On writing what you know

Every writer thinks about producing a book about craft.  Two years ago, my friend Michelle Spring pulled me into one, and I will be eternally grateful.  The pairing was unexpectedly effective, since we have such different methods, and the format of this book also brings in a number of superb guest essays.  Take a look at the book, here.

I’m going to be posting some snippets over the coming weeks–particularly for those who are currently neck-deep in NaNoWriMo. 

In none of [my] stories are the details heavily autobiographical. Rather, the adventures and experiences of the characters are infused with my own understanding and experiences. It is less a case of writing what I know than writing who I am…

… imagination is of far greater importance in a novel than experiences. Instead of writing what you already know, write what you want to know. Often a writer who comes new to a place or a situation sees it with inspired eyes, and can bring to bear a fresh and fascinated viewpoint. The goal here is making those descriptions, whether they are of a Boston neighbourhood, a beat cop’s day or standing before a jury, feel fascinating for the reader, yet everyday for the characters.

To buy a copy, visit Amazon.uk or Amazon.com.


  1. The Bold Flying Officer on December 4, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    An interesting post, Laurie. I read your work because (a) Holmes fascinates me and the concept of a “young gel” bonding with a semi-recluse caught my imagination and (b) having tasted the fruit (or would you Americans say “smell the coffee”?) I was delighted with the “spirit of place” you bring to your novels. I’ll add a third reason (c) … they are damn fine “Whodunnits”. The Imagination shines through so you achieve what you set out to do – entertain your reader.
    My own writing is factual about matters military and aerospace (a give-away looking a my “nom de blog”) and I’m told I know my subject but, thus far, my attempts at fiction and short stories have failed to inspire (me). I shall refill the pipe (as would Holmes) and attempt some lateral thinking, with your words above as a guide. Let’s hope its not a three-pipe problem.

    Mike – TBFO

  2. Kate Pavelle on December 6, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    Hi Laurie! Between you and Dana Stabenow, I’ve tried so hard to write what I know and to imagine what I don’t. Sometimes, what I know gets in the way of what I would like to write. For instance, my suburban mom experience, and regrets over paths not taken, get in the way of developing a strong, female protagonist *with a family*. A woman who would be average yet exceptional and still not strain the suspense of disbelief.

    The above is a revelation. I’ve been wondering why I’ve quit adventure/mystery and have immersed myself in writing m/m romance, and the above paragraph is probably 70% of my reasons. Even though my first m/m romance was recently accepted for publication (happy dance!), I still feel it’s a bit of a cop-out. I am delving into what I have never experienced, relying on secondary sources in the guise of gay friends, and it’s a lot of fun – but, I would like get the boys out of my system within the next two years or so, and graduate to transcending my own experience to craft a character worthy of Russels and Kate’s company. Someday, right? And, writing is a non-linear process. Who knows what else I’ll get into before I attain this particular goal!

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