are you writing what you know

Are You Writing What You Know?

tips for writing what you knowMany writers rebel against the oft-quoted command about “writing what you know.”

My automatic response to this stricture is the rhetorical question, “Why on earth would I want to write what I know? I live what I know. When I write, I want to explore people I’ve never met, places I’ve never seen, and situations I’ve never experienced.”

The day I stop believing that is probably the day I stop writing fiction.

But does this really mean I’m not writing what I know?

Not at all.

In fact, I would be a fool to try to write about a subject without understanding it—if not through personal experience, then at least through intensive research.

East of the Mountains David GutersonDavid Guterson’s East of the Mountains offers an imitation-worthy example of how to start writing what you know—or what you learn—to brilliant effect.

(And, yes, this is my second post on East of the Mountains. Get ready, because the lessons I discovered in this book will probably spill over to several more posts.)

Guterson’s story follows an elderly man, who has just discovered he is dying of colon cancer, as he treks across Washington state, reminiscing about his life and hunting chukars with his dogs one last time.

Every page of this book rings with authenticity. Guterson accurately and precisely portrays the nuances of bird hunting, apple picking, veterinary surgery, and trucking, among other things.

Guterson may well have personal experience with all these subjects, but I doubt it. Instead, I think he buckled down and researched every detail of his story so he would be able to share them correctly with his readers. He allows readers to see everything from the intricacies of a shotgun to the posters on the vet clinic’s walls.

The result of all his hard work is an undeniably vivid setting and a resultantly unforgettable story.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Are you writing what you know or what you learn? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Knew a man once who wrote what he knew and really preached it. I didn’t like his book nor his writing worldview. Just saying.

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