Break out of “write what you know”

Erika Liodice checked out of her comfortable box and into an unknown world – she threw out the long-exercised “write what you know” and engaged in a journey that was both heartbreaking and surprisingly educational. Empty Arms is the result of Erika’s journey. Welcome our guest, Erika Liodice.

Write What You Don’t Know

By Erika Liodice

As a writer, I often hear the advice, “write what you know.” But in my case, that would result in a body of work about vacationing, comfort food, bargain hunting on Craigslist, and, I’m embarrassed to admit, reality TV. And while that might
make for a fun book or two, it’s not exactly something I can build a career on. That’s why I challenge the popular advice and encourage you to write what you don’t know.

I look at writing as a great excuse to explore intriguing facets of the world around me. It gives me a chance to step out of my own reality for a little while and experience life from a different perspective. For example, I wasn’t a pregnant teenager in the early 1970s; I never lived in a maternity home or was forced to surrender a child for adoption; I’ve never struggled with infertility or searched for a long lost birth relative, but the characters in my upcoming novel, Empty Arms, have…so in a way, I have too.

The idea for Empty Arms – which is about a woman who secretly birthed a daughter out of wedlock when she was sixteen and was forced to give her up for adoption, only to later learn that she can’t have any more children – was inspired by a story I heard about a family friend. The irony and pain of that situation was so moving that I knew I had to write about it, and thus, the story idea was born.

When I started writing Empty Arms, the concept was in its infancy, but the more I researched, the bigger it grew. I discovered that, like my protagonist, Catharine, over 4 million women had babies out of wedlock between 1940 and 1970 and they too were forced to relinquish their children for adoption. They were told that they’d move on with their lives and have more children once they were married. They were told that they’d forget about the babies they gave away, but they never did.

The psychological aftermath they’re facing – guilt, shame, depression, abusive relationships, post-traumatic stress disorder, and, in some cases, suicide – is heartbreaking. What’s worse is that these women are silently suffering all around us – they’re our neighbors, our colleagues, our children’s teachers, members of our book clubs, our friends. And when you add the babies they gave up into the equation, along with their birth fathers, biological siblings, relatives, and the adoptive parents, the number of people impacted by those forced adoptions is countless.

To fully understand the different ways people were affected, I read hundreds of testimonials, joined adoption groups,  and conducted interviews with people from every side of the adoption triangle – birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees – and even a missing person’s investigator. Not only did they confirm what I was learning,  they helped me appreciate how their lives were forever changed by what happened, all of which enabled me to render Catharine’s story.

When I talk to people about Empty Arms, most tell me they know someone who went through a similar experience. If I would have followed the popular advice and stuck to writing about what I know, I wouldn’t have had a chance to share this important story and shed light on this often overlooked topic. So as you set out to write your next book, I challenge you to step outside familiar bounds and write about what you don’t know. Magnificent stories await you.

Empty Arms will be released this fall. To learn more about the book and enter for a chance to win a free copy, visit and like Empty Arms on Facebook.

Erika Liodice is the author of the upcoming novel, Empty Arms, and founder of the inspirational blog, Beyond the Gray, where she shares her journey to publication while encouraging readers to reach for their own dreams. She is a contributor to Writer Unboxed, The Savvy Explorer, and Lehigh Valley InSite. You can visit her at or follow her on Twitter: @erikaliodice.

Erika Liodice

Erika Liodice

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” – Galileo


In your writing or reading – have you stepped out of the box to learn something new? What have you discovered on your journey?

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Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers

7 responses to “Break out of “write what you know”

  1. What a refreshing post! I agree with Erika. So often I look at my somewhat uneventful life and realise there is not that much ‘writing fodder’ at all, so this post really resonated with me. I will absolutely take this on board and try to step out of my ‘safe zones’. Thanks so much, Erika! Looking forward to reading the book 🙂
    Thanks Karen for hosting this post – it’s wonderful 🙂

  2. Great to hear from you, Fandina! I think we should all bust out! I am interested in writing historical fiction – even though I was not alive in 1869, what’s stopping me? Even though I did not serve in Iraq, what’s stopping me? It’s just a bit (and I mean a lot) of research. And we all grow in the process of research.

  3. Hi Fandina,
    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one with a (blessedly) uneventful life. I’ve also never been a huge fan of research, but writing Empty Arms really changed my perspective on that.

    Good luck breaking out of your safe zone!

  4. And good luck to you, Karen. I hope you do pursue your interest in historical fiction. I think our interests exist for a reason. Hopefully you’ll discover yours 🙂


  5. If I wrote what I knew five years ago it would be a sarcastic mix of failed marriages, moving a lot, bad jobs, and growing old woes. But not so any more! I write experimental fiction about bugs, I write about historic relatives, women with hatchets, and poetry. I’ve also blossomed on my blog – and I’m grateful that some people “get me.”

  6. Erika, thank you for stepping out with poise and sharing your story. I believe in writing outside of the box, as well. Imagination and research takes us and our readers beyond to worlds and situations that stay us from apathy.
    Karen, I consider myself one of those people who “get” you. What’s not to get? Keep sharing your experimental, historic, and poetic vision. I think you will be more than happy with how far it will take you.
    P.S. I am giving you an Appreciated Follower Award. You are welcome to stop by my blog and pick it up tomorrow. I will never stop thanking you for your insight and ability.

  7. It’s both exhilarating and scary to step out of the box, but I normally produce my best work that way. Tonia – Saw it – Thank you again. I’m going to Thank Five on the next blog.

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