Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Great story ideas, but no expertise to write them

A writer e-mailed me to ask: "What do I do when I have a GREAT story idea that I don't have the expertise to write? They say write what you know, and I don't know anything about this. It would take medical experts, legal experts, psychiatrists etc. Until you're a published author with "links" you can't really find people who know that information. But I don't want to "waste" the story idea... so what do I do?"

This is a great question.

I read an interview with Jodi Picoult (that I can't seem to locate at the moment) where she talked about how boring her childhood was. So she decided that instead of writing what she knew, she would write what she could learn. She does fascinating research for her books and talks about it on her web site. Click on "About" and then "FAQs" and scroll through there. Why there's no direct link, I have no idea. Very frustrating for bloggers. Anyway.

I'm in no way a lover of research, but all stories will demand it in some capacity. And fortunately, we live in a time where information is very accessible. You know what I do when I have a research question and can't find what I need via Google? I ask the people around me. I send out an e-mail to the writers' loop I'm on. "Anyone know a heart surgeon who'd be willing to answer a couple questions?" If there's no response there, I turn to Facebook. Facebook gets responses every single time.

People love sharing their expertise! It's why many writers have blogs about the craft of writing - it's our expertise. And it's our expertise because it's something we enjoy doing and talking about. Doctors and lawyers and policemen and accountants and anybody else you can think of tend to be the same way. (Maybe not accountants.)

I'll grant that before I was published, I felt far less comfortable reaching out for my research. But ... that's just the way the biz works, so if you're in love with the idea, and the idea takes research, then you suck it up and figure out a way to get it done. I swear most people will find it "adorable" that you're writing a book.

So if you don't have a writers loop, try putting out some feelers on Facebook. You'll be surprised how quickly those connections can happen. Or heck, post in the comments section below what kind of professionals you're trying to talk to, and we'll see if we can hook you up.

Have a writing question? E-mail me.


  1. This is so true. At a certain point you just have to get over the insecurities and start emailing people with a "Hi, I'm a writer and was wondering . . ." note. I've found that either I get no reply (worst-case, which isn't so bad) or someone happy to help. I've emailed everyone from jewelers to chainsaw artists to websites for a whole town and gotten people happy to help.

    And don't forget the power of the library! Where there is a subject, there is a book on it.

  2. Excellent point, Roseanna. I know there's even books like, "The Writer's Guide to Poisons," and that kind of stuff.

  3. Oh man, I'm so feelin' the nerves at this point in asking about research.

    So...I search instead first, then I ask questions if I have to.

    I've found several blogs (and I've commented to them, letting them know I was there) who've inspired me.

    I get all my information, a feel for their emotions, and it's heartbreaking! But, hey, God's blessed me with this piece and I'm not about to let it go because of fear!

  4. Thanks! I'll try it :)