Friday, August 19, 2011

Know What You Write

I was reading another blog where a guest writer was discussing that familiar phrase: write what you know. This writer was discussing, in under 100 words, why you should ignore the phrase and write about what you love, because if you only wrote about what you knew you’d never open yourself up to anything else. 
I have to agree with writing about what you love but I also believe that you should write what you know. This is my reasoning: if you love something you will learn about it, if you learn enough about it you will be able to write about it in a believable way.

Maybe I’m unique in my thought, but I believe that my real life experiences make me a better author. It’s not that I have experienced everything in life; I hope that I don’t, but especially dealing with human emotions there is a lot of spill over from one experience to another. Being able to call upon that real body of knowledge gives me more confidence that my reader will hear the ring of truth in my words. 
For me it all goes back to my civil war novella 100 Days Until Tomorrow. I was just writing a story without knowing anything. I was creating the characters, the battles and emotions (the emotions were the worst). I had no idea what I was doing and it showed. It was that novella and encouragement from a friend that started me on my journey of life. I began to engage others in a way I hadn’t before. I stopped opening my mouth so much and watched more, trying to take in what people did and said and the motivation behind it. 

I also recognized that if I was to be taken seriously I needed to do some decent research before I started writing. My new novel Loves Deception is set in Idaho, Utah, Seattle, and California because I know these places. I am working on the plots for two new novels one set in Iraq and the other Butte Montana. I know Iraq more than I ever wanted too but I have only passed through Butte a few times, so before I get really started writing that novel I plan on spending more time there so I can write about it in a convincing way. Both of those stories also will require more research. 
You don’t have to write everything to be by the book facts but it needs to be believable enough that the reader will surrender their belief or even better that they will walk away believing your story.

So what do you do when you want to write a story and you really know nothing about? Research! Learn all about it. If you can’t go to the place talk to someone who has. If you can't find a person to talk with start reading about it. Avoid taking the easy way out and going to Wikipedia, instead try the library. If you’re researching a specific time period or event check to see if there is a museum dedicated to it (you’d be hitting a gold mine talking with the curators of such an establishment). 
The great thing about whatever subject you are writing on, there will always be an expert. Seek experts out, not only will they be a wealth of information on that particular subject they may also have experiences that you can draw from for the story you are currently working on or a future story. 

I love writing because it is a never ending pursuit of knowledge. You have to continually be filling up your mind with new things, ideas, feelings and places. 

Write what you know about. If you don’t know about anything then learn more. The greatest thing about writing is that it only requires your own mind (and at least a writing utensil and a piece of paper).


  1. I believe in writing what you know - at least for the most part. Research may be necessary for some aspects of a story, and imagination can take you so far, but in the end, the heart of the story must be what you know. If it isn't, it doesn't resonate with me - it seems like more of a plot device.

  2. Clark

    Good article. Like you, if you start out writing what you know, you can remain comfortable, but you will realize your limitations. Since I like to quote myself, I'll do it here. Writers read. Good writers read a lot. Great writers read to learn, and through their craft, they teach.

    Best wishes.