#WritersLife Writing What You Know… or Not: One Author’s Experience

If you look up the phrase “write what you know” through your favored search engine, you’ll get a plethora of answers. Yes. No. Don’t ever. Always. Take your pick. It’s sage advice if it works for you. That said, I offer no answer one way or the other, but I can offer you my own experiences so you can, perhaps, decide for yourself.

I’ve been writing since my childhood and publishing for thirteen years, a long time for the former and a while for the latter. I’m going to use numbers and bullets to make my experiences understandable and, hopefully, relatable.


1) The Sisters Series (four titles between 2005 and 2013): This is far-future, alien-world Sci-Fi (though some have dubbed it Sci-Fantasy or even Fantasy)

  • The gist: In a far-future world, an alien all-female society struggles to live and ally with the severe patriarchal society they developed from
  • Was this my known? Um, yeah, actually, but I’m obviously not talking about the Sci-Fi aspect. Looking back… I’m a spousal abuse survivor and began writing this series during that marriage, on the sly because my now ex would have destroyed the work. Why? Because it gave me joy, because it was my escape. (Note: I’m long past that era of my existence. The effects will never fully go away, but I now live a happy life despite and in direct spite of what happened. The best revenge is to live happily.)



2) The Surrogate Series (2017 – present with a novella set for a late 2018 or early 2019 release, and a third novel set for a 2019 release) This is far future, alien-world Sci-Fi too.

  • The gist: A woman struggles to merge her biological needs with the societal expectations of the world she is thrust into. Bisexuality is the norm in her species. She’s defiant of labels. She wants a family.
  • Was/Is this my known? In some ways, yes. I stride numerous lines in my life. I’m the queer parent of three grown children, and I hate labels in general. They set limits and bring expected behaviors with them.


3) The Appalachian Elementals Series (Cleaning House is available now, Keeping House will be available in 2019 and after that…? This series could go on for a very long time.) This series is current-era paranormal-contemporary fantasy.

  • (The gist thus far) A well-educated, financially-strapped genderqueer person (she/her) returns to the Appalachian Mountains of her birth and raising only to discover her past and future waiting for her.
  • Was/Is this my known? Oh, hell yeah. I’m from Appalachia. I’m rather genderqueer. I’ve lived and worked elsewhere, but now I’m back home— older, wiser, and with an appreciative perspective concerning what I left behind and regained. More to the point, this series is set where I actually live. It’s familiar roads, businesses, and geography. It’s the paths I walk and home with all its imperfections.

So am I writing my known? Yep, always, whether I realized it at the time or not. I believe every writer is, in some form or fashion. It might be snippets of a family member in a character or your own hopes and dreams slipped into an alien culture’s norms. So what’s your known? Are you writing it? Are you writing your past in disguise, your now, or your wishes for the future? Whatever it is, you’re probably in there somewhere.

Read other posts in Jeanne’s Author How-To series.


Appalachia Photo (top of post) by Cameron Kirby on Unsplash


  1. I love, love, love this.

    Until more recently, my MCs have primarily been male (or male-assigned, in a couple cases). But I wrote what was my reality: leaving a very conservative/borderline fundamentalist religious community, coming out as an adult, parenting, starting over, chronic illness. I’ve set my novels in places I’ve either lived or spent a significant amount of time. I’ve processed complicated issues about body image and grief using similar happenings from my own life.

    In my experience as a reader, it’s often easy to spot inauthenticity and writers who are trying to do a “very special episode” story that’s issues-focused rather than character-driven, especially if they are writing outside what they know firsthand. It can be done, but it requires a level of skill I don’t think most people (myself included) possess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that’s it. I can generally spot the known, especially in the LGBTQIA community, because I’m a part of it.

      The genre doesn’t matter IMO. A story containing some of the author’s known will feel authentic no matter the setting. That said, my writing in my own setting, in Appalachia, this time, helped in ways I couldn’t fathom until after I’d finished writing Cleaning House.

      And “very special episode” pretty much sums things up. If you don’t know your world in some fashion or relate in some way to your characters, it’ll read like a stilted after school special.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What, me? The fact that my characters are often from sheltered backgrounds who are just learning about the world around them, exploring some sort of secret, or discovering their own nature doesn’t reflect my experiences at all, oh, no. (I’m totally lying.) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL. At least you’ll admit it. I admit that my protagonists always have some of me in them, but my antagonists are always at least somewhat based on those who’ve blocked my path or told me I can’t. It’s up to them to figure out who’s who.


  3. Heaven save me from favourite authors whose style I love killing it by writing stuff tat I know and few of them do!

    A gay writer I read before I knew gay was a thing! Whose evocative prose sometimes mapped areas I’d lived so thoroughly I could have walked them with book in hand more recently wrote a protagonist with a disability.

    Despite the skill i have seen over and over it was absent here as was all the tone I associated with him. It read like Me Before You The Sequel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand all about the potential disconnect when someone writes what’s not their physical known. Perhaps that’s why I find myself writing my known again and again.

      As a disabled person myself I’m working on writing differently-abled characters. It’s a transition for me, but I want to do it correctly. Your thoughts on this post are encouraging me to work harder on this.

      Look for something in the future. 😊


  4. I think it would be very difficult to create a character or write a story without including some element of your own experience or personality. I try to make my stories light-hearted and humerous because this is how I deal and have always dealt with difficult situations. Laughter is the best medicine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This entire post sprang from another author telling me that their characters were never anything like them. I nodded outside to save conflict even as my mind said, “you’re full off bull.” For me, it would be impossible to create a character that I don’t in some way, associate with. Even my villains, though that association is distant (I hope) and one I’d rather not think about.


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