JOAN BARTH ON: WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW
I was always advised to “write what you know” but Sara Gruen who wrote WATER FOR ELEPHANTS never saw an elephant. I am writing about a woman in 1883 in New York City. I have no knowledge of what it was like to live in New York City in the 1880s.
I would advise you to write what you are interested in. It is not necessarily what you know. It is important that the subject turns you on. If it does, you will attract others who find it exciting, too.
Research resources are easily available. I have used the New York Historical Society, the ASPCA, the Metropolitan Transit Corporation, the New York Public Library, the City of New York Museum, Cooper-Hewitt Museum and many other sources. They all inform me of New York City life in the 1880s.
If you write for your audience but the subject fails to “hook” you, why write? For me, writing and rewriting takes a lot of time so my subject has to appeal to me. I do not take a currently popular issue and write to fill a need that is timely, but boring to me.
Why does 1883 appeal to me? It was the year my grandmother immigrated. I know very little about he but by focusing on that time period I learned, through research, what it was like to live in New York City then. I discovered what my grandmother’s life must have been. There was much prejudice about immigrants, Catholics, women, the Irish, domestic servants, intelligence (especially in women). Am I glad I didn’t live then.
I am glad I live now and I hope others will be as curious as I am in gathering information about an unknown point in time.