While I’ve written a few million words — what with 6 books, thousands of blog posts spread over the internets and more than a few old-line news stories moldering away in library stacks — I’ve never written, except tax returns, one word of fiction.

I’ve been afraid.

Writing non-fiction is a relatively easy affair: gather up all the digital bits of info on a subject, start an outline stealing synthesizing the insights and home truths lodged in the above, sprinkle in a few interviews or quotes from people, bake until you’ve satisfied your editor and you’re done.

But fiction? Making it all up? Creating a full blown world (or at least the props for one), populating it with humans, sentients, and a cat or two? Different deal entirely.

How do you write about what you don’t know? How do you make it believable, not make stupid mistakes, not overwhelm your readers?

That’s why I’ve saved this post from the Guardian about writing fiction around a deadly virus outbreak and I thought it might be interesting to you if you’ve run into the same brick wall.

“Taylor Antrim embarked on a quest to ‘write difference’ with a deep dive into books on epidemics – but in clearing his concocted virus with some experts, he realized he was out of his depth and needed their help,” an excerpt from A deadly task: writing about a fictional virus when you’re a deskbound novelist.

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Taylor explains how he went a-journeying in a library when he wrote the novel, only to smack up against the hard truth: most of the really good knowledge is in people’s heads, not in their books.

Books (Remember them? Sigh.), and the Internet in all its vastness is just a sea of facts. But trying to drink that sea is going to lead to a cosmic-sized information overload. You don’t need facts, you need perspective, judgment, and human-sized filters that can sift through all the information and deliver what you, the writer, need.
I think Taylor’s approach of reaching out via his social network to people who do viruses for a living, and asking them to lend him their perspectives is a winning strategy. And successful writing is all about finding strategies and tools that work for you.