Write what you know. Just not literally. #WriterWednesday #AmWriting #WritingTips

26 sept 1Write what you know. This advice is repeated to writers ad nauseum. But what does it mean? Should you only write about things and places you know?  What about professions? Do all your characters have to work in fields with which you are familiar? Can you only write from a woman’s perspective if you are a woman? You can quickly fall into the rabbit hole with this advice.

Personally, I don’t think write what you know should be taken literally. Otherwise, I’d only be writing about fed-up lawyers working in the corporate world in The Netherlands. Or maybe women in the military. Let me tell you. That is definitely not what I want to write about. Been there, done that. Instead, I think we writers should not be so literal when figuring out how to handle this piece of writing advice. Let’s look at an example.

26 sept 2I spent the past week renovating our house in Germany as the caretakers had trashed it. (Make that TRASHED it.) I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say, these supposed caretakers cost us thousands of Euros in renovations costs as well as thousands of Euros in lost revenue as guests for the vacation rental walked out when they saw how filthy the place was. When we informed them that they were paying for the container to take away their trash (two containers full to be precise), they sent us an email detailing all the horrible things we had done to them. For example, after they’d lived there for FREE for a year, our heating costs went up by 150 Euros and I made them pay that amount. How dare I?

What does this have to do with writing? Looking at our former caretakers, they feel they are entitled to free things and shouldn’t have to work for them. This is not a state of mind with which I personally am familiar. Nope. I grew up the daughter of a factory worker and knew from the beginning I would have to fight to get the things I wanted – an education, a good job, financial security, etc. I didn’t think anyone would give me these things. In fact, I knew they wouldn’t!

My characters often mirror my own background – hard working professionals. Even the bad guys are mostly educated men or women who got off track due to something hideous happening in their past. I’m writing what I know. But I now also know what self-entitled people are like because I’ve had personal and painful history with them. This is something I can use in my writing. I can tap into the minds of those former caretakers and create characters based on those feelings.

This is what write what you know now means to me. Time to go make that murderer in my current WIP multi-dimensional.


Similar Posts


  1. A very good post and tip, Ms Haggerty.
    It’s actually what I did on two blogs today. I wrote a true article about my feeding crows on The Writers in Residence blog (https://bit.ly/2NGvJbp) (Writing a Murder) and linked it to a creepy murder mystery short story on my Here’s How It Happened blog (https://bit.ly/2zvYNJC) (The Crow). I don’t mean to hijack your blog post, but it seemed like a good follow up to your article on “Using Life Experience” for your fiction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *