We’ve all heard it. Sometimes we groan, sometimes we delight, depending on the situation and where you are in your publishing journey. You’re at a Friday evening neighborhood barbecue when the man down the street approaches you, cautiously, but also sort of expectantly, too:
As we grow in our careers, the demands on our time triple. No, quadruple. These requests seem to come fast and furious and even the most generous spirited among us feel the need to preserve our time, energy and creativity for our own writings. A few months ago, in a closed writer’s Facebook group, a fairly successful author posted this article on how to handle these requests. I thought it was brilliant. I thought the Friday Morning Solution was incredibly practical, allowing for only those who are the most committed to follow through. If you haven’t already, you should read it and follow it! Set those boundaries, girl (or guy)!
My next thought, immediately, was, “What if I’m the brain picker? Not the pickee?”
I posed the question in the group to my friend. “How do you ask to pick someone’s brain?" I want to read that article. Her answer? “I try not to.” This astounded me. How do we learn? Yes, the internet. Yes, books. Of course, read them. But nothing beats the question, “Tell me something about your job that no one knows." If your main character is a doctor, this question is your best friend. But, how do you get the answers?
Successful, prolific authors have made an art out of asking for the “brain pick”. We talk to cops, lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists. For Binds That Tie, five chapters take place in a courtroom. I have never, in my life, been in a working courtroom. I’ve been excused from jury duty four times. Then how did I do this? I talked to lawyers. Specifically, criminal defense attorneys.
Sometimes you get more information from experts by asking them personal rather than professional questions. In some ways, this also makes it fun for the expert! Everyone likes to share their professional achievements. Let them brag a bit, most of the time they’ll inadvertently slip little useful nuggets into their stories that will bring your characters to life.
Using this guide, I’ve never had one expert say no. They are always impressed, excited to be part of a fiction book. Sometimes, you sit in a defense attorney’s office for three hours while he tells you all his book ideas. Sometimes, they’ll set a timer and cut you off mid-sentence. Other times, you’ll take a Philadelphia homicide cop for coffee and he will BRING YOU BULLET CASINGS that have been flattened by a car at the scene and it will be a great day in this new, fun, career of yours. When done properly, I’ve found that talking to experts is one of the greatest perks of the job.
Happy brain picking, everyone!
Have you successfully picked someone's brain for your writing? Whose brain—you don't need to give a name, a profession works—would you like to mine for information for your WIP?
Kate Moretti is the New York Times Bestselling author of four novels and a novella, including Thought I Knew You, While You Were Gone, Binds That Tie, The Vanishing Year, and Blackbird Season. Her first novel THOUGHT I KNEW YOU, was a New York Times bestseller. THE VANISHING YEAR was a nominee in the Goodreads Choice Awards Mystery/Thriller category for 2016 and was called “chillingly satisfying.” (Publisher’s Weekly) with “superb” closing twists (New York Times Book Review).
Kate has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for twenty years as a scientist and enjoys traveling and cooking. She lives in Pennsylvania in an old farmhouse with her husband, two children and no known ghosts. Her lifelong dream is to find a secret passageway. Visit her website at www.katemoretti.com.
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