Write What You Feel, Not What You Know.

Dylan H. Jones

Most of us writers are magpies. We peck around for the bright shimmering objects that make our writing shine. These maybe ideas, snippets of overheard conversations, inspiring use of language, or like the headline to this blog, quotes lifted whole from authors you admire.

“Write What You Feel, Not What You Know” is a direct quote from Lee Child, author the billion-dollar juggernaut that is the Jack Reacher series. When I heard that quote from his BBC Maestro series, it struck a loud chord somewhere in my subconscious.

Many new writers struggle with the idea that they should only write what they know, and that writing about things they don’t know or haven’t experienced is somehow “inauthentic.” This is incorrect. More than a tired old cliche, write what you know can be a detriment to new writers. It’s constraining, leads to uninspired writing and plotlines, and typically boxes newbie writers into a corner they’re going to spend most of their writing time wrestling their way out of.

Hooked on a Feeling

Writing is a form of imagination. It’s the act of creating something from nothing, and it’s an essential part of the human experience. We all have the ability to imagine and create, and writing is one of the most powerful ways to do that. When we limit ourselves to only writing about what we know or experienced, we’re essentially limiting our imagination and our ability to create.

When I began writing my first DI Tudor Manx novel, it was feeling that drove me, not knowledge. I had a feeling that a detective working on the Welsh island of Anglesey could be compelling for an audience. I had no expert knowledge of the workings of the police, except what I’d seen on TV or read in books: that all came later with deeper research.

Crafting Character.

Undeniably, there’s a huge chunk of ourselves in the characters we create. They’re often more capable versions of ourselves, navigating the world with ease, dropping memorable bon mots, always saying the right thing at the right time, not thinking of a pitch-perfect comeback ten minutes later on the drive home.  Also, these characters can be messier, more flawed versions of ourselves. Whichever course a writer chooses, and I’ve come to understand writing is mostly about choices, it requires a leap pf imagination, slipping into the skins of these characters, feeling what they’re feeling.

For the character of Manx, I imagined the feeling of returning home to a place I’d left thirty years previously after a traumatic childhood event. I amplified this feeling, pumped it full of steroids, beat it with a big stick until it felt like something authentic. Asked the obligatory, ‘What Ifs?’  What if Manx hated being back on Anglesey? What if he felt like a fish out of water in the very place he grew up? Had a strained and complicated relationship with his immediate family who blamed him for the disappearance of his sister all those years ago? Felt he’d been dealt a harsh blow for something that wasn’t his fault, forcing him to move from London back to Wales under duress.

I think this is how writers build authentic and relatable characters, by digging into that initial feeling that inspired them at the off set to pen that opening sentence.

We’ve all read, or are at least aware, of the tonnage of writing advice lurking out there on the internet under the banner of clickbait headlines.  My advice? Read as much as you need, take the advice of the few.

And if there are three nuggets of writing advice I can leave you with, it’s these:

Read, never stop reading. It’ll inspire and motivate you.

Accept your first drafts will stink. It doesn’t matter. No one will see it. You can always polish.

Write what you feel, not what you know.

Dylan H. Jones is the author of the best-selling DI Tudor Manx mysteries set on the island of Anglesey. He’s also penned the crime thriller, What Follows, based in his home city of Oakland, California. You can check his rap sheet at www.dylanjonesauthor.com.

You can also follow him at:


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