Write What You Know…Or No?


I recently watched an old movie with Kirstie Alley where she played a washed-up Scriptwriter. It was an offbeat, quirky portrayal of how age affects careers in the writing and publishing arena.

Kirstie is a middle-aged and very talented writer who lacks drive and focus since her scripts found fame in the 80s and 90s. When she goes to pitch her next Screenplay to her agent, she learns that a younger and clueless generation is becoming the next best thing in Publishing.

Write-What-You-KnowEnlisting the help of her young car dealer nephew, the protagonist hatches a plan to 1. sell her script 2. get back at the younger people who have taken over the agency and 3. make money for herself and nephew in the process.

Initially, everything is going well, until the screenwriter has to turn in more pages to the script and finds she can’t produce. The story caused reflection for me as a writer when the brother to Kirstie Alley’s character tells her to “Write What You Know.”

Low and behold, after much soul-searching, a bit of alcohol and a brief possible love connection, Kirstie goes in for the kill. She writes what she knows and all is well that ends well… not so fast. It doesn’t work that way in real-time for real writers, or does it? I’m a great believer in getting and writing the story. I view my writing as 25%  “Citizen Journalism” where I’m dealing with research to get the facts right for a piece, and 75% “Storyteller” because I write from a place of truth-telling. I feel well versed in Story. The question for me and I’m sure for many writers “Who cares to hear your story?’

Capturing an audience with the art of Storytelling is, in my opinion, the biggest boom to Movie Making. In the movie referencing Kirstie Alley as a Scriptwriter, she ends by writing “What she knows.” When writing copy for the sole purpose of making money, I don’t believe the story is always a factor. I tend to lean toward the belief that “writing what you know” goes over better for the writer and reader in personal writings and journaling that encompasses the Memoir and Autobiographical materials.

I’m a writer… period. I’ve dabbled in writings of every caliber, including attempts at writing the Screenplay, although short-lived, due in part to frustration and having to be consistent with those: Interior: Exterior: Fade In formats. Maybe I’ll dig out those One-Act Plays I submitted back in the day as well. Although Playwriting was something I took an interest in and nearly placed (several responses of play potential & offers to followup with other works) I never took my playwriting ability seriously.

After watching this movie, perhaps it’s time to take a second look at those Plays. For me, it will always be about the story. Who doesn’t like a good story, whether fiction fabricated or based on autobiographical truth?

  1. Avatar of Joyce White
    Joyce White says

    Hi Clara. I agree with you we writers wear many hats. Whatever I’m writing about I always try to add quotes or something something humorous. I love sayings. I think they make
    our own stories tasty to swallow. I also worry my own stories are boring so I color them up a bit with interesting words. However, when all is done and posted, and I know I did my best. Writing is a life-style and if we don’t enjoy the whole process, we’re wasting our time. Joyce

  2. Avatar of Clara Freeman
    Clara Freeman says

    Well said, Joyce and I totally agree. Have to add a slash of color from another vantage point to make our work pop with an air of authenticity!


  3. Avatar of kategould
    kategould says

    I think writing what you know is a good place for writers to start out, but more interesting, both to read and write, is to write about what you want to know. This, of course, requires research, something I’ve found many writers I’ve worked with are reluctant to do, sometimes with results quite astounding in their ignorance.

    1. Avatar of Clara Freeman
      Clara Freeman says

      I think most writers are reluctant to do research, but, are very well aware that there’s just no getting around it when you want your work to be factual, cohesive and ultimately- sing!

      btw- I’ve never met an ignorant writer- but many a procrastinator, including yours truly 🙂

  4. Avatar of
    Anonymous says

    I can only write what I know. I am untrained and self taught, though. I’ve dabbled in poetic pieces and never taken those very seriously. The only works that have ever been considered, and just one published commercially, have been those dabbled poetic pieces. My heart is in my real life stories, though—I’ve become aware that I am up against a wall. I’m in great need of learning more technical skills if I am ever to expand as a writer. I am a procrastinator and fearful of being told I’m terrible at it. My hope is to someday come back better able to tell what I know, but with more skill and colored less absolutely. I could try my hand in more areas. Thanks for sharing this!

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