The stories I write feature ghosts, witches, magic, and various other stuff that is patently not real. However, I’m still writing from experience. Confused? Let’s chat.

a hand writing in a notebook in front of a fireplace with the text "Are All Writers Writing From Experience?"

I have feelings and thoughts about the writing experience, and this blog has been my attempt to make them everyone’s problem. Which is to say that I have a lot to say about writing and my writing life, and I can’t stop screaming them into the internet void. And one of the things I think we don’t talk about enough in the genre fiction community is writing from experience.

I’m not talking about how to write a book about personal experiences. I’m talking about how personal experiences shape the work we do and inform what we portray in our writing. If you’re a life writer, you get this.

To me, what makes a story a good story is how much I can relate to it. So even if I’m reading about someone fighting aliens or hunting werewolves, if I can relate to the emotions and human elements in the story, it’s going to mean more than it would otherwise.

Not all writers are writing from experience, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But before we go any further, let’s talk about what writing from experience means.

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What Does Writing From Experience Mean?

To me, writing from experience means taking your own life experiences and injecting them into your story. That might be the actual plot of a story or events in the story itself. It may also just be emotions and the repercussions of those emotions.

I lived my twenties in a way that was probably unhealthy, but also, led to a whole wealth of experiences that perhaps I shouldn’t have had. I will not be elaborating on this one, but if you know, you know. And I did that because I believed that authors who write from personal experience can put more into their work than those who don’t.

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Yes, I acknowledge that a lot of writing is making shit up. I spend hours every week just making shit up. But I can ground that made up shit in real stuff, which makes it stronger overall.

There is a particular experience of writing a story, and it’s like you’re living through the world you’ve created. If you’re also writing from personal experience, then you’re getting to relive that moment in your life again. Sometimes, it’s great. Sometimes, you realize you need to stop writing about certain stuff.

I’ve also realized that there is some stuff I can only process if I write it. So, even if I’m just writing in my journal, or doing morning pages, I’m pretty much always writing from experience in one way or another. And I like to write out my experiences so I always have them catalogued somewhere for future use.

Writing From Experience Examples

There are tons of writing from experience examples all over the place, but before we talk about them, it’s important to know that it doesn’t always matter if a writer is writing from experience or not. Yes, there are experiences that not everyone can know, and there is harm that is done by writers who write about experiences they could never know. Representation does matter, and some stories should be told by the people who can actually speak to what it’s like.

And yet, there are writers who write from experience and have been asked to share more outside the pages of their work.

A lot of writers have put really dark parts of their personal experience into their writing, or shared pieces of themselves that were picked apart. My Dark Vanessa and I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter come to mind. And while all writers put pieces of themselves into their fiction, even if it’s just the escapist parts of themselves, it’s not for the audience to know.

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So, unless it’s explicitly stated, it’s not our business.

But that doesn’t mean that writing from experience can always be controversial.

You can incorporate so many of your experiences into your writing. For example, as someone who is afraid of the dark (shut up, I know I’m an adult but all the cool grownups are afraid of the dark) I try to incorporate that fear into my writing. I think about the things I imagine are just beyond my reach in the shadows and add that to my horror stories.

Some of my favorite romance novels incorporate that very visceral feeling of falling in love. It’s always described as something in the stomach, like a warm ribbon unspooling or something melting. And for anyone who has experienced what it’s like to fall in love, that resonates. It’s something that connects the reader to the story.

The best writing from experience examples are the nearly universal feelings. Sadness, loss, grief, love, joy, pride–these are all things we all understand because have experienced them. And we know what they feel like viscerally.

A lack of experience or understanding about human nature can unravel a story really, really fast. Click To Tweet

So, Are All Writers Writing From Experience?

Honestly, no.

I think you can ask anyone who has sat through a writers critique session or attended a creative writing workshop and know for sure that there are a lot of writers who don’t write from experience. In fact, there are a lot of writers who believe in the fairytale of how life should be and just use that as a template for their writing.

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I once knew a man in a fiction writing workshop who wrote horror novels, and he was always convinced that fifteen-year-old girls loved middle aged men. He wrote little sections in all his zombie apocalypse novels about how the fifteen-year-old girl would have to help the middle aged man repopulate the planet with healthy people, and they come to this conclusion within like a week of the apocalypse. The teen girl in question was always super willing, regardless of how much traumatic stuff she’d just encountered. And the writer made sure to include sections about how grateful the girl was to the man because he’d saved her life, and she wanted to repay him somehow.

My skin crawls to think about it. But also, that man was definitely not writing from experience because if he had ever meet a teenage girl, he’d have been bullied so relentlessly that he wouldn’t have ever left his house again.

And it’s important to note that a lack of experience or understanding about human nature can unravel a story really, really fast.

Which is why it’s so important to write from experience.

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