Writing Tip #21

Write what you know. Duh. Okay, I’m channeling Charlie Sheen for this week’s writing tip (I couldn’t resist). If you haven’t been blessed with Tiger Blood or Adonis DNA and want to write winning prose, the best advice out there, and writers get it all the time, is to “write what you know.” I remember sitting in my long fiction class at Hofstra University and my professor praising a scene I wrote that took place in Bryant Park in Manhattan.

“You’ve been to Bryant Park, yes?” my professor asked.

“Yes, I used to eat lunch there all the time when I worked in Manhattan,” I said.

“It shows,” she said.

What my professor meant was not that I got the landscape and physicality of the place correct, although I probably did. But I described what it feels like to be there — something I really could only nail if I had been there, especially many times.

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner has a terrific blog post on this subject, about how when you “write what you know” you write with truth, authenticity and heart. And keep in mind that writing what you know doesn’t necessarily mean writing it exactly as you know it. For example, if you are a writer and want to create a character who is a writer, that character doesn’t have to be you. You can cull the aspects of writerhood that you want to discuss and develop — your expertise, “what you know” — and embed them in someone totally different: an alien, a lab monkey, whatever.

What’ s more is I can attest that when I write what I know, and I do it as often as possible, that perennial struggle to get everything down on the page lessens just a bit, the words come easier, and I feel most authoritative as a writer. When you write what you know, the passion will show.

Or as Charlie Sheen might say: Duh. Winning.


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2 thoughts on “Writing Tip #21

  1. I’m certainly not disagreeing with the point of this post, just bringing up the fact that there are folks out there who, based on the creative and surprising nature of the writing process, suggest writing what you don’t know…

    That’s a fascinating premise that I’ve had to consider in my WIP since it happens 12 light-years from Earth and there are no Earthlings in the story :-)

    Still, as I created my aliens, I had to rely on what I knew…

    How could I know what aliens are like??

    Well, I created their planets and I controlled their evolution, so I just relaxed into my role as their “god” and wrote what I knew about them :-)

  2. When I decided to write the story of my brother’s murder the first few drafts felt as if I was hovering over the story trying to not mention this one or that one. Once I decided to tell the story the way I lived it the words flowed.
    It was much easier to write what I actually felt rather than what I thought I should have felt.

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