Story writing is tough even without all the “experts” weighing in with advice like, “Write what you know!” Here’s why that might be pointless advice.

I don’t think this advice is quite as useful as it seems for story writing. But what should you do instead of following the tips to just “write what you know” when you’re embarking on your novel or even short story.

When I first started writing, I spent a whole day on Google looking up writing advice.

I wanted to know how to write well and what to write in order to make sure people liked the stuff I actually wrote. I wanted my first book to be great and I didn’t want to have to go through a shit ton of mistakes in the process.

writing a story

What “Write what you know,” Means for Story Writing

As you can imagine, I came across the phrase, “write what you know,” at least 7,000 times. Okay, so it wasn’t that often, but I did see it on every other writing advice blog I saw – and I saw a lot.

And while I thought this advice was great at first, I quickly learned that maybe it isn’t the best advice to take so literally.

This piece of advice isn’t meant for you to just take and write the things you know about. It’s meant in the sense that you should write about things you’re knowledgeable about. You should write about the things you’ve experienced.

Aka, if you know what heartache feels like, you should write that. If you know what it feels like to lose a loved one, write about that. That’s how this piece of advice is meant to be taken, but there’s one huge problem with that.

It’s Limiting for Story Writing

To be honest, if I wrote a book and used this advice literally, I wouldn’t have a very interesting book. It would be boring and it wouldn’t give you the feels. And we all know a good book is one that makes you feel powerful emotions while reading it.

This advice is far too limiting.

It would require someone to live a tragic, happy, and loving life in order to produce a good book. But there are plenty of successful authors who haven’t lived through all of the things they write about. So how did they do it, then? How were they able to write a great book when they didn’t write what they knew?

How to Start Writing a Story for Real

You need to write from empathy. All of the best writers know how to harness empathy when it comes to writing a story.

This is truly the secret behind great writing – in my opinion. You can’t always write what you know because you may not know enough to produce a quality book. But you can write from empathy. You can imagine what it would feel like to be in certain situations even though you’ve never been there before. So you think hard about how you would feel and then write those emotions.

Many successful authors are extremely empathetic people. They understand how someone is feeling so powerfully that they’re able to use that same quality and put themselves in the shoes of their fictional characters just like they do in real life.

You Can Always Research Information

If you really don’t know how it would feel to be in situations that you put your characters into, you can always research it when writing a story. You can interview people.

You can do a lot of different things to put yourself in their shoes and truly learn how it would feel to be in a number of different situations.

You don’t have to know exactly what heartbreak feels like in order to write a convincing heartbreak scene. But you do have to put in the time and effort to make sure the emotions you’re writing are realistic.

Writing a Story Sometimes Means Disregarding “Advice”

The advice to “write what you know” can be useful because it tells people to write about things they’re familiar with – which is always more genuine and real when someone reads it.

However, it’s pointless in the sense that you can’t just write what you know. If you did, your books and stories wouldn’t be half as interesting as you want them to be.


Writing a story tales so many different skills. You have to pay attention to how your characters feel, their true emotions, and that takes empathy. Although “write what you know” isn’t fully helpful, the essence of this piece of writing advice is.

1 comment

  1. I agree it’s a combination of both. I write some stories about what I know. But I have the most fun writing & reading stories that are exploring things that are new to me.

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