. . . And Sometimes What You Don't Know
by Jennifer Walker
One of the most common pieces of advice bandied about by experienced authors is that you should write about what you know. This is definitely a good piece of advice! It drives me crazy when I read a book or see a movie with wildly inaccurate facts...horses that do things real horses don't do, dance scenes that don't look anything like the dance they're supposed to portray, etc. Some of these things would be so easy to correct with a modicum of research.
Beyond getting the basic facts right, when you live something, there is a depth of knowledge you have that cannot be replicated by someone who has never spent much time with that thing. For example, my thing is horses (big surprise if you've read anything about my books). One thing that is common among reactions to the books is that my knowledge of horses comes through. On the other side of the coin, I was once asked to write some reviews of high end luxury sports cars for a magazine. I knew I couldn't do justice to them, so I handed the assignment over to my husband. He claims he's not a car guy, but secretly he is. He did a fantastic job--way better than I could have done. I could have presented the facts about the cars OK, but when he did it, his enthusiasm for the subject matter shone through because he's spent a lot more time studying and drooling over cars than I have.
All that said, I think it's good to step outside of your comfort zone every once in a while. For NaNoWriMo this last year, I wrote a middle grade fiction that had no horses whatsoever. That took some effort! I also have some other story ideas that are way outside my comfort zone. I'm going to have to do a lot of research, because I want to get everything exactly right. And that's the key right there: if you do decide to go into unknown territory, make sure you do your research. If you're talking about something you don't have a background in, you might find a beta reader who knows the subject well just to check on you so your story rings true.
Above all, keep writing...no matter what the topic!