New Twist on ‘Write What You Know’

We’ve all heard it before: Write what you know. Sometimes we can get so pigeonholed into assuming that applies only to our obvious big picture knowledge—work experience, hobbies, regional culture, etc. Those can certainly help us craft a great story, but they also can come off as pretty serious.

For most genres, we’re hoping to draw on something a little more creative than the vast accounting knowledge of our day job or the fact that we can write characters with an authentic southern drawl (or one that sounds like a nordern ya hey from Wisconsin, der, don’t ya know).

I’d like to suggest we look at it from a micro level. What are the moments, the life experiences, the memories, that you KNOW. Those personal emotions and sensations form an even more powerful version of “Write what you know.” They become the tiny details that make or break a scene, that intangible element of believability that makes readers fall in love with a book.

For example:
  • I know that on quiet days in the woods, you really CAN hear a single mouse scurrying amid the underbrush.
  • I know what a tall ship looks like under a coating of frost and snow.
Voila! Yes, there really IS a ship hiding behind all those trees and snowbanks.
  • I know that your face can literally go numb if you’ve exercised too long without stopping for food. (Oops! Not fun.)
  • I know exactly how Christmas Tree Worms dart back inside their coral homes when you wave a hand in front of them.


*Video added so you guys can see how cool these are.

  • I know what leaking radiator fluid smells like and what happens when your alternator dies in the middle of driving.
  • I know how fast and tight a heart races when you’re in the middle of nowhere and it’s midnight and you can hear some kind of animal crossing the stream in the pitch black a few paces away.

Will I ever use these examples fully? Probably not. But they become pieces of the whole. Memorable pieces.

So, what do YOU know?

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  1. This is such a good idea. I often use my memories to get into a character who's in a situation I'll never be in. It's what grounds them.

  2. I know a lot about what it's like to try to be a published author and how it feels to deal with all the frustrations that can sometimes come along with it!

  3. We are the sum of our experiences and those experiences will end up in our stories somewhere.

  4. What Lynda said!
    Now, what are Christmas Tree Worms?

  5. Who knows when we'll ever use all the little bits of stuff we know, but we can play Jeopardy in the meantime! :)

  6. Wow! Thank you...did I mention I love cookies? :) I know quite a bit about working in coffee shops, but I'll probably never write the book "Baristas" (though I've thought about it).

  7. I know what it's like to have an alternator die while driving too. First the radio goes, which is pretty spooky cause you have no idea what caused that. Then the steering wheel locks up. I kind of want to write about that now!

  8. Miss Cole - Exactly!

    Cynthia - Haha, true for many of us. :)

    Lynda - Yes, we are.

    Alex - They're brightly colored fuzzy spiraled worms that live on coral and literally look like something out of a Dr. Seuss novel. When you wave your hand in front of them, they fold up and dart back inside the coral. I'll see if I can add a video to the post.

    Christine - Especially if it was a writing/book themed Jeopardy. :)

    Michael - You're welcome. Now, I'm expecting Baristas to hit the shelves in a few years!

    Kristen - Totally spooky, right?! LOL, t's basically the same thing as the alien abductions you see in TV shows without the weird time loss. ;)

  9. This is such a great post! Thank you so much for sharing this, I really needed this reminder.

  10. I LOVE this post, Nicole. When you hear 'write what you know' I'm sure most people do think hobbies, jobs, skills, talents, etc., rather than emotions and experiences.