Write What You Know

Write what you know. How many times have you heard that? When I first started writing, I read all the books and articles I could find on the subject of writing and selling (important word) nonfiction articles. No matter how many I read, one piece of advice kept reappearing – “write what you know.”

As a fledgling writer hoping to sell something, anything, I wasn’t having much luck, but I kept trying, and I kept hearing that phrase, “write what you know”.
I thought I didn’t know very much. I was a young wife and mother. My whole world revolved around my home in the country, my husband, children, church, two dogs, a cat and a horse. It was not terribly unusual or exciting. I figured I had nothing of value to offer in the written word. I was wrong.

No matter who we are or what we do in our life, each of us has a passion, a talent, an interest, an insight, knowledge, or an idea that is also held by millions of other people in the world, who are not so different than you and I. The trick is to take your personal passions, talents, interests, insights, knowledge, and ideas and translate them into words on paper – concise, well organized and well written.

It took me awhile to discover that many of my feelings, interests and experiences (limited as they were) did not make me unique. It only made me a part of a larger group with the same feelings, interests and experiences. Once I addressed that, my writing career began to take off.

Look at your life and discover those things that are worth writing about. Look at the people around you…people you know. Look at the activities and events in your community. Look at your experiences. A divorce, death in the family, illness, birth of a child, a child with special needs, a revelation, rebirth of faith, loss of faith, a triumph or victory of some sort….any one of those situations is shared by millions of people.

What you, as a writer, must do is find a way to present the story to them (and the editor) in an exciting way. That’s when you have to get down to the nitty-gritty of bringing those stories alive.

When have a good subject, you might have to delve a bit deeper, talk to people and do some research, but that’s what writers do.

What is your message? If you want to increase the chance of seeing your work in print, it should also contain a message of some kind. Without some kind of help or a message for readers, an article, story or novel will be more difficult to sell.

Whatever subject you choose, ask yourself, “What is the message?” Do I want to entertain, provide instruction, inform, inspire, encourage, motivate, or incite action or reaction? Then do it.

Look to your own personal interests and hobbies. Are you an artist who uses a special technique to make your pictures different than others? Would other artists be interested in it, too?

Are you a parent who has come up with new ways to keep preschoolers occupied? Have you discovered a way to keep them quiet for more than five minutes? Is there any parent who would pass up the chance to hear about that?

What are your interests? Pick a subject on which you have some knowledge, no matter how small; do some research and expand that knowledge.

What would you like to know?…..
Sometimes we find a subject of which we would like to know more. That works for the writer, too. And, you never know where your research is going to take you. Because of my interest in animals, I have experienced what it is like to drive a team of Alaskan sled dogs; gone into the center ring at the circus to watch, close-up, the performance of a magnificent equine act; and ridden a horse over jumps … all to get the personal feel of what these subjects entail.

My enthusiasm and interest on those subjects helped me get the information I needed; it gave my writing real substance; and it resulted in sales.

The George Plimpton syndrome…..
Journalist George Plimpton believed in participatory journalism. He went through training camp with the Detroit Lions football team and played in a professional game to research and write “Paper Lion.” For other articles and books, he trained and pitched in a major league baseball game; and he practiced and performed with a trapeze circus act, among other things.

We can’t all go to the extent of participation that Plimpton enjoyed, but we can expose ourselves to new things. Then, as we write about them, we can be more convincing and authoritative, because we’ve “been there, done that.”

Fiction based on what you know…..
Sometimes an idea just doesn’t seem to translate into an article for a magazine.
I once tried to sell an article about a family Christmas tradition. No one wanted it. So, I took the idea and wove it into a short story, which then sold to Sunday Digest.

When I decided to write a novel, I chose the romance genre, and because I had been a travel writer for about 10 years, I decided to incorporate some of my travel knowledge into the story.

In Caribbean Charade, (written under the pen name of Louise Perry) I combined romance with a cruise and sightseeing activities on several Caribbean islands that I had visited while working for a travel industry publication. The descriptions in the book are accurate and detailed, which gives the setting credibility.

Other fiction that I have written also relies heavily on what I know. Mother Wore Spurs is a novella about an Indiana horse farm and the aging equestrian who is trying to keep it going for her family. I was born in Indian; I love horses; I’m an aging equestrian. I’m also working on a mystery that features characters based loosely on people I have met.

No matter what we write, our feelings, beliefs, and personal experiences are destined to appear in the words. Don’t try to keep them out. They give your writing its style. They are your voice. Use them.