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3 Reasons Why Personally Visiting a Source (or Location) Will Better Your Writing

1. You can ask your own questions. If you use only written resources, you can miss out on key information that could help bring your subject alive to your readers. 2. You can get the personal viewpoint of the people involved in your subject matter. I learned this many years ago, while writing a book about different breeds of horses. I had written to the official organizations representing various breeds for information, and each of them strove to convince me that their breed was the ultimate “all purpose horse.” I couldn’t figure out what to write about for each breed that made it unique and special.

I first met Audie a year ago, when I arrived at his home in northern California. Sharp barks announced the arrival of me and my photographer, William Muñoz. Audie’s human, Linda, invited us into the living room as Audie ran excitedly back and forth, away from us and towards us, trying to find the courage to make friends with these strangers. Making friends with strangers isn’t something the dogs in the Michael Vick dog fighting ring were used to, and Audie clearly suffered from a struggle between his innate desire to make friends and his learned fear of strangers. But thanks to the loving attention he’d received from a variety of generous people since his 2007 rescue, Audie was soon snuggling against my leg on the couch taking a nap.

Dorothy is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Wendy won.)

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Guest column by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, animal
lover extraordinaire who always jumps at the chance
to write about canines. Her newest book (May 2011)
is Saving Audie: A Pit Bull Puppy Gets a Second Chance.
Dorothy believes up close and personal research is
vital to the success of a project. See her website here.

I suppose I could have written a book about these dogs by reading magazines and articles on the Internet—their rescue had certainly generated lots of press. But I never would have been able to write a compelling and sensitive story without meeting Audie and his human family and following them through their daily routine. The vital personal relationship component that brings writing to life would have been missing.

Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up,” and when you’re a writer, 90% might be more like it. When you’re there, encountering your subject matter in person, you not only can make an emotional connection, you also have these other advantages:

1. You can ask your own questions.
If you use only written resources, you can miss out on key information that could help bring your subject alive to your readers.

2. You can get the personal viewpoint of the people involved in your subject matter. I learned this many years ago, while writing a book about different breeds of horses. I had written to the official organizations representing various breeds for information, and each of them strove to convince me that their breed was the ultimate “all purpose horse.” I couldn’t figure out what to write about for each breed that made it unique and special. Then I visited people who raised horses. When I arrived, I’d invariably be asked to come in for a cup of coffee before visiting the barn or pasture. After a sip or two, I’d ask my host why he or she chose this particular breed. Bingo! I had my answers and was able to write my book.

3. By being present and observing closely, you can capture those little details that help draw your readers into your story. While shivering so strongly I could hardly write as I watched polar bears near Churchill, Manitoba, I could see the little puffs of snow stirred up by a bear’s giant snowshoe-like paws as it padded along the tundra and note that its coat was so smooth and gleaming white it looked as if it had been professionally groomed. I never would have gleaned those details just from reading or even from a video.

So take my advice and go on a quest for your own up close and personal knowledge of a subject that grabs you and will grab your reader. And if you can make it one that takes place on, say, a tropical island or an exciting city, so much the better!

Dorothy is excited to give away a free copy of her book to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Wendy won.)

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