Rule W: Write what you know and write only the stories you can write

Linda’s Rules of Writing

A boy enters a darkened room to the flow of a computer monitor on a pedastal.
Sometimes “write what you know” seems like a mysterious and frightening thing!

We’re onto the letter W in Linda’s Rules of Writing of the A to Z Challenge, with the infamous “Write what you know.”

I think “write what you know” is one of the most interpreted pieces of writing advice out there.  Writers take it too literally, as a member of one of my critique groups did.  He was a human resources manager, so he figured that to “write what you know,” he had to make his character a human resources manager, even though there was no logical reason why such a job would have been involved in the actual story.

Allen Wold (Alien World if it helps to remember his name) said at one of the cons I was at defined”write what you know” as:

  1. What you’ve experienced
  2. What you’ve heard from friends and relatives and acquaintance
  3. What you’ve learned from research

But I also ran across one more, which was from Write Faster, Write Better from David Fryxell.  It’s a book on freelancing, but Fryxell notes “Write only the stories you can write.”

I could research medicine for a medical thriller, but I know so little about the topic that I would have to spend enormous amounts of time on the research to more or less get it right.  Probably more time than even writing the story.  On the other hand, since I was in the army, I could probably write about a medic without having to spend as much time researching.

How do you use the infamous “write what you know” in your writing?

Watch for photos of tulips in Washington, DC on May 3.  They are truly spectacular flowers!

Caption: A to Z Challenge Logo

13 thoughts on “Rule W: Write what you know and write only the stories you can write

  1. Grace Grits & Gardening April 26, 2013 / 6:51 am

    This is true. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t (or write like someone else).


  2. Rosanna April 26, 2013 / 8:10 am

    I try to adhere to this rule as best as I can.


  3. Linda April 26, 2013 / 10:50 am

    I quite agree, although there are those who say you should stretch yourself by moving out of your usual genre.


    • Linda Adams April 27, 2013 / 9:08 am

      I agree with that, too. I’ve seen writers who have never even read out of their genre, and that always surprises me. I just follow the book path and see where it takes me.


  4. Susan Taylor April 26, 2013 / 2:25 pm

    I like that take on it: write only the stories you can write. I might just be able to do that!



  5. Laura Broach April 27, 2013 / 2:35 am

    I like to take one or more details from dreams and build on them within a story, sometimes as the basis of a story.


    • Linda Adams April 27, 2013 / 9:08 am

      How do you do that? I’ve never gotten anything useful from dreams, so it’s always mystified me when writers talk about it.


  6. Courtney Turner (@mauijungalow) April 30, 2013 / 3:56 pm

    I like the broader interpretation. Anne Lamott has a great chapter in Bird By Bird about how she calls people to pick their brains, and had a novel about a gardener though she herself hates gardening and she kept picking the brain of the nursery staff. It turned out that people she met often thought she was a gardener and would start talking about gardening.
    Maui Jungalow


    • Linda Adams May 1, 2013 / 5:59 am

      I may have to revisit the book. At the time I read it, I didn’t feel like it told me anything new, so I stopped reading it.


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