I hated working retail. I was a customer service representative at TJ Maxx for a year. Before that, I was a regular cashier. After that, I worked the jewelry counter. Things were great when we had a dream team of managers and employees, but managers got moved to other stores and new, terrible managers were moved in. So, people started quitting and the dream team fell apart. After that, it was all downhill.
I’ve written quite a bit about my experiences at TJ Maxx because they helped shape who I am today. It’s what I know. One story I haven’t told, was when I got the best piece of advice I’ve ever received: “write what you know.”
I was working the jewelry counter when a kind older woman needed assistance and started asking me questions about what school I went to (Palm Beach State College, PBCC at the time), and what I was studying (writing). She told me her husband was a writer and that she’d send him over to talk to me later.
When he came by we discussed what I had written that had been well received by others, and then he imparted this advice upon me: write what you know. And, keep writing. Keep writing what you know.
Since then, I have stuck to it and that’s helped me quite a bit with my success.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t go learn new things. In fact, learning new things means you will know more, which provides you with more to write about. There’s nothing wrong with doing research to make sure your writing is accurate. You shouldn’t only write what you know, but there are three situations where writing what you know will be particularly beneficial.
This particular article pertains to writing what you know in regards to creative non-fiction and journalism. The rules change when you’re writing fiction, and that will be discussed at another time in the future.
Write what you know when you’re first getting started.
When you first get started writing, you should write what you know. This doesn’t just mean when you start writing a piece, it means any time you start writing. Whether you’re starting a paper, a book, an article, or your entire career. Write what you know and get that part down.
If you’re just starting your career, you want to exhaust what you know so you can get to learning and writing about new things. It’s easy to get started writing when you’re writing about things you know about, and when you’ve written about every experience you’ve ever had, you’ll start looking for new things to write about.
That’s when things get good! You’ll practice writing on your experiences and improve your skills so that your newer, later on experiences can be better written.
Here’s the truth: a lot of things that have happened to you in your life might have impacted you a lot, but they don’t mean anything to others. You’ll learn which things to share what not to share through doing. It’s best to get this out in your early days because after that, when you’ve built up a following and need to continue to produce quality content, you’ll have already learned.
Of course, you don’t need to share every single experience you’ve ever had. Keep some stuff to yourself. Especially things you’re not comfortable sharing.
You don’t have to write about traumatic experiences and share them with the world. However, if you do, you may help some other people who are experiencing it. You may also help yourself by getting it out. Otherwise, it’s not necessary. If you need to keep something to yourself for your own mental health than that is what’s important.
It’s also good to get what you know out of the way when writing an individual piece. Get everything you know out first so that you can organize and figure out what’s missing. Then research and fill in the missing parts to fulfil the purpose of the piece.
This will help your productivity on writing immensely. You’ll get more out faster by getting everything you know out of your head before you sit down and start the arduous process of research.
Write what you know when you have “writer’s block.”
I don’t believe in writer’s block. I seriously don’t. I used to. I used to use it as an excuse to not write.
“I don’t have any inspiration right now.”
“I don’t know what to write, so I just won’t. It’ll come to me later.”
Well, that’s bullshit. And you’re probably thinking “Garrett, you don’t know me. You don’t know how I work.”
Hey, if you’re making a living writing and enjoying every minute of it, but you sit around waiting for inspiration, awesome. If you’re not making a living from your writing yet, or stuck writing stuff you hate, but sit around waiting for inspiration, well I guess the results speak for themselves.
Dedicate time every day to write. I’ll actually post more about this later, but we’re going to briefly touch on it here so we can get back to the topic at hand.
Write every day, and when you sit down and think “I don’t know what to write about today”, write what you know.
If you want to take it a step further, plan out what you’re going to write the day before. Before you go to bed tonight, plan out an hour of writing tomorrow. Dedicate an hour of your day to writing. I prefer 0800-0900, right before I start my days work for clients. That way, when I’m done with client work for the day, I can either spend more time writing what I want, or relax a little, or do whatever I deem is important. My writing and my work have already been done.
Write what you know when you have writer’s block and you’ll never have writer’s block again.
Write what you know as teaching something.
Here’s the thing about teaching: you need to be teaching. You need to be teaching what you know. People on the internet are thirsty for knowledge. They’re thirsty for free knowledge, and they’re thirsty enough to pay for good knowledge, too.
You can make money writing about what you know.
Whatever it is you know, you need to sit down and write about it. If you know about flying kites, you need to write about flying kites. Write about kites in a weekly blog post. After a year, take those blog posts and reformat them into a book. Don’t just copy and paste each article into a chapter. You need to actually reformat them to make sense cohesively in book format.
That’s just one idea, you don’t have to do that, but it’s a way to build up a following, build up experience, and build up some cash. Who knows, you could end up getting client work or jobs from it.
A lot of my client work has come from me writing about things entirely unrelated to what the client work’s subject matter was. Sometimes people find your writing and just love it, so they hire you. Or they become a fan and continue reading your work for the rest of their lives.
What really attracts people is learning new things, so when you teach what you know, you’ll continue to learn about the subject as well as share that knowledge and grow a following.
Don’t always write what you know.
You shouldn’t write what you know if it’s boring. Let me rephrase that: you should still write it. You probably don’t want to post it anywhere or publish it if it’s boring.
So, here’s what you do: spice it up. It doesn’t have to be 100% fact (as long as you don’t present it as 100% fact). You should write what you know, but you don’t have to strictly write only what you know.
Write things you don’t know. Make stuff up to add interest.
For example, if you’re reminiscing on a certain situation but you don’t remember how the weather was that day, just make it up. It’s not imperative to the story. If it is, don’t make it up. You shouldn’t be making up things that are important part of the piece you’re working on.
But, if the weather isn’t necessary to tell the story, then “it was the hottest day of the year. A woman dropped a carton of eggs on the sidewalk and they were ready to eat before she bent over to pick them up,” will add detail and interest to the story.
- Write what you know when you’re first getting started on a piece or in your career.
- Write what you know when you’re experiencing writers block or a lack of inspiration.
- Write what you know when you’re teaching to gain a following.