Many times, in the process of writing a novel, writers have to do research. Although the depth and quality of research depend on the genre and type of story you’re telling, readers are too sophisticated these days. They will not accept ignorance within the story as it pertains to characters, setting, or time period.
Whether you’re looking into a police procedure, or calculating how long it takes to drive from Poughkeepsie to Cleveland, it’s important to have your facts straight. If you’re writing nonfiction, it’s absolutely critical to ensure you’ve verified your sources, and you know that the information you’re using is accurate and up-to-date.
I’ll start with the Internet and then progress to books to get a baseline understanding of the material I’m researching. But in many cases, I end up reaching out and talking to experts because there is no substitute for someone who has dedicated their life to a particular profession or volume of knowledge.
For a paranormal novel I was writing, I contacted a scientist who specialized in nonlocal discovery. The idea is that we can send our consciousness to a different physical location while our body remains stationary, which we might generally term ESP. I interviewed the scientist, recorded the conversation, and took copious notes. There wasn’t a major scene in my novel that involved someone traveling outside of their body, but the information was valuable in the world I was creating, and being able to discuss my questions with an expert was something I couldn’t do on Google or find in books.
For another novel, I interviewed one of the world’s best hot air balloon pilots. I talked to a man who flew across the entire continent inside of a hot air balloon. Again, this really only applied to a few scenes toward the end of an entire trilogy, but I had to get the science correct. It was important that I was able to portray a journey in a hot air balloon as accurately as possible, even if it was taking place in a fantasy world. As in my interview with the scientist, I was able to ask questions and get clarification during the interview in a way that would not have been possible by watching YouTube videos.
Some thriller writers I know will spend years doing research, especially if it’s location-dependent. They want to ensure that all of the science, geography, and weather is 100% accurate because even though the story is fictional, the world is real. Travel becomes an important expense incorporated into a storyteller’s budget because they want the story to be as authentic as possible.
Writers come from many different places and backgrounds. Unlike my previous occupation as an educator, becoming an author has only one requirement—writing. To be a teacher, you must go through four years of college, sometimes requiring graduate school, a battery of standardized testing, state licensing or certification, and then FBI background and criminal checks. Because of that, career teachers tend to have similar work experience. Once you’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on an education and jump through all the hoops necessary to become a certified teacher, you tend to stay in the profession for your entire career. Teachers can change from one grade level to another or from one school to another, but the work experience is somewhat similar.
Writers are different. You can be a truck driver, a veterinarian, a lawyer, a construction foreperson, a dental assistant, or a hot air balloon pilot, and still be an author. Being a career author does not require a high school diploma, a college degree, or an advanced degree. Most of the writers I know have a unique background and varied life experience. If you read author bios on Amazon, you will see that many writers have had many jobs before they’ve called themselves authors.
So, what do you do if you’re writing a book about ESP or hot air ballooning? You can seek out and request an interview with experts the way I did, and sometimes, you’ll get lucky and have the opportunity to talk to someone, but many times, you won’t. And some of us who are more introverted on the introversion/extroversion scale won’t seek out help from an expert in real life.
In every mastermind group, I have been a participant in or led, I have seen a tremendous variety of life experience. But even more so than experience, I’ve discovered that almost everyone is a subject-matter expert of one kind or another.
I’ve been in mastermind groups with clinical psychologists, personal trainers, artists, woodworkers, social advocates, real estate agents, advertising executives, lawyers, and so many more. These treasure troves of resources don’t usually surface early in the mastermind sessions because people are still getting to know each other. But once the ice has been broken, it is not uncommon for the subject-matter experts to be acknowledged and then sought out for their expertise, whether it pertains to craft, business, or life.
People love to demonstrate mastery of a particular skill or knowledge, and this happens in a mastermind group for the benefit of everyone involved. If there’s a lawyer in the mastermind group and someone is writing a legal thriller, the lawyer is the subject-matter expert and can provide research and information about her profession, which would become more valuable to that writer than a Wikipedia article.
I’ve been fortunate to have several mentors during my decades as an educator. I’ve learned so much from people who spent their entire lives teaching, and now I can impart that wisdom to others. Being a subject-matter expert in education gives me a perspective that many others in my field do not have. Just because someone is a successful author does not mean they are a great teacher. And learning is not only something that happens in a fourth-grade classroom. We are all constantly learning, and as a subject-matter expert when it comes to education, I feel as though I can help other writers in all aspects of their business as it pertains to the act of learning.
As members come in and out of a mastermind group, the variety and extent of subject-matter experts grows, and the collective wisdom can then benefit the entire group.
You could go out and constantly seek an advisory panel of a dozen people who have different skillsets and life experiences than you and ask them to meet you for coffee regularly, to give you advice that will help you with the stories you’re writing. Or you could join a mastermind group. Support awaits you. Want to take your writing chops and business savvy to the next level? Check out The Author Success Mastermind group at https://theauthorsuccessmastermind.com/join/