Write What You Know by Olivia

I have always heard the phrase, “write what you know,” in conjunction with storytelling. While it is borderline cliché, I have grown to believe in it. As long as I can remember, my stories have had undertones of my life woven between lines of dialogue or plot. I used to carry a notebook in my backpack specifically for writing down thoughts and conversations that I had throughout the day. These pieces of my life would later become facets of a fictional universe. The conversation that I had with my seventh-period English teacher would become the context of the prologue for my novel. The feeling that I got the first time my writing was published became the inspiration for a major character that finds his way into most of my writing. Ironically, even the frustration of writer’s block has become a simile or a metaphor in one piece or another.

However, as someone who primarily writes fantasy, I used to scoff at the idea behind the simplistic nature of the phrase “write what you know.” I didn’t realize its implications, or the fact that I had, in a way, already been doing so by drawing inspiration from my everyday life. As my writing developed, I began to realize the importance of humanizing my characters in the context of my life experiences. The emotions that I have felt, the experiences that drive me, the contributors to my life story all make me who I am and my characters deserve the same detailed background. “Write what you know,” does not always have to mean fitting an autobiography into your novel, or only writing about something in your day-to-day life. To me, the phrase is about the human experience.

In a writing workshop that I attended, the speaker had us sit on a park bench outside and listen to the conversations around us. After several minutes of listening, the speaker encouraged us to form a scene from what we heard. This experience, while unconventional, helped me to understand the importance of a grounding reality in any type of writing. In order to relate to my readers, it is important that they can understand and emote with my characters. If my characters are static, or completely fantastical, it would be difficult for my readers to empathize with them as my plot developed.

“Write what you know”, the proverbial writer’s mantra, has now become an integral part of my inspiration process. Although unexpected, the phrase that I used to laugh at is now a major part of all of my projects at the moment. When something disappointing or exciting happens, I always take a minute and remind myself to remember exactly the way that it feels so that I can capture it with my words later. But mostly, I think back to that writing exercise. When I am at a loss for words, I often try to fit a mundane experience or a boring conversation into my writing because the reaction of my character is another way for me to develop the plot and convey the character’s personality to the reader. But most of all, it makes my novel more human. While I didn’t expect or recognize it at first, writing from my life experiences has become one of the most significant aspects of my style of plot and character development, and I certainly recommend it to everyone.


Posted on December 21, 2016, in Editorial Board Essay. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. What is your published novel called? I would love to try and find it and read it. I can relate to this really well. I don’t realize that the things that I write in my stories have a huge chunk of my current state at that point embedded in a certain scene. I also end up realizing that one of my characters are exactly like a person I know in my daily life. Thanks for posting!

  2. Wonderful post, Olivia! Your writing is so wonderful to read!!!!

  3. So cool!

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