Do you have to stick to “write what you know?”


This blog was inspired by a post I read at Indie Plot Twist, Write What You Know.

Living a dull life?

Danielle Hanna (half of Indie Plot Twist) and I both live in small towns in North Dakota. Just because it’s a small town, doesn’t mean it’s dull.

Read the newspaper

Unfortunately, you will find political intrigue, shootings, explosions, train wrecks…

Local police department

Have you ever done a ride along with the P.D.? I haven’t, though I did volunteer at my local police substation back in Albuquerque (and I still have contacts at the P.D. in case I have police-procedure questions).

Community events

Nearly every weekend, even in small towns, there are holiday events, festivals, or ethnic events.fargo

How about a conference, like the Annual Bloggers and Writers Conference in Fargo, North Dakota?

Everywhere you look, you see history

What’s the history behind that building that houses the art museum?

What’s the history of Main Street?

What events changed your town? The flood of 2011 comes to mind.

Your past life

Most of my short stories and poetry reflect my knowledge, memories, experiences – both good and bad.

I have plenty of fond memories from my long-ago life – growing up on the east coast with Mom and Ang and brothers, building snow forts and skating on the local pond, Christmas caroling with friends, summer vacations. Even if you don’t want to write about long ago, you can use these memories to enhance your current characters and stories.

img002 (3)Look at old pictures

I have taken thousands of photos over the years. When I go back and study them, I see things I never noticed before. Old photos are great if you want to remember how the hair styles and clothing styles were for that era (if you are old enough to have another era). I also have a slew of old photos from my mom’s generation and beyond.

Jobs in your past

Most of us have numerous career experiences. I’ve worked a bunch of different jobs – dry cleaners, large corporations, small-town government, uniform warehouse, conference planning, loading dock, accounting, school for the deaf, and more. Tap your memories!

So many contacts

We all chat online via Facebook and LinkedIn. Why not utilize some of these contacts for their knowledge, information on their jobs, and their day-to-day challenges? We are all connected to professionals like doctors, lawyers, bankers, chefs, etc.

What if we want a character that does something we know nothing about?

Say, a character who is an archaeologist? That’s okay because I’m taking an online class in archaeology right now through Coursera. I’m learning just enough to be dangerous (or at least enough to include some of my newly-learned tidbits in my prose).

Or, conduct research at your local library or historical society.

Small town life

While I was writing this blog, an article about life in a little town popped up on Pamela Wight’s Rough Wighting blog, In My Little Town.


What experiences in your life have inspired your stories or characters?

What local happenings have inspired events in your stories?

Have any of your previous jobs made it into your stories?

Are you in a small town or big city?


A plug for my inspiration

Danielle HannaDanielle Hanna learned how to read and write at age four and knew she wanted to be an author by the time she was seven. She now writes Christian mysteries. When she’s not riveted to her computer, you can find her camping, hiking, and biking with her German Shepherd/Rottweiler Molly. Danielle and Carrie Lynn Lewis partner at Indie Plot Twist.



carrieCarrie Lynn Lewis has been writing for personal enjoyment most of her life. Her favorite genres are mystery, suspense, and political thriller, with manuscripts in the works in each of those categories. She is also an active critique partner for other authors, both published and unpublished. Carrie personal writing blog can be found at Writing Well.

At Indie Plot Twist, Danielle and Carrie are recording their journey to independent publishing. They host free classes on the blog five to six times a year and encourage readers to participate in the comments section.



Filed under Blogging, Publishing

16 responses to “Do you have to stick to “write what you know?”

  1. Hey, Karen! Love your post. Great ideas here. I really like the thought about looking at old photos for inspiration. And thanks for mentioning Indie Plot Twist!

    • karenrsanderson

      Hey, Danielle. Your blog was my inspiration! I love looking at old photos anyway, and they are often good idea makers.

  2. I like to use fictionalized truth. I use my past experiences to then make up a character and see what she does with some of the things I have done. Quite fun! And I also believe in researching to make up things that I have not done. 🙂

  3. Karen,

    A great post. Danielle is right; you offer a lot of ideas. I especially like the photograph idea. I’ve been taking pictures for years and years as part of my studio business. I’ve never thought of using those images for research. Now I won’t be able to look at them in the same way!

    Archeology, you say? You’re taking an archeology course?

    Just so happens, I have a potential character floating around in a potential future and he just happens to be an archeologist. I may be contacting you….

    • karenrsanderson

      Yep, I am taking a class. I’m no expert, but would be glad to share what I’ve learned. And I have kept all my notes and downloads from the class.

  4. Great ideas. I use my travel experiences to write my Amanda series. Pictures come in handy when i can’t quite remember details. I will use some of your other suggestions as well. Thanks and Happy Easter.

  5. I love these suggestions Karen. Stories come to me as alternate versions of what I know. When I write, ideas start with what I have experienced, then change into: What if? This is the part that is like a game and can be playful, transforming real things into what could be, or what could have been.

  6. Perfect post for a Monday morning and the start of another writing week, Karen!

    Not only is this post a treasure trove of ideas, it verifies the truth that small town life is anything but SMALL. It’s an oftentimes uncomfortable fact to any of us who grew-up and/or currently live in a small town, that secrets can be difficult to keep tucked away unseen and mischief and misbehavior are generally abundant. An oftentimes frustrating condition in real life, but an absolute goldmine when it comes to fiction and “writing what you know.” 😀

    • karenrsanderson

      I lived in a very small town in Maine for a while (I was #66), and there everyone knew everyone, and everyone’s business! That got a little weird after a while. But I prefer small towns and more wide open spaces than the big city. And there is always plenty of scoop in the newspaper!

  7. Great post, Karen. So many good ideas here – looking at old photos is a new one for me – I love that idea. I enjoy writing fiction and have bookmarked this post for future reference. Thank you for sharing!

    • karenrsanderson

      I am glad you found it useful, Sarah. I love looking at old pictures…I sometimes spread a bunch out on the table when writing ‘old’ fiction so I can point out small details that add richness to the piece.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s