The Page a Day Writers Group

Write What You Don’t Know, by Theresa Danley

Posted on: April 28, 2010

Please welcome our second Page a Day guest blogger, Theresa Danley. Her debut novel, Effigy, hits stores in May. I asked Theresa to tell us a bit about herself and share her advice about writing.“I live along the hi-line of Montana. I’ve enjoyed writing stories practically since I could put words together. I originally started writing historicals when an archaeological mystery popped into my head and urged me to dabble in the thriller genre. Thus, my first published story, Effigy, was born! I’m really enjoying the adventure this story continues to lead me on as I work on the next book in the short series.”

Theresa Danley

Write What You Don’t Know

Perhaps every serious writer has heard the advice, “write what you know.” Actually, this line may very well have been elevated it to the ranks of golden rules for writers. Well, I would like to bring attention to the old cliché that rules are meant to be broken.

Okay, okay, I understand and agree that there is no substitute for knowledge and experience in the subject you are writing about. Your writing can only be enhanced by focusing on what you know. But may I suggest a subtle change of pace? Could your writing benefit from what you don’t know?

What I’m recommending is a simple change of scenery, especially if you’ve reached a stagnant point in your writing. So what kind of detour am I suggesting? Well, how about a couple of options, starting with good old fashioned research.

Wait! This isn’t as painful as it sounds!

Perhaps there’s been something you’ve heard or seen recently that caught your attention. Maybe you found something intriguing, but know nothing about it. This could be opportunity knocking at your door! Use that little spark of interest and do a quick internet search to learn a little more about that subject. You may find a whole new world opening up to you. Case in point, my archaeological thriller, Effigy, came about through research on an entirely different project!

Discovering a new subject can be exciting, but discovering a new genre can be challenging. Each genre has its own set of standards. When we write romance, for example, we know that our readers expect to find romantic elements within the story. If a romance writer chose to explore the thriller genre, perhaps that author can take something away from their newfound genre and punch out a great romantic thriller.

Blending elements from different genres isn’t a new concept by any means, but I think our own personal writing can benefit by experimenting in different arenas. The goal isn’t to become genre jumpers, but stepping out of our own comfort zones once in a while can provide valuable lessons. For example, while writing Effigy, certain areas of the story became heavy in action with little dialogue shared between the characters. To help remedy the situation, I learned how to turn the story into a screenplay. Because of the rigid structure of screenwriting (the story must be condensed to approximately120 pages – the equivalent of 120 minutes of an average movie – and the need to have the majority of the story carried through dialogue), I not only found ways for my characters to talk through the action, but I also inadvertently discovered ways to cut the excess from the book and tighten the story. This was a huge advancement for someone who knew nothing about writing movies!

Researching a new subject and learning a new genre are just two ways you can refresh your interest and excitement for writing. Through learning comes knowing, which brings us back to the golden rule. Maybe we’re not breaking any rules after all!


(May 2010, Whiskey Creek Press)

Meet the characters at

A serial killer is on the loose, depositing his victims’ hearts amid the Toltec ruins of central Mexico. Meanwhile, a priceless Mesoamerican artifact is stolen from the University of Utah, sweeping archaeologists Anthony Peet and Lori Dewson on a desperate recovery mission south of the border.

Accompanied by a reluctant colleague, an enthusiastic young journalist and a Yaqui woman in mourning, the team must decipher clues hidden within the Aztec sunstone, mystical Toltec Pyramids and astronomical calendar rounds to find the priceless effigy of Quetzalcoatl. They suddenly find themselves in a race against the coming solar eclipse, all the while dodging a corrupt Mexican police force still on the hunt for the sadistic murderer—a killer who’s chosen one of them for his next human sacrifice.


6 Responses to "Write What You Don’t Know, by Theresa Danley"

Yes,I am a great advocate of writing about what you “don’t” know. I mean I don’t know what it was like in Middle Age Britain but I can find out for my novels. I also set two novels in Spain and I’ve never been there. I love a challenge.

Thank you. Most of us have a bit of life experience and a pretty good dose of imagination. Research can fill in the rest and make the ride incredibly exciting.


I agree. Lately I’ve loved reading memoirs and lo and behold writing in this genre as well. But in order to keep my writing fresh, I need to read other genres. I need to read novels for the descriptions and the narrative details, characterization. I read thrillers and mysteries for plot. And fantasy for creating whole worlds. Thank you for this reminder, and thanks for posting.

I love the idea of learning a new genre and writing about something I don’t about!

I love this break-free philosophy. Liberating! Follow the sparks of your interests and see where they lead. Dig and enjoy time in the intellectual sandbox, even if you’re a beginner on the topic. Thank you, Theresa.

Mary Gentle wrote “It’s not write what you know, it’s know what you write”. Or something close to that. I sink myself into research until I “know “what I’m writing about.

Good reminder 🙂

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Who are we?

The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!


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