What We Experience Affects What We Write

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By Kimberley Woodhouse

Write what you know.

We’ve all heard it. But is that always the best advice? It worked for the character Anne in her vignettes of Avonlea, and it worked for Jo of Little Women, right? But what about all the adventurous and exciting stories they wrote and longed to write? Just like those fictional characters, our inquisitive, creative minds long to journey to distant lands and experience things we’ve never actually done.

But then… some things are better left not being experienced. Or are they?

The past few years have given me some… interesting health adventures. And of course, it all happened after I turned forty. Naturally.

I know, I know, they all say it happens after forty. And then every decade thereafter… sigh. But for someone who hadn’t been in the hospital for umpteen years prior to lovely 4-0, it was a shock to my system and brain.

I won’t go into all the details of my crazy, if-something-is-going-to-happen-it’s-going-to-happen-to-Kim, life. But for the sake of my point, you need to understand a couple of things. One, I almost died and had three surgeries within six weeks. Two, five months later—on the trip to our son’s wedding—I contracted Pertussis. Otherwise known as Whooping Cough. It wasn’t a mild case. The experience helped me to understand why so many died from it.

Fast forward a couple of years and I was recovering and gaining back my strength. Then I started gasping for air at night, and having trouble breathing.

Enter: asthma. A new diagnosis for me—a lovely gift from the Pertussis—along with a damaged soft palate.

So I tell my wonderful editor that I won’t waste that “research”—not a chance. I begin writing Forever Hidden with Tracie and we give one of our characters asthma. Then the dreaded Whooping Cough comes to town in our story.

After we turn the manuscript in, Karen—our editor—calls.

Apparently, I write what I know a little too well.

“It’s amazing how life seeps onto the page.” Her laughter accompanied her comment. At the time, I thought she was talking about the chicken stories in the book since I had chickens back in Colorado. But no, she went on to tell me that my characters—and not just one mind you, all of my characters—were doing a lot of breathing. Deep breaths. Shallow breaths. Gasping. Holding their breath. Huffing. You name it. If it had to do with breathing, it was in there. A lot. Many times more than in anything else I’d ever written. So I had to edit a good deal of it—out.

Breathing was obviously a big deal to me. Even subconsciously as I wrote about fictional characters. But that is the way of the writer. Our experiences, no matter how big or small, truly do affect what we write. And that can be a beautiful thing. Even if it’s about our own difficult journeys.

That’s what makes our stories come alive and connect with our readers.

So yes, write what you know. Use your life experiences to help shape your stories. Let the reader feel the struggle and gasp along with you. Don’t be afraid of what you know—no matter how hard it might be—use it for the good of story.

The things you don’t know? Get out there and research. Go visit the location. Pour yourself into learning everything you possibly can so your reader experiences it as if they’re right there living your story.

Um…just one side note. I don’t advise contracting any contagious diseases to do it though. They’re not pleasant. Then the CDC will call you, and they will have a whole case about you, and then they just might have to treat an entire hospital full of people because of you. It could happen.

Until next time,


To breathe or not to breathe… how what we know affects what we write @kimwoodhouse #ACFWBlogs #writing #writetips Click To Tweet

Carol-Award winning Kimberley Woodhouse is a CBA and ECPA best-selling and multi-award-winning author of more than twenty books which have earned her many accolades including Christian Retailing’s Top Pick and Publisher’s Weekly starred reviews. A lover of history and research, she often gets sucked into the past and then her husband has to lure her out with chocolate. Connect with Kimberley: https://kimberleywoodhouse.com




Comments 1

  1. Experience is the writer’s teacher,
    I know that this is true,
    just as sin informs the preacher,
    but what, now, should I do?
    I feel my life was trite, forsaken;
    I never hobnobbed with the star,
    nor even once did ride the Kraken,
    and I’ve never been to Mars.
    I’ve fought wars in foreign lands
    and assisted at a birth,
    but never joined the big brass band
    that marched for Middle Earth.
    And what experience might be opportune
    for ‘Amish Zombies Farm the Moon’?

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