As long as I can remember I’ve heard the admonition to “write what you know.” The problem with that my experience and knowledge were limited. Now I hope that as I have grown older (much older!) I’ve learned more and certainly experienced more. But regardless of how long I live on this earth, how much I experience, or how much knowledge I absorb, there will always be limits.
Since I’m a writer as well as a reader, I had to ask myself, “How long will my readers be content with reading only what I have personally experienced or know?” The answer was, “Not very long.”
That’s when I turned into an avid researcher. True, it was easier to write a novel set in a fictional place similar to my hometown, about people similar to me and/or my family and friends, but if I was serious about writing, I needed to be willing to stretch out of my comfort zone and expand my knowledge base. When I signed a contract to write four international novels, each set in a geographical location I’d never even visited and in a culture that was completely foreign to me, I felt more than a bit intimidated. How would I ever bring these stories to life?
Thanks to modern technology I was able to begin with Internet research, and that certainly gave me the basic information I needed to build the skeleton for my stories. But if I wanted to put “meat” on those bones and make those stories breathe, I had to go further. And so I began to pray. “Show me, God, how to do this, where to go, who to talk to.” As always, He answered faithfully–in His time and His way, of course.
Though each resource person came into my life in a different way, God provided someone from each country I was writing about who was willing to work with me on my stories. As a result, readers often say to me, “Wow, I had no idea you had lived in China (Africa/Saudi Arabia–you fill in the blanks).” They’re shocked when I tell them I’ve never even set foot in those places. But God has His people everywhere–and He knows exactly how to connect us. Because of that, I was able to move beyond the “write what you know” mentality and give my readers something more.
What we know may be important, but Who we know is the vital key, not only to writing interesting fiction but to our eternal destiny–for He is the true Author and Finisher of our faith.