Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Write What You Know

One of the things you hear most often when asked for writing advice is "write what you know." But what does that mean exactly?

I've covered this topic in the past, and writing what you know doesn't mean that if you're a grocery store clerk, you have to write a story about a grocery clerk. However, since that is one person's experience, I'm sure there are a thousand stories a grocery clerk could share. Examples of this line of thinking are John Grisham - a lawyer writing legal thrillers. The law is his area of expertise, and he's able to weave exciting stories based on that.

Personal knowledge/trivia
Let's take this to the next step. Are you a history buff? Maybe there's a moment in history that would make for a great story, using that history as a backdrop. Do you know baseball inside and out? A story based on baseball, or a baseball fanatic applies to "write what you know."

What you read/what you love to read
Then there's the concept of "write the book you'd love to read." If you read sci-fi, you're more prone to think along those lines, to be familiar with the rules for the genre, which means writing in that genre.

What NOT to do
There are folks who think this gig is easy, that "anyone" could write a certain type of book. Romance gets targeted most often. "Anyone can write that drivel." Guess what? Not as easy as it seems. Case in point (one author's experience). "I have the background to write xxx. I know the subject matter. I want to write a story like that." All well and good, and falls into "write what you know." But you also need to know the market and the genre. If you don't, even if you *think* you know what you're writing about, it will fall flat.

For my part, I read a lot of historical novels. Love them. Can I write one? Not to save my soul. Not even going to attempt it. I hated history when I was in school and I didn't do well in it. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate those authors who are steeped in it, know the ins and outs and can write it flawlessly. I've heard author friends complain about the details that "neophyte" authors make when they start out, how they "think" they know the subject matter but end up getting the historical details woefully wrong. Let's take this one step further. In a world that has evolved through the course of history, romance readers don't want to read about oppressed women. They want to read about women who conquer the stigma associated with being "the weaker sex" or "the fairer sex." How does a historical romance author stick to accuracy in a history steeped with oppression and still appeal to their readership? I'm here to tell you, some of them have done this flawlessly, while others have tried and failed.

But I digress.

I've recently made a foray into "I could write for that market." Guess what? I couldn't. I was fully in "write what you know" territory, but missing some of the fundamentals. So for me, I'm sticking with my niche. *This* is what I write. *This* is my voice. Forcing it is not only uncomfortable, it doesn't work.

Romance anyone? With a side of supernatural? And don't forget the suspense.


  1. I was of the mindset that "romance" = Harlequin color-coded paperback Category imprints, and could read them. Then I discovered romantic suspense, which allowed me to blend my love of mystery while having a relationship in the book. I had to learn the conventions and expectations of both genres, but I'm comfortable there.

    Although I don't read a lot of historical romances, I'm a "perfect" reader because I know nothing. An author could make mistakes, and they'd fly right by. (Unless it was Abe Lincoln using the internet. I think I'd catch that one.)

    1. The romance genre has come a long way since the Harlequin "Fabio" days.