Write what you know – Liz Taylorson

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By Liz Taylorson

There’s lots of advice out there for novice writers. I know, because whilst I was writing my first novel I read it all and lapped it up. I’m not talking about this first novel, The Little Church by the Sea that is about to be published, but my real first novel, the bad one which currently languishes in the shoebox under the bed and makes me cringe when I think about the mistakes I made with it! ♥

And for me, the worst piece of advice was one which I thought was a truth universally acknowledged. Write what you know. I followed that advice a little bit too closely …

Of course it’s true to an extent – if you’re writing about something that you understand, love and want to share with the world it’s going to shine through your work (and cut down the amount of research that you need to do) but I made the mistake of writing about what I knew to the exclusion of what people might actually want to read about! I write romantic women’s fiction, and what I knew didn’t always suit the genre. So here are some of the many things I got wrong because I wrote about what I knew:

• Setting

I know a lot about library cataloguing, but my novel set almost entirely behind the scenes in an academic library wasn’t the most gripping read for many reasons. Readers of romantic women’s fiction tend to want a setting with a bit of escapism, not a grim 1970s piece of campus architecture that looked out over the main car park. My library cataloguer should have run a sweet little branch library on a village green perhaps …

• Characters

There’s real, and then there’s too real. My library cataloguer runs into a handsome academic. Real characters are meant to have flaws to add depth, and we all know people with real flaws – but choose your flaws wisely. I didn’t – I gave my hero a wandering eye and a shallow girlfriend whose looks had captivated him, so that at first he barely noticed the librarian. Although this flaw effectively kept the main characters apart for 200 pages, nobody who read my manuscript liked him! Instead of which, perhaps he could have been a single dad too wrapped up in looking after his book-loving daughter to notice the lovely librarian in the sweet little branch library …

• Plot

My librarian’s job was under threat due to cutbacks. In the interests of realism, my librarian whinged a bit and then got a transfer to work in the main office of the university. I knew this was what would really happen – but learn from my mistakes and don’t go there! Instead, when her library is threatened with closure, my lovely librarian should fight back, with the help of the handsome single dad (and possibly a cake sale or two), to keep the sweet little branch library open for his book-loving daughter …

In fact, that’s not a bad idea for a novel after all!

[The example I give is fictitious because the plot of my real novel was too convoluted to explain succinctly. The mistakes, however, are shockingly true ….]

After a childhood with her head in a book and a pen in her hand, Liz Taylorson worked in academic libraries until children interrupted her bibliographic career. Liz then started writing fiction and hasn’t stopped since, joining the RNA New Writers’ Scheme to learn how to write novels properly. The publication of her first novel The Little Church by the Sea, published by Manatee Books in November 2017, is a childhood dream come true.


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