Articles / On Writing

Writing What You Know

So we’ve all heard the old adage before—write what you know. Which is great if you’re a pirate, an alien, a billionaire, or a nineteenth-century courtesan. But what if you’re not?

Well, you could still write what you know, but I can’t imagine anyone out there wants me to write a book about accounting. Unless it’s to be used as a sleep aid, of course. But come on! I know a lot about accounting. Sure, it’s technical and dry, but I could really impart all my wisdom to you and you’d know all there is to know about accounting.

Still no?

Okay, then. What do you do? You weave bits and pieces of the things you know into your novel. Sure, not a soul out there wants to read my very interesting tome on managerial accounting and its importance in today’s society. But I can craft a character and impart my knowledge, using real-life anecdotes to bring authenticity to my story.

Let me give you an example:

I recently worked on a book whose author was clearly multilingual and well-traveled. In her writing, her transitions from country to country were effortless, and she gave simple, yet particular, details about the settings that left no doubt she’d been there often. The characters threw out phrases in multiple languages in the same scene with ease, but they were worked in so that you never wondered what they were saying—it was perfectly clear.

It doesn’t have to be that exotic, though. It can be something as simple as being comfortable enough with baseball terminology to write a realistic scene between two guys watching a ball game or knowing how to drive a stick shift so that you could write a scene about a parent teaching a teenager to use a clutch for the first time.

And since I’m a list maker, I suggest you make a list of:

  • Things you’re an expert at or skills you’ve mastered.
  • Your favorite hobbies.
  • All languages you speak.
  • All countries you’ve visited.
  • All sports you’re comfortable discussing.
  • The jobs you’ve held.
  • The schools you’ve attended and classes you’ve taken.
  • Your favorite tourist attractions.
  • The best restaurant in your hometown.
  • Your favorite fun things to do in your state.
  • Anything else that falls under the “I’m good at this” or “I’ve got this down” categories.

With this list, you become an expert at any particular topic you choose and can incorporate a little or a lot of whatever you choose. If you’re an expert water skier, you can use that knowledge to add a fun flair to your character’s summer at the lake. If you’re a professional student and love to take classes, use that love for learning or the many topics learned to bring a character to a summer camp or a preschool class as a student teacher in your novel.

In making this list, you’re going to surprise yourself with how many things you really know. And then you’ll want to add so many things to your novel that you may need to scale back and save some for the next book.

So go make your list and be confident about what you know.

Happy writing!


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