3 Responses to Write What You Know?

  1. pattimoed says:

    Hi Val. Thanks so much for the mention and pingback! I appreciate it. Best of luck with your research too! –Patti


  2. Val McBeath says:

    No problem, thank you for the post. I did the draft of my post a couple of weeks ago and then had to put it to one side (work!), so when I saw the title for your post I thought I had missed the boat. Once I’d read it I knew we were coming at the same theme in different way, so my mini panic was over :). There’s always something new to learn.


  3. Pingback: Twelve Tips for Searching the Internet (Part 1) | From Story To Book

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