How Do We Write What We Know?

How Do We Write What We Know?

How do we write what we know without writing about ourselves? Use this exercise to help you turn what you know into a useful resource for your stories.

‘If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.’ ~Tennessee Williams

Your reader may not find you, your mother, or your friend as interesting as you do. Even if you have led an incredible life, create a character who has a separate identity. The trick is to use your life to enhance your character, not to tell your life story.

How do we write what we know without writing about ourselves?

We need to separate our experiences from our emotions, our hopes, and our dreams. Experiences can be limiting – especially if we haven’t really done much in our lives.

The other three, however, are our greatest gifts as writers. We need to draw on these. We all know how it feels to be terrified, sad, elated, disappointed, ecstatic. We all have dreams. We all make wishes. Good writing means drawing on this vast resource and using it to breathe life into our characters.

Exercise: Create a character, starting with yourself.

Fill in the blanks: 

I prefer talking to my mother / my father because:

My favourite scent is:

My favourite song is:

My favourite meal is: 

My favourite car is:

If I won the lottery, I would: 

I am most afraid of: 

I want to ______________ before the end of the year.

I don’t want to ______ any more.


Imagine that you are 20 years older than you are now. Imagine yourself as a member of the opposite sex. Give yourself a name. This character has been told that he/she is terminally ill. Now write the opening scene of a novel, using your dreams, loves, fears, featuring this character.

Happy writing.

MUST-READ: Why Method Writing Makes You A Better Author

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

Amanda Patterson by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this article, read

  1. Cheat Sheets for Writing Body Language
  2. Seven Essential Things to Remember about Very Important Characters
  3. Wherever I Lay My Hat – How Setting Affects Your Characters
Posted on: 25th January 2013