Writers hear this all the time: Write What You Know. That statement doesn’t mean what you think. You don’t have to be a doctor to write about a doctor, or a teacher to write about a teacher, or a serial killer to write about a serial killer, or an alcoholic to write about an alcoholic. You can research for that.

What does it mean? Writers should write about the life experiences, relational experiences, and/or the feelings that they know or can somehow tap into. They should at least be empathetic or able to understand their characters, or  be able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.

Even actors have to be able to dig into their own reservoir of feelings to portray a character in a given role. There’s a new TV series about a young autistic doctor. The actor isn’t really autistic. But he has obviously done his research, and most likely reached into his emotional reservoir, because he has nailed the mannerisms and speech of an autistic person. I don’t know anything about the writers for that show, but I would expect they too did their research or know someone who is autistic. They’ve done a great job with it. It’s one of my favorite new shows.

I’ve written about a genius professor who became a high school principal, a former police detective turned writer, a young psychologist who feels guilty, a young teacher who runs away when she’s accused of murder, a serial killer tormenting a small French town, and an architect who time traveled. I did the research, but I also pulled from my emotional reservoir as much as possible.

There’s another saying: No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. Because of that, writers will often repeat themes in their books. Why? Because they are usually writing about things that are important to them. They may be searching for answers or trying to help other people who are searching for answers. It’s scary but it’s also in some ways therapeutic.