You’re a writer.
So why is it so hard to say it out loud? Why is it that every new person who walks through the door of my local writers’ group introduces herself, and then immediately disqualifies her attendance by adding, “But I’m not really a writer”?
Some refer to it as the Imposter Monster, and it took a big nasty bite out of my confidence early in my writing journey. Hell, it still does if we’re all being honest. I’m guessing we all suffer from Imposter Syndrome at some point, whether it’s because we don’t yet have any published titles in our sig, or because we’re uncertain if we’ll ever have another.
I first faced-down my monster when I was conducting research for a book, before the release of my debut. It was a crime thriller, and I had no background in law enforcement. Books and blogs were helpful, but limiting, leaving big gaps in my research that felt flat on the page. I was lacking the richness and depth of experience, and I would only get that from hands-on, interactive research – the kind that required me to get out of my writing chair. And this meant introducing myself.I had to make phone calls and send emails, and I put off this step for a long, long time. Not because I was afraid of the research. But because I was afraid to say it out loud…
“I’m a writer, and I’m conducting research for a book.” I could have stopped there. After all, this was all the qualification I needed. And yet, I had to fight the urge to add, “… a book I haven’t written yet. And no, I am not published.”
Turns out, all that time, the only real gatekeeper between me and better research was the Imposter Monster inside my own head. Before my first book published, I toured a forensics lab, conducted a ride-along with a sheriff’s deputy, played a part in a firearm simulation, took classes on evidence collection, searched a mock-prison cell for contraband with a correctional officer, and interviewed a defense attorney. Not one single person asked for a bibliography or a resume as a prerequisite. And no one declined to help me when I told them I was not yet published. To my surprise, they were all more than willing to share their knowledge and time. People like to talk about things they’re passionate about, and you are a captive audience.
Hands-on face-to-face research opportunities are available to all of us, but the first step to getting through the door is giving yourself permission to try.
Here are a few research sources open to all of us that you might not have considered before.
- Audit a class through your local university, trade school, or community college. Or ask to interview a professor as an expert in their field.
- Visit a museum. Call ahead or send a letter and ask to meet with a curator or museum expert while you’re there. They might offer an interview, or a personalized tour. Not near a museum? Try a local Historical Society.
- Call or email the Public Relations Department. Many corporations, governmental agencies, and public service offices offer tours, or opportunities for the public to learn more about them. (Note: there will be some that are off-limits to the public. I was turned away by juvenile correction centers due to the ages of the inmates and their legal rights to privacy. I was also denied access to a medical examiner’s office and the autopsy suite. Don’t let these minor setbacks deter you. There are always alternative sources for the information you need. Interviews with industry experts can give you a unique snapshot behind the curtain.)
- Sign up for a workshop. Your local chapter of a larger professional writing organization may offer a variety of guest speakers, panels, and workshops featuring experts in various fields, and catering to a particular genre. Most workshops are open to the public for a reasonable fee.
- Offer to volunteer and get your hands dirty, in exchange for the experience to shadow a resource for a day.
- Ask friends and colleagues for referrals. You know that old saying about 6 degrees of separation? Chances are, someone you know knows someone who knows a whole lot about something you want to learn! Facebook and LinkedIn are great resources for identifying people who can offer you a warm hand-off to an expert in a specific field.
Now get out there and say it!
You’re a writer. And you have a lot of research to do.
ELLE COSIMANO writes YA mysteries and thrillers. Her acclaimed debut, Nearly Gone, was recently nominated for an Edgar Award. The sequel, Nearly Gone, releases on June 2. Elle lives in a grass hut on the Riviera Maya with her husband and two sons. For more information, follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or visit her website.