Write What You Know

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

People often ask me what makes me love a manuscript. One of the biggest factors is the author’s voice. It has to feel real. I typically gravitate toward a manuscript when I can tell it’s written with truth and with heart.

This is another way of saying, “Write what you know.”

People often think “write what you know” means you only write about situations with which you’re personally familiar. But I disagree.

Write what you know means write with authenticity about thoughts, feelings, experiences of life. Be honest. Write from a deep place. Don’t write from the surface. Whether you’re writing about parenthood or cancer or anything else… be real. Write what you know about human nature. Write what you know about relationships. Write what you know about conflict and hardship and struggle.

Don’t reflect what you know from other people or from movies or TV shows… write what you know from your own inner life. Write your truth.

The plot and the research can come from your head, but the deeper truths of a great story come from a different place. Some might say the heart. I say, wherever you find the most “real” part of you.

You can take your characters into all kinds of worlds, real or imaginary. You can write about different kinds of people, families, relationships, occupations, time periods. Maybe you haven’t personally experienced any of those, so some might say you don’t “know” them. But when you write what you know to be true in terms of real motivations, real conflicts, real depth, real emotions… you are writing what you know, and you will connect with readers. Your story will feel authentic.

So, write what YOU know. This is where your originality and uniqueness will come from. Your experience of life is different from anyone else’s.

And, write what you KNOW. Not what you think, or what you’ve heard. Write what your gut tells you is the truth.

Write what you know.

 

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16 Responses

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  1. Rachelle, I am so delighted to see this, and there’s an interesting bit of serendipity. I just finished a blog post, to be published a couple of days hence, relating the roles of the terminal patient and caregiver to Mary’s expression of her heart in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).
    * Circumstance has pushed me to a different plane of experience; there’s no way, now, that I can relate to Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the NFL Halftime Show, but either through a kind of anointing or sheer arrogance, I can see the connexions that lie beyond the veil of the Transcendent.
    * Well, yeah. It’s probably arrogance. But I quit breathing again today, remaining conscious, and I know the terror of the flesh and they joy of the return, the heartache of the leaving and the triumph of the Knowing that whatever happened, mate, I’d be right.
    * There’s no way that can’t inform my writing; it’s limiting, sure…a novel about zombie unicorns would sell better…but it’s also a liberation contained within a golden teardrop on God’s Holy Cheek; like Mary, I have the terrible privilege of bearing witness to the Love that would break her heart and will kill me.
    * I would not have it any other way.

    • Oh, Andrew, such words that stretch the mind, soul and spirit. I saw there was one comment to Rachel’s great post, and I knew it was you– up in the midst of the night with your pain, waiting to read the knew blog post of Books and Such, and ready to give us something to glean from.
      You up with your mortal body and a spirit headed for heaven,while leaving along the way “apples of gold in pitchers of silver.”

      And I at this early hour of 3:30 AM sit in the dark with my brother-in-law as we keep vigil over my sister’s declining mortal body, and trusting and praying this is not unto death, but a disguised blessing in which true eternal life at be found for not only my beloved sister, but her family and my other siblings and their families. Such, are the conundrums of life, which seem to be much of what I know.

      Which leads me into thanking Rachel for the awesome post. It really gives such liberty to writers. I love your insight and instruction in writing what we KNOW. I thought I might be tied to trauma all my life. I think it is very important for me to write to comfort others with the comfort God has comforted me with, but it also gives me excitement to write about things I may not have KNOWN, in a manner that is true to who I am and how God made me, in essence to write what I KNOW, what I know to be true about me in relation to things I may not experiential have a know if about.

      Kudos to you Rachel, for setting me free with this post. I still feel it’s very important for me to write books, articles, presentations that can heal and transform, yet I have permission and freedom now to delve into other areas of interest as well.
      Thank yo so very much Rachel.

      My dear brother, Andrew, when you have those moments were physically you don’t breath, remember God has already given you the very breath of heaven. As you pray for my sister and her hubby, I will be praying for you and Barb.

      • So sorry, I could not see well enough in the dark last night. I see it is Rachelle I need to thank for this post.

        My sister is worse, although some of her blood tests are still encouraging, but given the other symptoms she could go either way. She is VERY sick. I am glad I can be with her, and have been able to work with the docs and nurses. At the moment her pain is under control and she is resting.Thanks all.

    • Friends who served as missionaries were back in the US for health reasons. “I can’t go to the mall, it doesn’t feel right,” she said. “I can’t go back to Sudan because of my health, and I can’t go back to the United States I grew up in because of the materialism. I’m a woman without a country.”
      *I remembered her words as I read yours, Andrew. Glory to God, we’re never people without a faith, a Lord and an eternal destination.

    • Andrew, your words and the way you convey truths and the ways God meets you where you are shines through your writing. You’re unique perspective borne of what you walk through informs your writing with depth and beauty.
      *I’m praying for you and Barb.

    • Susan Sage says:

      Andrew, the “golden teardrop on God’s Holy Cheek; like Mary, I have the terrible privilege of bearing witness to the Love that would break her heart and will me.” brought tears. I remember a time several years past now, I was waiting to die and wanting it and knowing no one but God would save those teardrops on His cheek…only I said chest.
      I understand dear brother. I would not have it any other way either.

  2. Angie Arndt says:

    That’s one of the most difficult pieces of the story: grappling with the bits of life that’s torn out your heart. It’s bad enough to deal with it the first time, but who in their right mind would relive an experience and slow it down to feel more pain? It if we can help our readers understand the world from another viewpoint, then the sacrifice is well worth it.

    • Sometimes, Angie, I think it’s hard to relive it because we didn’t understand those bits of life the first time . . . either because they were too painful to try and understand, or because we never took the time to work through them. I’m learning that, when I take the time to better see/understand what happened and why I reacted the way I did, God not only heals, but He also shows us how to bring it to our writing.

  3. After reading Andrew’s and Elizabeth’s responses, all of my thoughts feel terribly shallow.
    As I read through the blog posting, the refrain that looped in my head was not so much one of writing what I know (though I understand what you’re saying Rachelle) but rather writing what I believe in, writing from a place of deep conviction.
    To help put myself through college, I worked several years as an auto-mechanic at an interstate service station. We had three service bays, and they were constantly occupied with the vehicles of weary travelers who were anxious to get back on the road. Often it was because one of my coworkers had “sold” the traveler on some need that their car had.
    I could never do that. I could not sell the customer something that I knew, deep down, that they really did not need. I recall the time the station manager pulled me into his office to tell me that my biggest problem as an employee was “you’re too damned nice of a guy.” I cannot sell what I do not believe in.
    It is no different with our writing. We must write from a place of deep conviction. It is my task to write messages of life as a dying man to dying men.

    • Diamond, so wonderfully written. Full of integrity and conviction. I love what you ended with Damon’s, ” I cannot sell what I do not believe in.
      It is no different with our writing. We must write from a place of deep conviction. It is my task to write messages of life as a dying man to dying men.”

      And Damond, do not feel shallow in respect to Andrew and I and the paths God has us on. We all have the same task: love, faith, and obedience wherever He places us.

      We are all called to different places in this life that we may display the many faces of God’s grace.

    • Yes!

  4. That is a wonderful distinction. What you know about people and emotions and motivations and truth can bring a reality to a fantasy piece that makes it rise above. I love this! So many times we read stuff and pause because the story isn’t true to life, not because there are unicorns or fairies, but because the people do not show their true heart and soul. This is something we can do, whatever the setting.

  5. I like your distinctions. I assume it’s going after the money that derails the effort, wanting success to be their guide that mutes the voice of authenticity for some (and is not recognized as such).. Other reasons, too. Your article helps us sort it out, for you should know! Good information.

  6. Loved this post, Rachelle. More and more, I’m seeing that being willing to share that inner part of who I am in my stories is key. It’s a little scary and sometimes, it’s a lot hard, but it’s also what will speak to readers.
    *Thanks for confirming the importance of writing from deep within ourselves in this post.

  7. Susan Sage says:

    This is really good and encouraging. I love the way you said, “Write what you know means write with authenticity about thoughts, feelings, experiences of life. Be honest. Write from a deep place. Don’t write from the surface.”
    I have read too many articles, books, or other forms of passing along words, which just feel fake. Authenticity causes the depth of connection when the reader feels like someone else understands or they see they’re pain in print through someone else’s heart words.
    This gives hope for the reason we share what we do.
    Thank you, Rachelle.

  8. Blanche Springer says:

    Thank you Rachelle . I appreciate your useful and informative emails and blogs which have added to my writing experience. I’ve finally completed my romance novel and just about to tackle that dreaded query letter…! To you. Be gentle with me.