Write what you know — Nikki Rosen

I’ve heard it said many times….’write what you know.’ Writing what we know can be a good springboard for developing stories that have impact.

It’s what Harper Lee did. She penned one book – one book only – but that one book, To Kill a Mockingbird, has been read and reread and even made into a movie. Harper Lee grew up in Alabama seeing the racial tensions. Her dad was a lawyer, her mom mentally ill and she, like the little girl in her story, was a tomboy.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie, also wrote what she knew. She became hugely successful in her sixties when her daughter helped her write a series of stories based on Wilder’s own pioneer life experience. Publishers at first dismissed her stories as boring and uninteresting, but children loved reading them and soon they became widely popular.

Anne Frank, a German Jew, decided to keep a journal while her family was in hiding from the Nazis. She hoped it would become a popular read when the war ended. Her diary was a teenager’s perspective of life and family, relationships and war, God and hope.  Frank wrote what she knew.

After the war, Anne’s father tried to fulfill her dream and have the diary published, but publishers didn’t think it had any public appeal. However one publisher finally took a chance and The Diary of Anne Frank has become one of the most read books of the twentieth century.

When we write what we know, our passion is all over the book. Those things we feel strongly about – the issues that disturb us, the causes that drive us and motivate us into some action -are the stories that we’ll pen with enthusiasm and intensity.

Another famous writer who wrote what she knew was Anna Sewell. She wrote the book, Black Beauty for those who worked with horses. She wanted to show them kindness and understanding for the animal. Growing up in a Christian home, Anna learned that it was God’s will that love and compassion be shown to everyone…including to animals. It appalled her to see many of the work horses treated badly by their owners. She wrote her story from the horse’s perspective and drew on her memory of all the times she had witnessed cruelty to these animals. In 1877, Black Beauty was published and became an instant hit. 50 million copies have sold and the book has become one of the best read around the world.

A year after the book went public, Anna died. She never got to see the impact her book made or that her goal had been achieved. Children everywhere gained a love and an appreciation of horses from reading her book.

Writing what we know is a good starting place to write powerful stories.

Nikki Rosen: Author of In the Eye of Deception and Dancing Softly


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