Write What You Know… Or Just Write What You Love

~ By Heather Thurmeier

I was always told, “Write what you know!”

Well, for a long time I didn’t want to do that. I mean, what the heck do I know anything about, that readers would find interesting? Is anyone going to find my laundry list of daily activities for taking care of my house and family interesting? Diaper duty, dishes, grocery store runs? Possibly other moms would, but on the larger, more general scale of readers, not likely.

So I listened to the advice and simply didn’t write anything, since I couldn’t possibly make a story out of what I “knew.” I did this, sadly, for years. Sigh.

Then I got an idea.

Huh. Maybe… Maybe I could write about this… But do I “know” anything about it?

My idea was about a twenty-something girl who decides to go on a reality dating show with the hopes of finding a hunk to fall in love with. And she does. Only it’s not the bachelor who catches her eye. Nope. It’s the forbidden cameraman who sleeps just on the other side of the adjoining room door and who follows her around each day filming her every move.

Ah-ha! Finally, I had the idea for a story that I just had to write. I couldn’t ignore it.

But there was one problem.

I didn’t actually know anything about being on a reality TV show. I’ve never been on a TV show of any kind, let alone a reality show. I’ve never even applied to be on a reality TV show. Heck, I’ve never even auditioned for a play or anything. Never been in front of a camera. Never spoken on live TV or radio. Nothing. Nada.

And yet I couldn’t not write this book. I simply had to.

Had.

To.

The characters started talking and they just wouldn’t shut up! So what was I to do?

I took the leap. I figured I had nothing to lose writing about something I really didn’t know—at least I didn’t know it first hand—because I liked the idea so much and at least writing it would make the characters in my head finally zip it. Of course, it wasn’t like I didn’t know anything about reality TV. Sure, I’d never been on a show, but hadn’t I watched about a million hours of reality TV shows of different varieties? Didn’t that make me something of an expert in the field?

Okay, so maybe I wasn’t a reality TV expert exactly, but I had logged a lot of hours as a viewer. That had to give me some basis of knowledge to build from, right? So I used all those shows I’d watched, and I may have started watching a few news ones too… *cough*… for research purposes only. And I created a new reality show and contestants for my book. I daydreamed about what kinds of show I’d like to watch on TV and the kind of characters would keep me tuning in each week. I thought about all the great moments in reality TV I’d seen over the years and pinpointed what it was about those moments that made them so great. I played with the moments, twisted them, changed them, manipulated them into something different that fit within my book and my characters. Then I took little pieces of all the shows I’d ever watched and blended them together in ways I hadn’t seen before on TV.

Basically, I created something new and different, but also something comfortingly familiar.

And I realized with every challenge my contestants competed in, every dramatic catfight that happened, and every behind-the-scenes moment of forbidden romance, that I actually was more knowledgeable about the subject that I thought.

Ha, ha! I was writing what I knew! And I had no idea I was doing it!

Now, I’ve not only created one fictional reality TV show that I technically know nothing about for my new contemporary romance FALLING FOR YOU, but I’ve actually created three shows. That’s right. My little story idea that I just had to write even though I knew nothing about the subject has become a contracted trilogy of reality TV romances!!

Not bad for someone who didn’t think they knew anything worth writing about.

So go and write the story you’ve always wanted to write. And when people tell you that you should “write what you know” tell them that you are, because really, there’s something in your book that you do know a lot about, even if you don’t realize it yet. Maybe it’s in the little details of your character’s personality or memories of places you’ve been and now use as a setting. Somewhere inside that book of yours is stuff you know. Embrace what you know and let those little details shine so they add authenticity to your characters, setting and plot.

And when all else fails and you realize that maybe you really don’t know something you’re now committed to writing about… head to Google and research!

Happy writing… and researching!

Heather Thurmeier is a lover of strawberry margaritas, a hater of spiders, and a reality TV junkie. Her passion is contemporary romance—writing stories filled with laugh out loud moments, uber-hunky heroes, feisty heroines, and always a happily ever after. You can find out more about Heather’s books by visiting her blog: heatherthurmeier.com.

11 thoughts on “Write What You Know… Or Just Write What You Love”

  1. I read in another blog about if you want to write about something that you don’t know anything about, then learn about it as you write it.

    I’m glad you wrote this story. Keep writing so I can keep reading.

  2. There are so many little obstacles that can prevent us from writing and cause us to doubt ourselves. So glad you knocked that wall down and wrote the story you were meant to write. Thank you for inspiring others to do the same!

    PS: Thanks Jeff for mentioning your “logged-in” situation. I was logged-in at the time, too. Reading your comment reminded me to log out first.

    1. Hi Roxanne, You’re right, there are a lot of walls that writers have to face. It’s good when we can recognize them and then tear them down. The biggest thing holding us back though, is ourselves. We have to give ourselves over to writing and stop fighting with our muse!

  3. I love the fact that you logged in so many reality TV hours all in the name of research. Maybe I can explain all my soap-opera watching as a young girl as “helping to form” my dream of being a romance writer.

    Obviously authors write about cops, murders, doctors, and terrorists, etc. without knowing what it’s like to actually be one, or commit a murder, so…that’s when our imaginations come into play.

    1. Research is a tough job, but someone has to do it! LOL. I agree with you about using our imaginations as writers. We can’t possibly know everything we write about! Nor would we want to in some of the cases you mentioned. But I can put myself in the place of someone and imagine what something might be like, feel like, taste like etc.

  4. LOL. My reply, above, is listed as “Chicklit” because I was “logged-in” under the code to view the newsletter. Good grief.
    Anyway, the comments beginning with “Great Column, Heather…” were mine … and I approve this message. ha.
    Jeff

  5. Great column, Heather. And I’ve heard a lot of advice on this very issue: some “experts” insisting we only write what we know, others demanding that we follow our muse. I even read some advice from a KY author (with two books at a NYC house) who said, basically, writing what you know will be good practice, but to write a good book (for others), you have to stretch beyond that. Wish I could recall his quote, but I think I captured the gist of it.
    One thing’s for sure: nothing is for sure in the realm of writing.
    That said, I like your approach: write where your muse leads you. If you don’t recognize what you find there, do some research.

    1. There’s so much writing advice out there, it can be frustrating to wade through it all. But in the end, you have to do what you think is best for your career. And if that’s only writing things you’re an expert about, that’s fine. But if it means writing a bunch of books you have to research to write, that’s fine too. As long as we write well and tell great stories, I’m not sure it matters much how we get to the end.

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