Writers' Need To Know What They're Writing About
I'm a big believer in write what you know, though you will find writers who aren't. Knowing what you're writing about helps you to generate material and material that will make more sense to readers. I've read children's books involving older characters living in some kind of elder facility and been left wondering, What is this place supposed to be? Is it assisted living? Is it a nursing home? Is it something the author just totally made up? I read a children's book this past year that involved sewing that made me wonder if the author had ever sewed anything or known anyone who had.
Not knowing what they're writing about means writers can't create a realistic, clearly defined world. It means logical gaps in plots. It means weak, unrealistic characters.
No, writing what you know does not mean you are limited to writing only what you presently know about. You can, indeed, research subjects. Which then, surprise, means you know about them.
- I researched the Puritan-era for The Hero of Ticonderoga. Also the humanist philosophers.
- I researched solar homes and environmental lifestyles for Saving the Planet & Stuff.
- I researched early twentieth century mill and labor history for an unpublished book.
- I researched Egyptian history and late nineteenth and early twentieth century Egyptologists for another unpublished book.
- Right now I am researching what I might call historical process--how historians work--for a new project.
These are all works of fiction.
The research is time consuming and I don't always do it in a very organized way.
How Might Ultralearning Help?
Ultralearning appears to be a term coined by Scott Young who defines it as "a strategy for aggressive, self-directed learning." In an interview in the Harvard Business Review, Young says, "People who have the least time, the people who have the most time constraints, those are the ones that really have to be efficient with figuring out what is the most effective way to learn this skill." (By which he means, in the context of the interview, "new skills," not an "ultralearning skill.")
Can you see why that looks attractive to someone who is always having to learn about new subjects to support new stories and can never find large chunks of free time in which to do it?
I have questions. How is ultralearning different from traditional research? Will it require enormous amounts of time to learn about? Can it help me be more organized? (I lost a book I used for research on submission and Christian women, as well as any notes I may have taken on the subject, so you can see why that's an issue for me.)
So I'm going to be dabbling with learning about ultralearning over the next few months, and trying to apply it to this history thing I'm doing. Which are both additions to what I thought I'd be doing at this point in the year.
But, you know, that's another issue.