Where Writing What You Know Has Taken Me
By Lorie Lewis Ham
There’s an old saying that a writer should write what they know. True it’s good to grow and expand beyond that, and it’s not something that’s set in stone, and it’s not even something that works for everyone-but it can at the very least be a great place to start. And of course, like any other writing “rule,” you have to take from it what works for you. It’s the finished product that matters more than how you get there.
That being said-writing what you know has unintentionally been my path to writing success. I’d like to share where that path has taken me and how I got there.
- I started writing about my stuffed animals at the age of seven.
- My first publication was at 13 when I wrote a poem about my prayer that was published in a teen magazine.
- I then set out on a path to write a novel, publishing several mystery short stories and articles along the way here and there. I tried writing a lot of different types of novels without success, but when I was in my early twenties, I started writing a mystery featuring a gospel singer and everything clicked! (I have been singing gospel music since the age of five) I published four books in that series, with "The Final Note," being the most recent and final one. It is currently available on Amazon.
- In my early 20’s I also saw an ad in the local newspaper looking for a stringer. I figured hey I’ve published some articles here and there why not give it a try. They assigned me to the church page and I wrote for them for eight years-again writing what I know.
- Again, at the age of 42, I found myself not only writing for that paper, but several others that same company owned. By this time “what I knew” had expanded and I found myself writing all sorts of things about the cities I had lived in and around for years, and especially about the police department-which after writing five mystery novels I knew a lot about. This ended after two years due to some creative differences with the editor.
- After 40 some odd years of life, “what I knew” had expanded and grown A LOT. After two months without a job, the idea hit me that I could start my own online magazine and call it Kings River Life. The plan then was to write the articles my editor at the paper wouldn’t let me write, and to focus entirely on the communities surrounding the Kings River in California-hence the name. We went online because the cost was minimal—I have to admit I had no idea though how much work it would be!
KRL definitely started with writing what I knew. I was a member of the historical society so I knew local history, I volunteered with local theatre because of my daughter so I knew theatre, I obviously knew music, I knew ministry, I knew the mystery writing business, I had run a small animal rescue for five years so I knew animals and rescues, I knew books, I knew writing, etc, etc. As to our first writers—I also started with people I knew who wrote about what they knew.
As the magazine grew, I realized what I knew gave me a sound foundation for so much more-for stories that spread beyond just our little area. With my mystery writing connections our mystery section boomed and has now become a weekly part of the magazine, expanding our readership all over the world. I’m a movie buff so we added Monday Night movie reviews-with a great perk of free movies! I’d grown to know theatre even more, so we added theatre reviews on Wednesday nights, not just articles. My husband knows sports so we took advantage of that to cover local sports. My animal rescue work connected me to a whole new market as well--animal rescue stories. We now regularly have articles and stories about rescued animals, and therapy ones, that has continued to expand our readership beyond the US.
I’ve been able to take things in my life I know and expand our readership beyond anything I ever imagined and offer things that are also unique-filling a gap. Not only has our readership spread, so has where our writers come from. We have writers in St. Louis, New York, Australia, Scotland, Santa Cruz, and more. I’m excited to see where this takes us in the future.
So I encourage you to think about what you know in your life and see where it takes you. Whether you take pieces of something you know and put that in fiction, or write non-fiction articles about things you know-try it and see what happens. Even if you write sci-fi or fantasy, you can still use pieces of things you know to create your world and your characters. This is especially a great jumping off point for new writers, or those struggling with what to write, but can be great for any writer. And as always remember, with everything you hear about writing, figure out what works for you.
KRL is open to submissions--especially for mystery short stories. Check us out and see if there’s something you’d like to try and contribute, even if it’s something we’ve never done before, we are always growing and expanding and open to new ideas! And please, as a reader check us out too! We have a lot to offer, especially for the mystery reader! A new issue goes up every Saturday morning: http://KingsRiverLife.com and we currently have a short story contest going on: http://kingsriverlife.com/fathers-day-mystery-short-story-contest/
As a side note, I'm now writing a mystery featuring an entertainment and pet blogger!
Check out my guest post at Buried Under Books about people telling you what you can't write about