Write what you know.

If you’ve ever done a writing course, you will have heard the rule: write what you know. Pretty straight forward advice.  Like me, you might have decided to stay within the safe confines of your areas of knowledge. You can’t get things wrong that way, right?

Following the above rule you give your characters the same job experiences, food preferences, thought processes, lifestyles choices as yourself. Safe and simple.

That’s what I thought. But somehow I found myself writing a romance novel when I know nothing about love. How did that happen? And I set part of the story on a dairy farm. I thought I knew nothing about that, but it turns out my great grandparents ran a dairy farm in Western Australia. I had no idea until after the book was written. What part of me was drawn to explore love and dairy farming?  Certainly not a conscious part of me.

Perhaps we write about what we need to know. We write about what mystifies us, what rules us, the emotions that brew below the surface of our everyday lives. We follow a whisper at the level of our DNA. We write the unknown in order to make it familiar and more accessible.

Or at least I think that’s what happens.

Do you write about what you know? Or what you need to know? Has your writing surprised you? Have you ever thought, where did that come from?


[Thank you so much to BrownPaperBagGirl and also CreativeBarbedWire for this award. It’s taken me a week to figure out how to get it posted here – just drag and drop – and it makes me happier than you can imagine. Thanks guys. My first award. Yay.]

I think what I have to do now is tell seven things about myself. Here goes:

1. I am far more sensitive that I let on.

2. Coffee is my favourite way to feel good in the morning. The joy of getting all the elements right; temperature, grind, milk texture, the pouring together. It’s alchemy, it’s love, it’s a constant joyous juggle of  external factors.  When it’s done right – bliss.

3. I don’t trust people who don’t like animals.

4. Mowing the lawn is like vacuuming outside; boring and tedious. I do, however, love it when all the grass is cut.  But I want it to last forever. Confession: sometimes, in Summer, I try to almost kill it by cutting it really short in the hope that it will burn a little and grow back more slowly. Sorry, grass.

5. I believe we are too visually dependent. If we couldn’t see, we would stop judging each other on inconsequential things like appearance, race, age, height, fashion sense.  We would listen more to each other. We’d perhaps live at a slower pace, enjoying simple things like breathing and sharing conversations.

6. I have moments when I don’t know anything at all. I feel empty. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing .

7. Some of the people I’ve “met” on this site are just beautiful and I feel inspired when I read their blogs.

Thanks guys, that was fun.

xxx Lisa


Filed under books, editors, fiction, life, Reading, romance, writers, Writing

40 responses to “Write what you know.

  1. I would love to have that kinda experience, and although I get the (good) shivers from reading my own written stuff when I turn the pages back to long ago times, I haven’t experienced precisely what you speak of. I know what you mean though.

    For me the question is still jogging the idea of what to write. You know? Oh, but I will catch up soon, Lisa.

    Great share.


    • Thanks BrownEyed. It seems to me that you have no shortage of ideas for writing. But perhaps you are more in touch with your thoughts than I am? I get very dreamy when I write. :-]

  2. I tend to keep at least parts of what I write with roots in things that I know, but I certainly venture into realms that I don’t really know about. My fantasies take on greater realism if they are connected with my realities.

    Tossing It Out

  3. Lua

    I believe that advice to be very true- we should write what we know otherwise the reader can sense that we have no idea what we’re talking about and that’s a huge turn off…
    But I don’t think we should stay inside our comfort zone to be able to do that, we can decide to write about something that we’re complete oblivious about but with research and reading we can learn before we sit down to write about it. I wrote about a medical condition in my novel that I had no idea about but I did a good amount of research… And it was really fun to learn all about it. That’s one of the best parts of being a writer, we are always learning new & interesting things 🙂

    And congratulations on the award Lisa!
    Coffee is my favorite way to being a day as well and I always keep one eye open for those people who don’t like animals 😉

  4. I don’t write what I know, but I do try to know it before I write it. My genre is historical fiction, which is a lot of research — and a lot of adventure! 🙂

    Your #5 is beautiful. Congrats on the award, Lisa!

    – Corra

    The Victorian Heroine

  5. I’ll admit, I’ve always distrusted the “write what you know” mantra. Especially in fiction writing, I think it’s a mix of what you know, and what you WANT to know. How else would new and interesting stories be created every day: stories about the future, the past, the unknown…even the mundane. I’m grateful to all of those authors who aren’t afraid to research or conjure 🙂

  6. awesome advices.

  7. if writers wrote whet they know only, there would be no genre fiction… I write fantasy. I make up worlds and people. Maybe I write about what I would like to see/feel/know… and I like being the goddess creator of it all! 🙂
    Besides, it’s not called “fiction” for nothing… 😀

    • Artistic license, right? Not many of us have experience with aliens or other dimensions, yet if it’s well written, we can believe in the world of the author.
      How wonderful to be the “goddess creator of it all.”

  8. I find it tedious to write just what you know! I find when I challenge myself, go to my dark place (which is uncomfortable), my short stories come out much better.

  9. Interesting point. I believe as you do, sometimes we do write things we need to know. I have had those moments where it was like “where did THAT come from?”

    I think “write what you know” is where a writer should start but he/she should always be open to venturing into the “write what you don’t know.” For instance I have this novel on the backburner that is almost the opposite of what I am writing right now. I’m writing sort of like young adult fantasy (not sure if I want it to be more adult or more kiddie yet) but I have this other novel that is a social-political commentary, a completely adult rated, sometimes 18 and over, that centers on a main character who is an Iraq war veteran.

    I know nothing about war or being a war hero, but somehow I can write his story and I identify with him. So, I guess I’m saying we should do both.

    Btw, congrats on the awards! Well deserved! I love that we’re all getting awarded these days. 🙂

    • Just proves goes to prove how diverse you are as a writer, Ollin. To be able to handle both of those genres takes skill and you obviously have that gift. Perhaps it’s the emotion behind the external situations that is believable to the reader. There is certainly a kind of magic involved. I’ve yet to figure it out. But still trying.
      And as for the award, thank you. Mega-congratulations to you on yours too- very well deserved!

  10. “Perhaps we write about what we need to know.” I like that. When I consider my writing, I tend to gravitate towards thoughts and things that I want to explore. Journeys that I want to go on.

    As for #6, I think those moments when we feel empty are those moments when we just truly ARE.

  11. I never like to write what I know. You would end up getting bored with yourself, right? 🙂 And you learn so much more when you jump into a subject blindly!

  12. Lisa, I was always told ‘write what you know’ but I can’t say if I believe in it or not as yet…when I first started uni I used to think of it as ‘cheating’ (how silly) but I’ve come to think ‘just write whatever way it works’. I like your idea of writing what we need to know – I think you’re on the money there.

    • Hi Kate, that cheating idea is interesting. I wonder why we feel that? It’s quite common.
      But I like the idea of ‘just write whatever way it works’. That’s sound advice. Thank you.
      x Lisa

  13. Congrats on a well deserved award. I think #3 is a perfect rule to live by! Thanks for sharing these interesting things about yourself.

  14. Congrats on your versatility! Thank you for sharing a bit about yourself. I am so with you on #’s 1-3… Being a newbie to writing I lean towards writing about what I know, but find that this exercise takes me to unfamiliar places and subjects…which then inspires me to think differently about what I know and research what I do not.

    So far, am loving the process.

    Keep up the good work. : )

    • “Loving the process” is so important. I don’t ever want to lose sight of the joy writing can bring, even when it feels like my brain is disintegrating from word overload. 🙂
      x Lisa

  15. Great post, very informative. Keep up the good work, Thanks.

  16. junebugger

    Thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving such an encouraging comment! I’m so glad you did comment…otherwise I might have discovered your blog much later on!

    Anyway, great post. I write what I know and expand that experience through imagination. I write romance but have never been in love with a man. Yet I have felt love through my parents, observed it between couples, and use this experience to try and imagine how it would feel for my hero and heroine. As I always say, nothing can come from nothing.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Junebugger. I fell in love with your site, and your book, which I’m hoping you’ll receive very good news about any day now.
      I’ve got everything crossed for you. 🙂

  17. Congrats on the award. I believe that we write what our eternal soul sings. We are energy and are connected to each other, so in some respect we experience so much more than we realize. I believe that we can tap into that greater consciousness by quieting our minds and truly let our hearts come alive. When we go beyond the mental chatter, we may surprise ourselves.

  18. Sometimes I think we also write about what we want to be. We write to inspire ourselves, to believe in ourselves.
    I write what I know, but as I write I realize that I didn’t really know that much.

    I love your writing.

    • Thank you, Arthurscount. Ditto with your writing.
      I know exactly what you mean about realising you didn’t know something after you’d written what you thought you knew. Ah…, yeah, that makes sense.

  19. Nonsense! I’ve heard this “write what you know” advice repetitively and still don’t believe in it!

    Unless you’re writing non fiction – stories come from the imagination and stories want to be read from the imagination.

    In my poetry I write about Stockholm Syndrome, gypsies, suicide, marriage… I don’t know about ANY of that sh1t. But it makes for great poetry.

    • You’re right, Ruby. I suspect being a sensitive person helps. If you can feel your way into another person’s shoes, you’re half-way there. Someone told me yesterday that my description of a migraine was the best they’d heard. And yet, I’ve never actually experienced one. But I’ve seen the look on someone I love’s face while they’re in pain. And I think I can get a pretty good idea of what they’re feeling. Because pain is common to all of us.

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