Monday, April 12, 2010

Write What You Know

Recently I stumbled across some old word files containing the partial remains of stories I had written when I was teenager (oh so long ago). As I read through, happily trundling down memory lane, I felt as if something was not right. There was something missing in those early manuscripts. It wasn't that the ideas behind the stories were weak, far from it. In fact I intend to revisit one of them in the near future (if Mr Brehaut is reading this; You're going to be very happy ;-) ). It took me a while to finally figure out what was missing back then; Life experience.

Time and time again I have heard the words "write what you know" offered as advice to struggling writers. While I always thought it was good advice, I never really appreciated it until I looked back at my own work. Our writing is a reflection of ourselves, of the things we have seen and done. It can be a record of how we are feeling at a given moment in time. This is important not only for our readers, but also for ourselves. It allows us to look back and see how far we've come.

Of course we can't get any of this life experience if we are constantly tied to our keyboards. I offer this additional piece of advice to the struggling writer. When you are struggling to find that next chapter or fill that big gaping plot hole, stand up and walk away from the keyboard. Staring at a monitor is not going to help. Get up, leave the room and do something totally unrelated. New ideas come from new experiences. If you have no new experiences, you will not be able to "write what you know"!


  1. Fascinating post - completely agree with you about needing experience away from the keyboard - I sometimes find myself drinking in experiences (or other peoples') to fill up the resevoir that feeds my ideas for writing. Never been keen on the adage 'write what you know' though, I much prefer 'know what you write', which allows the writer more room to get out and research what they want to write about, and seems a little less fatalistic.

  2. Writing is all about new experiences! Thank goodness we've evolved from writing in a room all day, chained to our desk, to walking around and seeing life happen. How else could your portray life on the page without experiencing life for yourself?

    I think the whole "write what you know" phrase is oversimplified. It's not that we have to experience the death of a loved one to write about it, but that we have to know the emotions behind a death. Maybe your best friend moved away, you never knew your mom/dad, etc, and it's those emotions that can translate into any character/situation you create.

  3. I never agreed with 'Write what you know' , its an overused prescription for budding writers. If I had stuck to it I'd have never written some of my best work.