Thursday, January 5, 2012

Want to Improve Your Writing? Thirteen Tips To Help You Write What You Know

You've heard the old adage "write what you know". But what if you're a housewife with no work experience and your most recent hobby is folding laundry? You know more than you think. Do a little work to get to know your personality, learn how to verbalize your specialized knowledge and find what topics of human nature resonate with you. When you learn to write what you know, you can leverage your knowledge and put power into your books. What you know is intimately connected to what you believe. It is these beliefs about people and situations, life, the universe and everything that will come through in your stories.

Here are 13 tips to writing what you know:

1.Generalize your likes. For example, describe in detail the reasons you liked a certain story you read without naming any characters or their specific situation in the book. Use these generalizations when creating your own stories.
2.Find a book you read that made you feel so giddy with excitement you just had to share the story with someone or burst. Now find a second book that was good, but didn't make you as excited. Figure out what was in the first book that was missing from the second book and use it.
3.Leverage your dislikes. Has your personal tolerance level ever been tested to the limits? If so, describe how. If not, describe how you manage to avoid being tested to the limits. Use your descriptions to give your characters a deep emotional touch.
4.Are you reserved and people think you're shy, or are you confident, and people think you're opinionated? Why do you think people sometimes misread your personality? What vibes do you give off that might make people think that? Create a scenario of what could happen when people misjudge.
5.Name one joy in your life.
Describe that joy in such a way that others can feel it along with you.
6.Name one tragedy in life that you've personally sorrowed over and want to help others overcome. Describe the process of how you overcame it.
7.Name a champion in your life. Create a scenario that will glorify that champion.
8.Name a villain you know of in your life. Create a scenario that will serve justice to this villain or expose the oppression he or she represents.
9.Describe the difference between justice and mercy and give an example of each from your personal experience. Create a scenario in which a character must choose between the two.
10.Use the question, "What makes you think that?" to understand why friends and relations think the way they do. Compare their answers to your own thinking and use any differences to set up powerful story conflicts.
11.Name one small thing that bothers you. Describe why it bothers you. Find story ideas or themes that connect with the reasons it bothers you.
12.Make a list of any specialized knowledge you have from work and non-work experience. Use small details from your experiences to make your story worlds feel real.
13.Use ordinary experiences to advantage. It's not the ordinariness of the experience that matters, but your unique perspective on it. Look for ways that your ordinary experiences differ from those of other people. Capture and highlight those differences in your stories.

If you have trouble with these tips, don't get how they would relate to writing what you know or just need help getting the most out of your own knowledge, consider taking Kat's class Using Ordinary Know-how in Every Genre at Savvy Authors. Registration is open now!

Thank you, Kat for visiting The Otherworld Diner and giving us some great tips. As a former student, I’m awed by your ability to explain concepts so that they can be easily understood. I would take another one of your classes in a heartbeat.


  1. I was tormented by this advice as a young (literally teenage) writer. It took time before I adhered to it less literally and interpreted it to mean that I should explore my characters' emotional lives - as that's what I understood best, and still do.

    This list is a great how-to and sure to be appreciated by any writer who comes across it. Thanks for sharing!

    Happy TT!

  2. Kimberly Menozzi,
    I'm with you. When instructors told me write what you know, I'd wonder what I did know. :)

  3. I have always loved writing since I was 13 years old and have no problem with it whatsoever ! and in different languages too, because English is not my mothertongue. I write in French and German too.

  4. This is a way of looking at the process that I hadn't considered. Thanks.

  5. Gattina,
    Writing in several languages is just awesome. I wish I could. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Alice Audrey,
    Yeah, Kat has a way of getting writers like us to think out-of-the box.

  7. I think there is always plenty to write about if we just stop long enough to think, look and feel.

  8. Kimberly - I think as teens we didn't really have enough tough experiences to connect with. Emotion is what it's all about. Glad you liked the list!

    Gattina - So cool that you can write in different languages...sounds like you know a lot about language and how to use it!

    Alice - great that you can see a new way of looking at things. A fresh viewpoint often leads to great writing!

    Colleen - yes, what you're saying is that we should stop and reflect on our experiences. That's exactly it!

    Brenda - thanks for hosting me today! I'll check back later to catch up with new comments. Enjoy the day! :)

  9. I like those tips. Creating the Joy sounds like a good idea.
    Have a great Thursday!

  10. I am Harriet,
    Yeah, I liked the concept of remembering a joy too, but I like all the ideas listed. Grin.

  11. Great list! I'm tweeting this.

  12. These are excellent tips! I'm bookmarking them to come back and re-read carefully.

    Brenda, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting on my TT!

    Cindy at Notes in the Key of Life

  13. Love this advice because you concentrated on the feeling rather than the setting. So many aspiring writers go on and on about describing how beautiful the sunset on the lake was, not realizing that's not really difficult or even as engaging as successfully nailing a moment of genuine feeling, taken from real life.

  14. What a great list to get your brainstorming started! It'll show you that everyone has life experiences--emotion, conflict, and personal knowledge--that a gripping story can be based on. Sometimes a little research and interviewing can supplement what you already know.

  15. Colleen,
    You are so right! Thanks.

  16. Lynn Daue,
    I'm glad you found the post worthy of being passed along. You've made my day.

  17. Cindy Swanson,
    I appreciate your interest.

  18. The Gal Herself,
    Yeah, you're right. It's the feeling that's important.Thanks for pointing that out.

  19. Angela M.,

    Yep,I'm with you. Everybody has experiences they can share.

  20. Harriet - I'm glad you liked the tips. Have fun creating the joy! :)

    Lynn - Awesome, thanks for the tweet! :)

    Cindy - Thanks for stopping by. Hope you find the re-read worthwhile!

    The Gal Herself - Yep, genuine feeling is where it's at. And taken from real life is even better.

    Angela - I love brainstorming. And yes, the best and most gripping stories come from looking at our own experience.

  21. Really great list. I will be referring back to it, I know, in the future. Thanks!

    Happy TT!

  22. Great tips. I especially like the "name" ones - where you tell something that happened. Those seem like they work very well for me.

    Write what you know is hard advice, though, particularly if you live in your head.

  23. Some good and interesting tips, Kat and Brenda. Thanks for sharing!

    And Brenda--thanks for visiting!

  24. good ideas. I'm going to try the second. articulating the why should be informative.

  25. I really like the idea of drawing on personal experience to create meaningful stories. It's so true that when we write what we know, the authenticity of our experience really shines through in the characters and conflicts. Thanks for a great post!

  26. sherilee,
    Thanks for commenting. I'm glad you found the list helpful.

  27. CountryDew,
    I think one of the tricks to writing what you know is to realize you know a lot more than you give yourself credit for. :) For example: you could write about walking in the country or farming or even how to spot great picture opportunities/ moments because you have awesome shots on your blog regularly.

  28. Heather,
    Thanks and you know I like to see what you're up to.

  29. Pearl,
    Yeah, I agree with your thoughts. Thanks.

  30. Kendall Grey,

    I'm with you. Our personal experiences make our stories rich and real. Thanks.

  31. Sherilee - I'm so glad you liked the list. I hope it will make a good reference for you. Happy Writing!

    CountryDew - Yes, the "name" ones are good because they get you focused on one specific event. Writing what you know does take work, but there's lots of gold to mine from personal events. Thanks for stopping by to comment!

    Heather - Thanks for stopping by...I'm glad you liked the tips!

    Pearl - The "why" is important because I think it makes us dig deeper into our thoughts and attitudes about life which is always fascinating to read about even if you don't agree with what the character in a novel is thinking. Thanks for stopping by!

    Hey Kendall! - I like your phrase "meaningful stories". That's really what makes a story great is the meanings that we can explore as we read. Thanks for stopping by!