Write what you know?

Super womanThere have been times in my life when the literal interpretation of that phrase caused me to temporarily give up on my dream of becoming a published author.


When I was a teenager living with an alcoholic father in a series of rundown rental houses, for instance.  Write what you know?  Believe me, I was writing about anything and everything but what I knew!  (I think that was my “glittering fairytale castle” stage:>)


Later, when I was much, much happier but smack dab in the middle of caring for baby twin boys…diapers, sleepless nights, colic x 2 and struggling to find time to shower?  No, I didn’t spend much time writing about that!  It was then that I discovered my dark &  dangerous vampires, werewolves and shape shifters.  It was then that I escaped from sweet baby powder-scented exhaustion into the spicy shadows of paranormal romance.


Write what you know?

The truth is, we, all of us, do write what we know every time we put words on the page.  Joy, heartache, love, loss, excitement, tenderness, heat…all of the things we have experienced and felt fuel our visions and infuse our stories with life…or they should if we’re doing it right!

But, like any good actor or actress, we have to infer, translate and empathize.  I’ve never been on the run from a pack of werewolves like my hero & heroine in CAPTURED, but I have experienced the desperation of moving from place to place to place all the while longing for a forever home.  My mother was never kidnapped by a vampire like the heroine’s mother in HUNGER, but there were so many times I ached to save my own mother from a seemingly hopeless situation.


Write what you know…well, yes, it’s fine advice as long as we interpret it the right way.  As for the literal interpretation?  The world is at our fingertips.  There’s nothing we can’t research, explore, investigate and discover!

And, oh, btw, I’ve never met a seductive vampire with a whisky-kissed drawl who just might tempt me to take a walk on the walk on the wild side, but there was this wicked cowboy once…;)   cowboy

12 Responses to “Write what you know?”
  1. sandrasookoo says:

    I hear that! I often wonder what I’d do if I really did stumble upon some of the creatures I write about…

    But then again, some of the contemporaries I’ve written have taken more than a page out of my own life…

    I say write what’s in your heart and you’ll be fine!

  2. markcaufield says:

    Excellent advice. I find I can only write when I’m inspired to write. But, most advisors insist that a good writer must force themselves to write even if they don’t want to. I find that I write like crap if I’m not in the mood. Any thoughts? I’d like to hear from you. markcaufield.wordpress.com

  3. Nicole says:

    I so hear what you said. I often wrote and created worlds outside the 4 white walls of my childhood bedroom or whatever school room I was in when ideas came to me.

    Ideas and dreams that I never experienced in real life, but drawn to through stories and dreams.

    Most definitely always write what’s in your heart and ideas. Research what you don’t know. Most readers will love the freedom of your mind and feel your love for what you created.

  4. Suzanne Rock says:

    Another great post, Barbara. I, too, cringe at the thought of literally “writing what I know”. I lead the most boring life imaginable. No one would be interested – I assure you. We all know the sting of betrayal and the hope of new love, however. Translating those feelings into words is tricky. It’s our real life experiences that can make those emotions jump off the page and affect our readers. 😉

  5. Sam Hunter says:

    Cari Quinn and I were discussing this topic over lunch one day, and I shared the revelation that I think it’s really about writing what you know emotionally — not necessarily the facts or knowledge we carry around, though that comes in handy, too — but I think it’s exactly what you say. We write what we know inside.

    Stephen King also has a nice bit on this in his On Writing, where he again supports what you say — you really can only write what you know, but then you use your imagination to twist it and make it something new and different, something interesting. If we only wrote what we literally know, not only would we run out of topics pretty quickly, but it would probably be kind of boring (unless you live a very exciting life). 😉


  6. I love the way you put that, Samantha. Write what you know emotionally. So true. Suzanne, I often think of writing as translating or transforming an idea. Sandra and Nikki, writing what’s in your heart is so important. when it comes to actually meeting some of the heroes we write about. I’m sure it would only be after the meeting that I would think about what I should have said and done! Mark, I completely understand where you’re coming from. I’m not really a so-many-words-per-day writer although I do think it’s possible to train yourself to switch on the muse. I have to trick mine into thinking we’re just having fun so daily keeping track of words is too math-y and the one thing guaranteed to freeze her up! Pay attention to what inspires your natural drafting sessions. For me, something as simple as taking a long walk each morning when I can indulge in daydreams away from the cursor will usually get the muse perked up and ready to play:)

  7. Bonnie H says:

    Another inspiring blog!! Thanks Barbara!

  8. You’re welcome, Bonnie. I have the spirit of a cheerleader. Too bad I don’t have the physique to match:P

  9. Cari Quinn says:

    Yes, Sam and I have discussed this before, and it’s so true…writing only what you’ve literally experienced is often pretty boring (at least for me.) 😉 But there are kernels of truth that resonate across the board and can be applied to many different situations. I equate it to my inability to notice details – I rarely notice the color of rooms, or when someone changes their hair – but I usually have my finger on a person’s emotional landscape. Because emotions are my canvas, so to speak.

    Great topic!

  10. Excellent post! ‘Write what you know’ kept me from submitting my work for a long time. ‘What what you want to read’ worked much better for me.

  11. elove says:

    Super post Barbara. To me, it seems a wonder that the ‘write what you know’ is still bandied about in all seriousness. Thank God someone forgot to mention that to Tolkein! Imagine a world without The Neverending Story, Dr Doolittle or Splash… or *gasp* vampires, werewolves and the fae!

  12. Pamela Fryer says:

    The beginning of your post (about fairytale castles) reminded me of an interview I saw of several authors, one of them Meg Cabot. She said if you can’t write what you know, write what you wish. Obviously she wished she could be a princess. 🙂

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