Write What You Know

The Ireland of Irish Firebrands is what I learned to know, and that’s what I wrote.

Write What You Know is one of the traditional truisms of fiction. When it’s announced in an echo chamber by The Man Behind The Curtain, I’ve known it to intimidate some would-be novelists so much about the imperfection in their knowledge, that they never do write the stories they’ve carried around inside their heads for years.

Write What You Know does not mean that if you were raised in a bedroom community in suburbia, that that’s all you’re permitted to write about. You can learn about any place or time in history – and then write about it!

Write What You Know does not mean that you should just give fictitious names to your eccentric friends and relations and then document their dysfunctional lives. But you can disassemble those personalities and personal histories, shake up the pieces, pull some out, put them together – and then write about it!

Write What You Know does not mean that you may only write about persons, places, times or things that have ever existed in the universe. You can make up your own universe that is parallel to, or tangent to, or completely opposite to life as we know it in the arm of the spiral galaxy that we call home, make it your Happy Place where you go to be with your Imaginary Friends – and then write about it!

Write What You Know does not mean that you’re not qualified to write anything at all because your life up to this point has been short on experience, whether it’s because you’re rather young and haven’t done much yet, or because you’re rather old but you believe your life has been “bor-ing!” You do know your own feelings: happy or sad; you do know your own opinions: reasonable or off the wall; you do know your own horrors and hopes, trials and triumphs, problems and pleasures and pains, all of which you can hurl at the heads and feet of fictional characters, while you watch how they cope with them – and then write about it!

So, pay no attention to The Man Behind The Curtain! You know a story! Write what you know!

PBS Nature: Ireland

This magnificent video is no longer viewable at the PBS site, but it is available for purchase. Click photo for information.

Left: The Gulf Stream brings warm winters to Ireland and the prevailing winds off the Atlantic carry with them rain. It means grass can grow almost all year round — creating the lush sweeping pastures of the Emerald Isle. Today they make up 93 percent of all farmland. No other country in Europe has quite as much grass as Ireland.  – From PBS Nature: Ireland



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7 responses to “Write What You Know

  1. Thank you so much for blogging this. I am new to writing fiction and this has been a “struggle” that I having been toying with as I begin to write. I know that I need to write off of my experiences, but I am a shy, private person that it intimidates me to do so, as silly as that seems! I greatly appreciate your advice and will carry with me on this new journey!!!


    • Hello, Kim! Thank you for your kindly comment on my blog post. Strictly speaking, I, too, am new to writing fiction, although it never really felt like what I would call “new” – just amazing and exciting! And I can assure you, unless you spill the beans up front, there’s no way that readers will ever know which episodes you write are stitched together from bits of your experiences, and which ones you make up out of whole cloth, as the saying goes. (Just as they’ll never be able to tell the passages that you wrote easily from the ones over which you sweat blood.) I have a question: Do you intend to write your story in the first person? If so, that could be part of the problem of feeling intimidated. I believe it may liberate you from your struggle if you switch to writing in the third person. Good luck! And welcome to the Parallel Universe!


      • Christine,
        Thanks again for such great advice! I never really thought about the third person perspective. I definitely can see where it separates you from your writing and “protects” you. Will definitely do this. Thanks!


  2. There it is. You nailed it.


  3. Though I’ve never incorporated people I know in real life into my fiction, I’ve incorporated some of my experiences. I think that’s only natural for writers. Plus, our professional backgrounds give us something to draw from as well. Great article!

    Liked by 1 person

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