Write About What You Know… (or Not!)
by Rita Goldner
Writers are often directed in how-to books, classes, and webinars to write about a familiar subject, something about which they can speak with authority. Even better, the writing coaches suggest, is to have some pedigree or title that makes you a recognized expert and gives you some gravitas. This school of thought is widely accepted by readers, but I prefer the opposite approach. Most of my blogs and ALL of my children’s picture books are about topics previously unknown to me.
When I wrote the blog The Story of the Edmond Fitzgerald, I had no clue about this piece of history, other than the song by Gordon Lightfoot.
Fortunately, research these days is a cinch. No trips to the library required, everything is at my fingertips on the internet. This is a good-news/bad-news conundrum; although it’s easy, fast and fun, it also leads to the inevitable rabbit-hole of unrelated interesting stuff that pops up and distracts me. Notwithstanding the time-stealing detours, I dive into weird science, strange history, and bizarre looking animals.
My articles on the Blue-Footed Booby, Pangolin, Two-Toed Sloth, Tardigrade, and Axolotl, all available for perusal on my personal page of this blog (Rita Goldner), were themes about which I knew little, and in some cases had no clue whatsoever. Hopefully my fans like posts from an unschooled learner who can share a fresh perspective, as well as wide-eyed wonder.
I’ll caution writers using my tactic about two things:
- You shouldn’t present yourself as an expert, but as someone discovering something new, along with your reader.
- Don’t ever admit you looked at Wikipedia as part of your research, or quote it as a reference. It’s not a respected source in the literary community. I’ll admit I’ve used Wikipedia as a springboard, giving me ideas or different facets of the topic, which I then research via other, more reputable sites.
I write children’s picture books, so the “wide-eyed wonder” shtick is a good fit. But some of my favorite books for adults also have parts that the author couldn’t possibly have known. I’m a fan of James A. Michener, and in his novel Chesapeake, he had several chapters about a soft-shelled crab at the bottom of the bay. In Centennial, he went back in Colorado history to the age of dinosaurs. Space contains heaps of information about the space program. Knowing Michener did loads of research makes me an even bigger fan.
My books so far have been about world travel, the airplane, an orangutan, the water cycle, and a rhinoceros. In every case I had a little interest, but almost no knowledge. Ideas pop into my head on a regular basis, but they are in the form of questions and curiosity. I started this writing/illustrating business more for fun than for profit, and that agenda has been attained.
Rita Goldner is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series.For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit OrangutanDay.com. Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. Works in progress: H2O Rides the Water Cycle, The Flying Artist, and Rose Colored. To view additional illustrations and Rita’s books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook. Subscribe to Rita’s newsletter, Orangutans and More! and receive a free coloring page of today’s illustration.