Write What You Know (with a creative twist)

Woman-at-typewriterPeople often say to use your experiences to write a book. Or, as the old adage goes, “Write what you know.” Unfortunately, a lot of writers take that the wrong way. They think it means to write a biography about their life. Or if they’ve dealt  with depression, they think it means to write a book on depression. In my case, it’s always been, “Since you grew up in Ecuador, write about your life overseas.”

I’m not saying that’s wrong. If a writer feels really inspired to write about their life or an experience, I applaud them in their endeavors. If they’re writing about struggles they’ve had and how they got past them, they’ll probably help a lot of people. I personally struggle with writing nonfiction, especially about my life, because I’m afraid it’ll turn into some sop story.

However, I think us fiction writers can apply the “write what you know” saying very effectively, and I have some perfect examples. Since I grew up overseas, I struggled with culture shock when I came to the USA. Because of that experience, I understood how my character might react when she arrived on a new planet, a new culture. I understood the challenges she would face, the internal struggles she would deal with.

On another note, since I traveled to China and visited the frozen city of Harbin in the dead of winter, I had a few ideas of what to put in the frozen continent on my planet, such as ice sculptures and fairs built on the frozen river. I knew how to describe them, how my character might have felt when she saw them. (The ice sculptures are magnificent, by the way.) My post about Teeranies describes how I used an innocent pecari (warthog) as a vile, carnivorous creature in my story.

Of course, you don’t have to use outside experiences all the time, either. Have you ever been in love? Jealous? Angry? Heartbroken? Scared? If you’re familiar with those emotions, create a character that deals with them.

Write-what-you-Like-Austin-KleonSo when people tell me to write what I know, my response is, “I already have”. My book is full of experiences, I just used my imagination to write those experiences more creatively. If you want to write fiction stories, do it. Don’t ever feel obligated to write a nonfiction account about your life just because that’s what everyone is telling you to do. (Unless you want to.)


For any writers out there, what is an exciting experience you’ve had that you would like to share with the world?

If you’re a fiction writer, how could you incorporate that experience into your story?

Those questions can help when you’re writing descriptions, or if you’re thinking of a new exciting scene to add to your story.

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