Saturday 7 March 2020

When Writing: Use What You Know but Imagine More #ChaBooCha

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

We are one week into the writing challenge now. I hope everyone is making progress on their stories. I've been thinking about a popular piece of advice that is given out to authors and thought I'd let you in on a little bit of my ruminations on the subject.

As writers, we've all heard the advice to "write what you know." But if you only write what you know about, you'd never have fantasy stories, and mysteries would only be written by detectives. Adding elements of experiences you've lived through or making a character have the same career as yourself, because you know all about how to write about that particular career, seems to make sense. But if you only write about the things you know about, unless you've lived an unusually exciting life, your stories may become bland.

Using your experiences, which includes events you've lived through and emotions you've felt, can make writing about those things easier for you. But not having gone through a certain event or felt a certain emotion does not mean you can't write about it. If you've been through a heartbreak, you may find writing about it easier than someone who has never experienced heartbreak. But just because you've never experienced heartbreak doesn't mean you can't imagine and empathise with what it would feel like and accurately portray it.

Although you shouldn't limit yourself to only writing what you know, it can be helpful in your writing. For example, in writing fantasy, you use your imagination to invent entire worlds, so everything is new. But having lived in the real world for some amount of time, you should already know a little about human nature, about interactions between people, about human emotions and about how people can sometimes treat those who are different. Those are all bits of knowledge that can help you as you create your fantasy world.

What happens if you are writing about something you have no experience with and are not sure how to portray? That's when research comes into play. The Internet is great source for researching about all sorts of things. For example, when my characters are in a city that I've personally never been to, I can use the Internet to search up different things about the city, and I can use Google maps to virtually "roam" about the city and get a grasp on the layout and feel for the place.

In order to make "writing what you know" easier, you also should read a lot of books. If you read a lot of stories, you will naturally "know" more than someone who doesn't read. Our minds may not be great at retaining minute details about what we've read, but we do retain some general knowledge from what we've been reading, and that includes learning about emotions. For example, all of your children might be alive and healthy, or maybe you don't even have children, but you've read some stories that include grieving parents; if the writing was well done, you've felt the pain those parents experienced while you were reading about it, because we, as humans, have the ability to empathise even with things we have not been through ourselves.

Writing what you know can help you move your story along, but don't limit yourself to writing only about what you know; imagine more. Human beings have an incredible ability to use their imaginations to create. We can create entire universes within our imaginations. You can imagine more than what you know and write more than what you know, all while letting some of the things you do know feed into what you are only imagining.

Happy writing!


  1. Great advice, Becky! I agree that all we need to stretch what we know… all the while letting some of the things we know feed into what we are imagining.

  2. Great advice to not limit ourselves and to imagine more.

  3. Your blog title says it all--use what you know, but imagine more. Love it!

  4. Thanks for your helpful.

  5. Thanks for a great post! Imagine more!

  6. Great advice! We can’t possibly KNOW everything lol Visit Image A Nation more often! Thank you for sharing!

  7. Thanks, Becky! I agree that it's very limiting to simply write what you know. Imagination and passion go a long way.