There’s a lot of hype in the writing industry to ‘write what you know.’

For the longest time . . .we’re talking years, I hated that persistent rule of thumb. Then one day I had an epiphany. Hey, when it comes to the vital craft of characterization, I do write what I know.


I love how little things we normally shrug off as our boring lives or family oddities find their way onto the pages of our novels. That’s because we do write what we know. And I wonder how much of it we do unknowingly?

My dilemma is that I honestly love to write about what I don’t know. It’s not only how I learn something new . . . It’s just so darn exciting!

However, as important as it is to write about what we know, I think we tend to forget a most important element in the creative equation of storytelling. To write with unadulterated passion.

See the older wiser writer in me totally agrees, “Write what you know, Linda.” While the younger, I wanna write something different author–primarily the fantasy writer in me says, “Nay, that’s yawn-inducing.” As a fantasy writer I create places that are make-believe and often out of this world. There’s a place I rarely visit . . . reality. That pretty much describes me. Ah, I love my second childhood! And yet this fity-three-year-old wife, mother of two and grandmother has tons of life experiences much of it boorish, but a teeny weenie scrape of my life is worth sharing–I think.

This tug of wills comes on the heels of two writing projects. Presently, penning a historical fantasy romance series and completing a contemporary romance based on my healed wounds as a child incest victim, botched scriptwriting attempts, and my Internet Fan Fiction writing. Talk about a weird combination, but I think it works. Alas, we’ll let a publisher decide that book’s fate. But after forty plus years of silence, I was finally able to address the issue of incest the one way I felt comfortable . . .through fiction. And that book and my fantasy series are being written with intense love and passion.

My point is, that before I started the Lengend of the Emerald Rose fantasy series based on the King Arthurian legend and that chronicles the Stewart/Stuarts of Scotland lineage to present time, I knew zilch about writing fantasy, let alone King Arthur or the Stuarts of Scotland. What I did know, was I love fantasy, Arthurian legend and Scotland. And then I started something I really love . . . Historical research.

What I’ve learned these past years and I mean this solely regarding moi, is its far more important for me to write what gets me pumped, than what I know or have experienced firsthand. Hence that passion is then transferred from my soul to the keyboard and paper, then to my agent, editor, and eventually to my readers.

Let’s be honest. A good writer whether consciously or unconsciously always writes what he/she knows. More often than not, our characters personalities are derived from folks we know upfront and personal, as are many of the situations we drop those characters into inside our books.

And yes, there are always those things we purposely set out to experience to make our stories tangible for the reader. From bungee jumping, scuba diving or burning leaves in order to experience that nippy sweet scent, we should strive to know what we are writing about.

About now I’d give anything to hop into a time-travel machine and visit the 3rd crusade, talk to King Richard the Lion Hearted, sit in Saladin’s tent, walk the streets of 12th century Jerusalem or ride a nasty smelling camel. Um, maybe the last one I can make happen . . . or not.

For writers of historical fiction the events we write about are something we don’t know firsthand and never will. And yet we write about them because hopefully like myself, most historical writers are passionate about this genre.

I think that trying to experience much of what we write about is definitely important in order to excel in the profession of fiction writing. But most important, if you’re not writing something you feel passionate for, you will be found out and your readers will be disappointed.

So don’t just write what you know, write what moves you heart, stirs your soul and even on the coldest of dawns, gets your butt out of bed and writing. My hope and desire for all writers is that whatever we write, we write with such passion the readers believe it true.

In Legend of the Emerald Rose one young lordling asked the bard Grat-Telor, “Please, Grat-Telor, amuse us with the legend of King Arthur and Merlin.”

“And why wish you hearken to the reminiscence of an old singer of tales?” asked the bard.

“By virtue that you recount with such passion, we almost believe it true.”

So here’s my two-cents worth. Writing what we know is the skeletal frame required to support our stories. But fiery, unadulterated passion is the heart surging blood that gives our stories life.

5 Comments on “

  1. Hi, Linda,
    This post was thought provoking. I’m working on a women’s fiction novel that takes place partly in Vietnam during the war. That’s so NOT what I know! I’m on Chapter Three and sometimes I get scared to go any further because I really don’t KNOW what I’m writing about. I do know that God put this story on my heart, and He gave me a passion for it. So with His help, and the help of those who were there, I’m just praying I do this story justice. I think it’s much easier to stay in the safe zone, but maybe not as much fun, or as rewarding.

  2. Linda!

    Even your blog posts are filled with fiery, unadulterated passion!!!

    We could all learn something from that:)


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: