Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.

― Aldous Huxley

How many writers have heard the adage, “write what you know”?

If I had a published book, short story,novella, or even an article for every time I was given that advice, I would be a wealthy writer. And likely well published.

But how many of us receive that advice and don’t get it?

I suspect most newbies and many aspiring authors do not understand the advice and are afraid to ask, what do they mean by that–write what you know?

Bring your life experience to your writing.  Convey the emotions you have experienced in your life through the actions and body language– the experience of your characters. This is about an emotion which helps your audience to identify with your character.

It is not relevant what type of relationship you had with a person, let’s say for example, your mother.  Everyone has a mother.  This is the connective tissue you can explore when building character.  You mother might have been:

  • distant
  • absent
  • abusive
  • loving
  • supportive
  • courageous
  • fierce
  • strong
  • ferocious

Regardless of the attributes the other person brings to the relationship, the experience of knowing another person intimately is the goldmine we delve into when we write what we know.

Relating to the characters you build is as easy as a walk down memory lane in past relationships.  Not just romantic relationships, but all relationships, acquaintances, and chance encounters.

Mining this gold is what makes the serious writer an astute observer of the human condition.

Often writers, will spend hours observing human nature at work.  Well, literally at the mall, the courthouse, the post office, etc.  If you find someone staring at you while you wait patiently, or not so patiently in line at the grocery store, bank, or the gas station, they are most likely not stalking you, but rather observing human behavior for characterization in future works of fiction.

Mining the depths of not only behavior, but the possible motivation for the behavior is what gives our characters depth and adds layers to the stories we tell.  It is simply reporting on the human condition.

Write what you know.

2 thoughts on “Getting Experience

  1. Hi,

    I’ve always thought the ‘write what you know’ advice was a little daunting. I don’t ‘know’ very much. I haven’t spent a lot of time in foreign countries or tried a lot of different things. I’m an introvert and my adventures happen in my head.

    However, I have come to understand the ‘write what you know’ in a more broader sense. We all know what it is to be human, if we are paying attention to our internal life. We might know what it is to be betrayed, to be loved, to be cheated, to fight for something that we feel is wrong, to work hard ….. I guess I could go on forever. I believe that that is what is meant by ‘write what you know’. Just as you said, we write about our relationships and our interactions with the world. The rest is window dressing.

    This was a thought provoking blog post. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for stopping by, and commenting Amber. I’m so glad you found the post helpful, and you “get” it. So many are afraid to ask. I bevel we need to actively pursue what we don’t know.

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