Write What You Know

Everyone says it. Like literally every writer, “Write what you know.” “The best writing comes from truth.” “It’ll work the best if you really know what it is you’re writing about.”

But what in the name of God does that mean? Fantasy writers can’t really know anything about what they write, it’s fantasy! Anything that is concrete in their genre has been born in the mind of some other writer. And what about fiction in general? The whole point of it is to be fake. Unless you specifically state in the beginning, “based off a true story,” your story is yours and yours alone. You came up with the idea by yourself. You didn’t originally know it anywhere in the outside world.

For years I struggled with this. I never wanted to write anything I knew just for the principle of it. I wanted all my fiction to just be fiction. I made my stories as wild as they possibly could be, just to avoid writing into the old adage. To me, writing what I knew denoted school work, essays, homework. Writing was an escape from all that, and I tried my very best to keep my fiction as far-fetched as I could make it.

THIS is what I wanted to avoid:

What I did not realize was that writers, good or bad, write what they know just by default. We can’t help it. Sure your story as a whole might not follow a completely true outline or pattern that you experienced, but a scene might. For example, I recently had this conversation with my mother over the phone about our dog:

Ma: “Pearl, the dog is crazy.”

Me: “I know, Ma, he has issues.”

Ma: “I’m trying to do the laundry and he keeps eating –  RILEY! PUT THAT DOWN!! He has my bra. He’s a pervert dog, Rosemare, a pervert dog.

Interestingly enough, Rosella and her mother have this very same conversation over the phone when she goes abroad to London (where I will be in the fall.)

Another such mama scene (she tends to make scenes my mother, maybe that’s where I get it from) has gone into a story. She was having a dinner party and spit out “Maddon” for whatever reason and one of the men in attendance looked at her with eyes as wide as saucers and his face lighting up like Rockefeller Center at Christmas time and said in the softest whisper, “My God, Cynthia. You’re Italian!?” It was just so comical that it had to go somewhere.

Characters from life also end up in fiction. As was already semi-mentioned, Rosella’s mother is basically my own mother. Her heritage is my heritage and her family strangely acts and looks a lot like mine. An evil character in Rescue Me is named after a guy who broke my heat (muahahaha! Just kidding) and Thomas recently adopted a phrase that … let’s call him my buddy, uses on a regular basis.

It happens with settings too. Candace goes to Fairfield University in Connecticut and woah! So do I! Little things from my life and experiences I’ve had pop up all over my novels and stories, even if they take place in 1943.

Even though I didn’t plan it, intend it or even want it, I wrote what I knew. Life has a funny little way of popping up in everything. It’s not the whole story. The whole novels are still fiction. But some little bits of them are true.

Write what you know. You can’t help yourself.

Creative Writing Status and Goals

BMK: Almost finished editing. Send first chapter to an agent or two ASAP.

Rescue Me: Laura is almost in college, wahoo!! This is a good place to be. Fill final seven pages of the thrid journal by Saturday and start the next scene.

Damn Brits: Type some more, damn it!

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About Miss Rosemary

is a recent college graduate from NY hoping to complete her novel of ten years. Stop by her blog, Miss Rosemary's Novel Ideas at http://missrosemary.net or contact her at MissRosemarysNovelIdeas@gmail.com with comments, questions and suggestions. She'd love to hear from you! View all posts by Miss Rosemary

15 responses to “Write What You Know

  • Goggles and Lace

    ROSEMARY! I love this post, can I write a counter post!? I’m going to link you and show the opposite side of the coin, m’kay? Because you reminded me of something I read once! 8D

    … I know, I got really unnecessarily excited there. I’ve had two coffees, a Mountain Dew, and a breakfast and lunch full of sugar. I’ll try to tone it down. XD

    • Miss Rosemary

      Don’t even worry about it, I’m glad I can elicit such strong emotions! go for it girl, do whatever you want, I’m all about freedom of speech so long as nothing is ofensive (which I don’t think we have to worry about here 🙂 ) Looking forward to seeing the other side!

  • junebugger

    I believe “write what you know” is sooo true. What we know of allows for an emotional connection to what we write. I wrote about a prostitute–ive never been a prostitute, I’ve never been a social outcast, but I do know how shame feels, and I do know how it feels to be unwanted. So I get that emotion I “know” and imagination allows me to build upon it to create an affinity with an experience I do NOT “know”. It all comes down to: nothing can come out of nothing. You have to know something of what you’re writing about in order to write it right. IMO

    • Miss Rosemary

      “I wrote about a prostitute – I’ve never been a prostitute” literally made me laugh out loud in the office and get strange looks from co-workers. Basically you said in fewer and better words exactly what I was trying to get across 🙂 Glad we’re on the same page.

  • Megs

    I definitely find my characters will be inspired by people or events that happen in my life – or that I get told about, having happened to people I know. It’s not always intentional, it’s more that its there in my subconscious and comes out in when I’m the zone.
    One of my favourite things though is naming characters. In my job I come across lots of names and I have a little notebook with me that I’ll jot them down in.

  • slightlyignorant

    I absolutely LOVED this post. It’s so true – I hate hearing that line because it confuses me so much! TRYING to write what you know just gets you all muddled up as far as I’m concerned. Writing what you know just happens, and you have to let it happen, but you shouldn’t be thinking about it all the time, right?

    Sounds like your making really good progress on your projects ^_^. I’m rooting for ya :).

    • Miss Rosemary

      Thank you and you’re so right! Whenever I am required to do something or try to do it, it become so incredibly difficult but when I’m not thinking about it it comes out naturally … and it’s usually fun!

  • Buckling Down « Goggles & Lace

    […] what you <em>don’t</em> know.  (A counter post to Miss Rosemary’s Write What You Know… though it’s really more of an […]

  • Hema P.

    A wonderful post, Rosemary! However much we try to avoid it, life has an uncanny way of showing up in bits and pieces, when least expected, in our writing, doesn’t it?

    • Miss Rosemary

      It certainly does! Writing has always been an escape from life, but it turns out it’s not really a complete escape after all … which goes to show that not all life is worth escaping from 🙂

  • Lua

    I’m soooo late but I just read your amazing post and I have to say- ‘write what you know’ is something I’ve been struggling with for as long as I can remember… I always wanted to write things ‘I didn’t know’ because what I already know is boring to write- at least for me! So every time I start to write a new story, I plan to write something I don’t know, I do research, end up learning the subject very well and writing what I know… 🙂 It’s like you said, ‘you can’t help yourself’.

  • Write What You DON’T Know! « Goggles & Lace

    […] science, writer, writing Back on the third of June, Miss Rosemary posted a blog entry entitled Write What You Know. I’m here, not to counter it exactly, but to expand upon it.   I know, it’s taken me a […]

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