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Writers and Scholars
by Susanne Shaphren
"Write about what you know" doesn't have to mean
devoting your whole life to the study of a single subject.
My professional struggle against the
intimidation of blank paper prompted me to write "Beat The Block" (April '78,
THE WRITER.) Personal experiences translated into sales to OPTIMIST
UNLIMITED NEWSLETTER too. "Do Talk To Strangers" and "Have A Nice Day!"
were "researched" without ever setting foot in the library.
Don't sell yourself short. You don't need a
degree in business management or home economics to write inflation-fighting
articles. Health conscious cooks on a budget know exactly how to cut costs and
calories without sacrificing nutrition or taste. If you're one of these kitchen
magicians, sharing your tricks with readers may be the key to boosting filler
and article sales.
Do-it-yourselfers who have the skill and
patience to help others do it too can take advantage of abundant how-to markets.
Subjects that interest you enough to make you wonder often provide a springboard
Several articles and books on incest started me
thinking about how these cold hard statistics translated into human experience.
Remembering that I couldn't afford to take the scholarly approach and spend
years interviewing victims, I merged facts with carefully constructed fictional
characters my readers could care about. PERSONAL ROMANCES published the
I used the same technique when approaching the
subject of terminally ill children and the growing trend toward caring for them
at home instead of in hospitals. Several articles provided background
information; a healthy dose of imagination supplied the rest of the material I
needed. "He Deserted Our Baby Because She Is Dying" appeared in TRUE
One of your most valuable research sources can
be found in any mirror. As those birthdays add up, so do unique life experiences
that contribute special insight to articles and stories.
Growing up with a mother who pioneered oral
education for the deaf (by starting the first program in Arizona) taught me
there was more than one option for the parents of a deaf infant, more than the
limited world of finger-signing communication available to deaf adults. "No More
Tears For Margaret" was published in TRUE EXPERIENCE. "I Didn't Want
His Pity, I Couldn't Win His Love" found a home at TRUE LIFE
You don't have to have dirt under your
fingernails to write about rural life. A childhood visit to a farm and a
writer's natural curiosity were all the preparation I had before selling the
first three stories I submitted to FARM WIFE NEWS. Perhaps not living
on a farm was an advantage because I was able to use the point of view of an
outsider to create change of pace stories.
Science fiction provides the ultimate
opportunity to create whole new societies or explore forgotten facets of
existing ones. It's still possible to come up with a different slant on "the end
of the world" or try a twist on the new beginning theme. You don't have to be a
scientist with a string of degrees; you just have to be willing to work hard
enough to make your brave new worlds credible.
Because writers often take the time to read
between the lines, to wonder why things happen the way they do, we often wind up
knowing a little bit about a lot of different things.
We may never know as much about a particular
subject as scholars do, but by making the most of what we do know and using the
helping hand of research to bridge the gaps, it's easy to increase
© Copyright 2004, Susanne Shaphren
Susanne Shaphren's articles, essays, and fiction have appeared in an eclectic
assortment of online and print venues including: AbsoluteWrite, Children's
Playmate, Espresso Fiction, Jack and Jill, Mouth Full of Bullets, The Writer,
and Weight Watchers Magazine. "Arrangements" is included
in Mystery Writers of America Presents Show Business Is Murder. "Trouble
at the Door" is available as a Wading Pool download from Swimming Kangaroo