Tips for Writers: Write What You Know?

Cunningly simple, yet perfect advice!

Mitch Teemley


A successful writer friend once went tiradical on me when I mentioned the literary admonition, “Write what you know.”

“I hate that!” she shouted.


“It restricts you! What if you want to write about something you’ve never experienced?”

Interestingly, that very week I’d invented a two-storey tall talking bird named Aviar for my fantasy novel The Wishing Map. I confess, I have never personally known any two-storey tall talking birds. But I did know my father-in-law, an irascibly lovable, salt-of-the-earth Arkansan. And he was the model for Aviar. When my wife read the passage, she said, “Oh, yeah, that’s Dad.”

What my normally insightful writer friend seemed to have missed was this: “Write what you know” doesn’t mean “restrict yourself to direct experience.” It means: write the underlying truths you’ve observed about people, their quirks, motives, fears, hopes. You can invent the window dressing (giant talking bird, Viking warrior…

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