“Write What You Know” and What That Means

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Ben Swing.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Ben Swing.

We often hear the saying, “Write what you know,” and that advice can be seriously confusing. Since I’m assuming most of us have never been abducted by aliens, lived on other planets or turned into vampires, the story world would be a very boring place if we followed this advice literally.

Plot and world-building are merely delivery systems for conflict and character—real “human” emotions and experiences. If we write something that’s all car chases, vampire bites and geeky technology we’ve invented, the story will be uninteresting and superficial. I see this in a lot of submissions I review. A writer gets so fascinated with dragons or terrorists or aliens that the body of the work lacks a beating human heart.

Any good story should be able to change locations or points in history and still make sense. A Thousand Acres is King Lear on an Iowa farm. Fiction probes the deep and tender places, exposes our human failures and shows us how we can rise above them. If your story is set on the planet Zoltron, we should be able to take the premise and slap it in Sanger, Texas and it still work.

Thus, when we hear “Write what you know” this alludes to, “What do we know about ourselves? What do we know about others? What do we know about society? What do we know about emotions?”

A Personal Story

Some of you might have heard me talk about this, but it bears repeating. In 1999 I planned a surprise birthday for my father. He’d always longed to become a writer, but he since he worked for minimum wage repairing bicycles, he was relegated to scribbling poems and stories in stacks of little notebooks.

I was so excited because my fiancé had purchased my dad a “top of the line” computer with a Pentium processor (supposedly several thousand dollars, which he reminded me of repeatedly). It took EVERYTHING not to give Dad his gift early (I’m notorious for that) and to keep this gift a secret.

Finally, my father would have the tool to become a novelist.

My best friend and I had ordered Dad this silly A Bug’s Life cake because, like me, my father was a perpetual kid with a great sense of humor. He laughed all the time and was like hanging out with a standup comedian. She was busy decorating her home with A Bug’s Life plates and streamers as if the party were for a six-year-old (instead of someone turning 50). It was going to be SO MUCH FUN.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Will Clayton

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Will Clayton

Yeah.

So I’d arranged to take him out to dinner as a ruse to spring this party on him. All day, I’d tried to reach him and no answer. I really became worried when I called his work and they told me he’d called in sick. All my life, my father NEVER called in sick. Finally, after calling and paging him a zillion times, I got a call.

He sounded terrible and his voice was strange—high and thin. Of course, he was still joking as I was playing remote-triage-nurse concerned that maybe his flu might be meningitis. As I am asking him symptoms, I’m panicking because this birthday party is waiting to go and it’s looking more and more like I need to get him to an ER instead.

As he spoke his last words to me, the phone dropped to the floor.

Nothing.

In my head, I thought He’s dead, which was weird because my father rode a bike to work. He rollerbladed, mountain-biked, hiked and was more physically fit that someone half his age.

I kept trying to call back and nothing. My then-fiance came in the door and, stunned, I said, “I was just on the phone with Dad…and I think he died.”

Of course, Evil-Ex just proceeded to call me an idiot and a lot of other choice names. Thus, instead of calling an ambulance, I gave in that I was an overreacting dolt and called my grandparents who lived nearby (I was 40 miles away and they were 3 miles away). I begged them to go check on him and drag him to an ER and I’d take care of the bill.

I sent my grandparents to discover their son on the floor deceased. To this day, I’ve never gotten over the guilt. The last phone call haunts me.

Numb, we went to my grandparents’ home to console them and make funeral preparations. All I wanted was my mom, whom I hadn’t seen in years because she lived in Florida. Evil-Ex “benevolently” made plane reservations for her to come to Texas and, when we returned home, he asked where the flight number was. I told him I thought it was in the car.

He spent the next hour yelling at me for being an idiot (and the flight number turned out to be in the car, just where I said it was.)

At my father’s funeral, I chose to sit next to my grandmother who was falling apart, and of course she was. She was the one who’d found my dad’s corpse (apparently there wasn’t a single part of his body that didn’t have cancer). Evil-Ex screamed at me the entire way home because I didn’t sit next to him instead.

Every time I would start to cry, he’d yell at me for being weak. Then, in the weeks that passed, when we’d be in the car, he’d deliberately play the songs played at my father’s funeral, and, if I started to tear up, he’d fly off the handle and berate me for being idiotic.

I stopped crying.

In fact, I never cried and now, fourteen years later, I still haven’t (his birth-death-day is tomorrow). I suppose this is why the only dreams I have of my father are ones where we find out he really is still alive, and then, when I “find” him, he’s dying all over again.

Before my father passed, I knew I’d inadvertently agreed to marry a sadist, and I’d already planned to leave him. This is why I am very compassionate to those who end up in abusive relationships. Evil people rarely show true colors until their victim is trapped (and evil people do a lot of things to ensnare their victims—finances, alienation from family and friends, emotional abuse, gas-lighting, etc.).

Anyway, not long after Dad died, I tried to use this top-of-the-line computer, only to find out it was a bargain-basement piece of junk that didn’t even work. All I could think was, What kind of person DOES that? Who gifts something they KNOW won’t work?

It took another year of planning and plotting to break free, but I did and never looked back.

Yes, my father died, but my uncle who lived in Colorado with his family returned to Texas. My little brother and his new wife and baby moved here from Florida and so did my mom. We are now a united and very close family.

Though my father’s death, I found the courage to leave Evil-Ex and then become a writer no matter the sacrifice. I also NEVER allowed anyone to treat me the way Evil-Ex did. I learned the early warning signs and ran from anyone who exhibited the traits I’d so foolishly ignored in my youth. And now I have the world’s best husband😀.

This story isn’t to depress you, though I probably have. Sorry.

It’s to show you that we can look on these tragedies and harvest them for story. I KNOW pain. I KNOW suffering. I KNOW evil. I understand the changes in character that must occur to break free, because I LIVED IT.

I believe one of the reasons I write military and law enforcement characters well, is I understand emotional compartmentalization; tucking away the pain to keep pressing on living. I know the long-term effects of failing to grieve, how hard that can be when you’ve tamped down an emotion so long you’ve forgotten where you put it, yet it gnaws at you from some unseen place.

Been here. Sigh. (Image via the movie "28 Days")

Been here. Sigh. (Image via the movie “28 Days”)

Likely, so do a lot of you. Use it.

Great antagonists—villains especially—don’t wear black hats and twirl mustaches. They can resemble people who claim they love us. They’re often very ordinary and that’s what makes them terrifying. Serial killers don’t wear signs and foam at the mouth. They look like the polite neighbor (Dahmer) or the elder at church (BTK).

We can all look back to events in our lives—the triumphs and the tragedies—and tap into those feelings and emotions and THAT is what is meant by “Write what you know.” When did you experience great loss, injustice, abuse, evil, helplessness, heartbreak, or illness? When did you experience freedom, joy, love, passion or elation? What did the journey in between feel like?

I like to say that all gold is guarded by dragons. Often fiction falls flat because we’re afraid to battle the dragons to reach the good stuff, but fearful writing is flat writing.

These primal experiences/emotions are the gold, the beating heart of our story that transforms combinations of 26 letter on a page into something REAL, that transfigures them into stories that move people, changes them and makes our work unforgettable.

It’s hard, but nothing worth doing is easy😉.

And, for the record, I’ve given Spawn a love for Star Wars, Star Trek, I, Robot and zombies, and last week taught him to say, “This is my BOOM STICK!” Dad would be proud😀.

Taking after Grandad John?

Taking after Grandaddy Lamb?

What are your thoughts? Have you ever tapped into a personal tragedy to give depth to story? Or, do you find yourself holding back? Afraid to dive into the abyss?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of October, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Announcements: There are a handful of people waiting on their 5-Page revisions. My goal is to have those finished today. Between a stomach flu and WANACon, I am running behind and I didn’t have enough brain power to do your pages justice. I’d rather be a little late than return junk. I want to give your work 1000%. I am also FRIED from working all weekend, so I will announce September’s contest winner TOMORROW. Yes, Kristen IS human.

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  1. #1 by Lori King Books on October 8, 2013 - 11:36 am

    Thank you for sharing your deeply personal story. One of the things I try to do in everything I write is drawn emotions from the reader. There is no better way to do that than to use my own wealth of personal experience. Our nightmares might be different, but the important thing to remember is that we all have them. Using them shows a depth of growth that many can’t relate to. Props to you.

  2. #2 by countingducks on October 8, 2013 - 11:38 am

    The story of your present and the premature death of your father is just horrid, and even though you tell it to make a point my heart goes out to you. Moving on to another point. I was thinking today about the difference between American and European literature. It seems to me that American literature deals more often in the battle of good versus evil, so we have cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians |( wo we’ve moved on a bit there ), evil aliens versus plucky earthlings and the rest, while European literature seems to dwell more on the evolution of character and its consequences. There are no evil aliens in Jan Austin but plenty of character. Of course there are major exceptions: ‘The Great Gatsby’ springs to mind as an American book with a European feel,

    Back to your Dad, before I go. I am so pleased you got out from under the abusive relationship, because people like the ‘Evil Ex’ are just that, but the losing of your Dad in such a painful and sad way is awful and you have my sympathy

    • #3 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 8, 2013 - 11:42 am

      At least I will always remember him as young and laughing. Bittersweet, but some consolation🙂.

  3. #4 by Catherine Johnson on October 8, 2013 - 11:38 am

    That’s such a heartbreaking story, my eyes are glossing over. I have found some release in writing about the hard stuff and got into a lot of trouble over it. So I stick to fluffy bunny tails and silliness now instead.

  4. #5 by Cygnet Brown on October 8, 2013 - 11:40 am

    As I was reading your blog this time, I was amazed at how much your ex was so much like my husband.The other day I told him that I had given up on him and that I had plans to move on. Even though I still loved him, and I knew it was love, I was not going to let him tell me that I did not really love him. He started treating me differently after that. I think it is as you say, though, evil people aren’t evil unless they have you feeling as though you are trapped. I also thought about how much I used personal pain in the creation of some of what I felt were some of my best scenes.

  5. #6 by Jackie Saulmon Ramirez on October 8, 2013 - 11:44 am

    People who use and abuse aren’t worth the dirt under your feet. Find joy in the relationship you had with your father. My father forced us kids to choose between him or our mother in his divorce. Because I was that much like him, I refused to choose between them and as a result he lost out on four great grandchildren. His loss, not mine– I celebrate our relationship BD– before divorce.

    • #7 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 8, 2013 - 11:48 am

      But the experience makes your writing more visceral when it comes to conflict. Pain and loss are hard, but I think writers are unique alchemists who turn suffering into gold😀.

  6. #8 by eviljwinter on October 8, 2013 - 11:47 am

    My ex and I used to have a roommate who took advantage of us. You know the type. Offer to help them back onto their feet, and they basically want to become the center of your universe. The ex and I had several years left as a couple, so this person made it very easy for me to write needy, self-centered characters.

    Sounds like the roommate and your Evil-Ex are related.

  7. #9 by Katie Cross on October 8, 2013 - 11:48 am

    Good for you, Kristen. Once a fighter, always a fighter.

    My husband dated a woman a lot like your benevolent ex. To this day, I still marvel over how he got out of the relationship. But he did, as you did, and is still a fighter and the best person I know today.

    This puts a new twist on ‘write what you know.’ I’m going to explore this in my own story now🙂

  8. #10 by food4thoughtnyc on October 8, 2013 - 11:49 am

    Incredible story and so fearless of you to share that with your readers. As a survivor of an abusive relationship (gosh, what a terrible phrase, but there it is) I’ve struggled with how to translate some of my stories through my writing. It’s so terrifying to cut yourself open in that way but I’ve also found it to be truly cathartic. You make a great point about how those stories resonate no matter where they take place or who it’s happening too, as long as you remain true to that emotion. Thank you for that reminder and for being such an inspiration Kristen!

  9. #11 by Topaz on October 8, 2013 - 11:55 am

    I have recently began tapping into my own experiences with mental illness in my writing. It is painful at times, but people tell me that it’s the best stuff I’ve written. I suppose I am passionate about sharing all the horrific details, so it strikes a chord with readers.

  10. #12 by Mary Trainor-Brigham on October 8, 2013 - 11:59 am

    I’m sensing that your father’s writing dream resurrected in your heart, as loving heirloom!

  11. #13 by Yvonne Hertzberger on October 8, 2013 - 12:08 pm

    I can attest, first hand, to what you are saying. In my case the sadist was my father. When I agreed to marry I told my future husband he would hit me once and that would be the last he’d see of me. He’s a gentle soul. I need not have said that but – I did have to say it – for me. We’ve been married for 41 years now.

    And, yes, I use what I learned in my writing. My characters are not me, nor are they my father, but they have elements of both and I understand how they think. My fans tell me they are the best aspect of my writing.

  12. #14 by symplysilent on October 8, 2013 - 12:08 pm

    Kristen – My heart stopped, reading of your pain and your courage to leave. Your emotions have such power. Filling a character would breath vibrant life into them. Thank you for showing me how. Silent

  13. #15 by stacytheauthor on October 8, 2013 - 12:11 pm

    Funny, I have been thinking about this for awhile now because of something I experienced in a workshop class (I recently blogged about it.) I was telling a friend of mine that I’ve hit some writing pitfalls because I diverted from taking what I know and writing it the way I want, to catering to criticism and hating the end results. But I’ve re-learned to trust my gut when it comes down to writing-to dive into the abyss as you say- and write what I know, no matter the praise or put downs. Personally after “slaying dragons” I don’t like going back and viewing the corpse. So when I do feel myself starting to hold back, I force myself to push through and remember to tell my story.

  14. #16 by Grisha Russian Writer on October 8, 2013 - 12:23 pm

    Kristen, no, you are not a human, you are a superhuman. It felt sad and heart-breaking for me to read about your dad and what you have gone through. I admire your strength, you definitely deserve every success there is. Keep being awesome🙂

  15. #17 by Kate on October 8, 2013 - 12:25 pm

    Beautifully expressed

  16. #18 by robakers on October 8, 2013 - 12:28 pm

    I don’t know you but I will say it anyway.

    Your Dad would be proud of you for your decisions. Great job living your life.

  17. #19 by Melissa Lewicki on October 8, 2013 - 12:30 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I tend to go through life happy and dancing–no matter how I really feel–as that is what my parents required. I was never allowed to express a negative feeling. I think, for the sake of my writing, I need to go back and look at just what all that happy dancing covered up. Thanks again.

  18. #20 by Kristen on October 8, 2013 - 12:45 pm

    Oh. My. Goodness. Hugs from a stranger for sharing that with everyone. And I wasn’t so depressed that I missed your point. I do love your blog and your advice.

  19. #21 by kitdunsmore on October 8, 2013 - 12:51 pm

    Your take on “write what you know” makes sense to me. I write about stuff I can’t possible “know”, like magic and dragons, but I try to be true to the emotional experiences of the characters, to put people I know into the situations I write, and be true to how humans act and think in my writing.

    As for your Evil-Ex: I was also stupid when I was young. It took me a long time to learn what I needed to be happy and healthy, what a good relationship looks like, and how to feel again after I turned all my emotions off in an attempt to avoid the pain. It can be a struggle to mine that stuff for my writing, but I try.

    I love your comment about gold and dragons. My Cave of Creativity (where all the good stuff is kept) is guarded by a dragon who will let me in as long as I remember to show up regularly and ask nicely, which doesn’t seem that hard only I’m a chicken at heart.

  20. #22 by Kate rose on October 8, 2013 - 1:09 pm

    I enjoyed your blog immensely: exceptionally moving. I do think certain people are meant to become writers and that an unavoidable relationship exists between pain and suffering and the scope of one’s creativity.

  21. #23 by christineardigo on October 8, 2013 - 1:16 pm

    i am sitting at my desk reading this story, completely engrossed, my co-workers behind me, screaming and laughing so loud but i tuned them out and finally they said Did you hear me Christine? Hello? What the hell are you reading? (I didnt hear a word they said)
    Great story, Sorry you had to go through it but it pulled me in!🙂

    • #24 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 8, 2013 - 3:12 pm

      Hey, my dad was a great storyteller, so happy he gifted me with it. I hope you enjoyed it. A bit dark, but useful. I think my dad would be happy his death could be helpful to WRITERS. I think we would have loved that.

      • #25 by christineardigo on October 8, 2013 - 3:52 pm

        🙂

  22. #26 by Jen Connelly on October 8, 2013 - 1:35 pm

    Your dad and my mom were almost the same age. In 2000, just 2 months after I had my first child, my mom went into the hospital to have a fairly routine surgery. She was 51. Two days later she was declared brain dead. She had a massive stroke on the operating table. The last thing I said to her was, “see you later,” because I hadn’t planned to visit her until she was out of recovery the next day. I never got to talk to her again.

    The novel I was working on early this year was about a girl who lost her sister in a car accident. And about the sister’s boyfriend and how the two survivors get through their grief. But I think I still have a lot of those personal emotions locked up tight. I’ve never really grieved–I didn’t have time, what with a new baby, an unemployed husband, my father and brother to take care, 2 cats to look after, a house to clean, cooking to do, relatives to entertain, phone calls to take. I was on autopilot for months. Every once in awhile it hits me. And hard. A few years ago her birthday fell on Thanksgiving and I just wanted everything to be perfect just like when she cooked but nothing was going right and I had a complete break down, crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep. My husband and father amazingly took over and finished dinner.

    Funny, now that I’m thinking of that Thanksgiving I realize how I can use that experience in my novel. Thanks for posting this and reminding me that I have to tap into those experiences, to write what I know.

  23. #27 by Carol on October 8, 2013 - 1:45 pm

    Incredible strength in your story, Kirsten. Thank God you got out of that relationship. You’re right about writers refusing, not wanting to go there in their writing. I believe it takes courage to expose your inner self to others. May God continue to bless you.

  24. #28 by Darrell on October 8, 2013 - 1:50 pm

    I didn’t find your story depressing at all. We don’t usually talk about death yet: “How we die is at least as important as how we lived!” (William Shatner) We shouldn’t discuss politics either; the two things that need the most discussion, we’re supposed to ignore?

  25. #29 by August McLaughlin on October 8, 2013 - 2:15 pm

    Your story didn’t depress me; it touched me, inspired me and made me want to hug you/hang out with you/read your stuff more.🙂 I’m so glad you finally found and are cherishing the love you deserve.

  26. #30 by Elke Feuer on October 8, 2013 - 3:09 pm

    I’m a delver! I dig deep into whatever emotion I need to write for a scene(s), even if it means going into something painful, unpleasant or gut wrenching! That’s where the good stuff is. Thankfully I know how to find my way back to the light.🙂

    Nothing greater than finding someone who loves and appreciates you the way you deserve!

  27. #31 by malindalou on October 8, 2013 - 3:21 pm

    (HUGS) I never knew the full story about your dad.

  28. #32 by myeagermind on October 8, 2013 - 3:24 pm

  29. #33 by Alison Doherty on October 8, 2013 - 4:08 pm

    Wow thank you for sharing your story. I think it was a great way to illustrate the that write what you know means tapping into the emotions your understand.

  30. #34 by Shea Ford on October 8, 2013 - 4:15 pm

    The way you tell your story is so compelling. I’m so sorry that it had to happen to you that way, but glad that you’ve been able to channel it into something extremely useful, especially as an example to the rest of us as writers. A lovely tribute to your dad.

  31. #35 by Debbie Johansson on October 8, 2013 - 4:17 pm

    This is such a heartbreaking story, Kristen. I’m so glad you found the courage to leave and put that relationship behind you. Hugs to you!

  32. #36 by Lilly Deeters on October 8, 2013 - 4:30 pm

    I know very much that feeling of being abused and used as a tool to make someone else’s life better. I know what its like to be trapped and to stare into the heart of an evil person and know that you are at their mercy. I feel for you – as i would anybody that has been in situations like ours. My characters inherit the emotions i have felt and for me, writing is therapy. It lets out all that emotion i have bottled up and crammed deep down. Glad to see i’m not the only one who doesn’t give unhealthy people the time of day.

  33. #37 by alinaskye on October 8, 2013 - 4:44 pm

    Wow, I was touched by your story. I was in an abusive relationship at the age 18, he was 34 at the time, I know how hard it is to leave and I am proud of you, for loving yourself enough to do it. I know that writing about my experiences have helped me to heal. I wish the same for you. Sending you positive energy🙂
    Thanks for sharing.

    • #38 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 8, 2013 - 6:54 pm

      Had my dad not passed away, I doubt I would have had the courage to do it. In ways, his death was a final “gift.” He HATED Evil-Ex, btw.

  34. #39 by Lanette Kauten on October 8, 2013 - 5:10 pm

    I think I must have been married to your Evil-Ex. But that aside, what I do when I’m writing a scene and don’t think I’ve captured the emotional depth that it should have, I think about a time when I experienced the same emotion, and then write about that experience. Then, I take what I learned from the exercise and apply it to the scene I’m struggling with.

  35. #40 by tracikenworth on October 8, 2013 - 5:20 pm

    I have to agree with Lanette, I married an Evil-Ex too. Same scenario, a year and a half into the whirlwind relationship and six weeks after my daughter was born, I had a horrible nightmare that my father died. My ex told me I was a fool. Two days later, my dad died. Evil-Ex wouldn’t allow me to grieve as his mother had just found her like ninth fiance at the time. Two kids later and a life I wouldn’t wish on anyone, God delivered me from that situation. It took years to deprogram me. I will never let anyone treat me like that again. He took writing away from my at the time youthful person, it returned with blessings a year and a half after the courts shut him out of our lives.

  36. #41 by Marie on October 8, 2013 - 5:40 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story, Kristen. It makes us appreciate the ones that have slightly dented halos🙂

  37. #42 by Timothy L. Cerepaka on October 8, 2013 - 5:42 pm

    Reblogged this on Timothy L. Cerepaka's Blog and commented:
    Kristen Lamb offers some good thoughts on the old writing mantra “Write what you know,” as well as a heartbreaking story that illustrates exactly what she is talking about. Go read it.
    -Tim

  38. #43 by creativityorcrazy on October 8, 2013 - 5:46 pm

    Tragically sad and I am so sorry is all I can say. I am glad that the guy is an ex and that you’ve gone on to make dreams come true. I can relate to the not crying part though I wish I couldn’t. Suffice it to say, been through quite a bit of emotional/verbal abuse and still working on healing. On your father, please let go of the guilt, things happen for reasons we don’t always know sometimes and even if an ambulance had gone it sounds like things wouldn’t have gone any differently. I have used quite a bit of tragic circumstances in my life in writing, guess it’s why I’ve fallen in love with memoir and personal narratives. I have too much true stuff I’ve got to get out sufficiently before I can do much fiction writing.

  39. #44 by worldsbeforethedoor on October 8, 2013 - 5:58 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this story and clearing the air on write what you know. I couldn’t agree more. It’s not so much the window-dressing as it is the heart of the story that matters….and that is a dark and scary place to go. But so worth it when you do! Thank you!

  40. #45 by Karyne Corum on October 8, 2013 - 6:40 pm

    Kristen, last year my mother got sick during the writing of the last chapters of my very first full length MS. She was always my fiercest supporter and never once let me back away from my dreams. She died only three months after her diagnosis and the loss was devastating because we were so close. So much of her is wrapped up in that MS, a daughters relationship to her mother, that I simply can’t do the second edits that it needs. The grief is still so raw for me, I miss her so much. I know that when I can do it, there will be a pure heart beating through the story, because her death changed me in so many ways. When I am ready to embrace those changes it will only help me become the writer she always knew I could be. Reading your own story had me remembering what it felt like when she died and how I know that when I’m ready I’ll go back and make that MS shine like nothing else. I’m so grateful to have found you and your blog and the whole WANA experience.

  41. #46 by Harmony Cocktails by Kelly Haslam on October 8, 2013 - 7:30 pm

    I totally agree with you and thank you for sharing your poignant story. My goal is to do exactly what you describe and it requires real vulnerability and courage to go there with one’s writing (at least with the pain). But I really appreciate how you illustrated this so effectively (and beautifully) with your story🙂

  42. #47 by Keith on October 8, 2013 - 9:39 pm

    I have followed many blogs. Now I follow only one. Posts like this are why. Thank you!

  43. #48 by Sue Shanahan on October 8, 2013 - 10:59 pm

    Kristen,
    I am a recent follower so I had no idea about your previous life. Thank you for sharing. it strengthens the pact that I’ve made with myself to be real with the world. Scary stuff but guaranteed to make you feel more alive, no? I just finished your book, Rise of the Machines. What a gift it and you are to me. Thank you.

  44. #49 by Sinistra Inksteyne on October 9, 2013 - 12:15 am

    Thank you!
    That saying finally makes sense to me. Because we don’t write our daily lives, for the most part (boring, at least in my case!) but we do write what we’ve lived.
    And often we write it to make sense of it, to make it ‘whole’.
    I just wish I had your courage!

  45. #50 by rachelloon on October 9, 2013 - 4:17 am

    Well, as Socrates said, ‘the only thing I know is that I know nothing’. Which means none of us can write anything.😉
    On a more serious note, a lot of me and my weirdness ends up in my novels because it’s what I know (or not), but the problem with that is that just as I’m getting to grips with the character, I find I’ve once again given them the same parents as me, and a personality that makes them nigh on indistinguishable from my other main characters. *Sigh*.

  46. #51 by Benison O'Reilly (@BenisonAnne) on October 9, 2013 - 4:29 am

    I didn’t get the urge to write fiction until my son was diagnosed with autism, aged three. It was like a ‘death’ in the early days, the death of the child I thought I had. Fortunately I’ve well & truly moved on – he’s a chatty if eccentric 12 year old these days – but the feelings of that time remain and I can still harness them for my fiction. In my first novel I wrote about a character having a miscarriage – authentically, according to my readers – even though I’ve never experienced one. Loss is loss and it’s a small consolation that it makes us better writers.

    Thank you for sharing your story, Kristen. I am glad you eventually found a man worthy of you, one I’m sure your dad would have approved of as well.

  47. #52 by ontyrepassages on October 9, 2013 - 5:39 am

    Thank you for sharing, Kristen. You’ve certainly weathered a lot and should be proud of how well you’ve endured, though I know that when you’re in the storm’s eye it’s difficult to have perspective. Often we believe that all we did was what needed done until later when someone tells us how strong we are that we understand. Yes, you have courage.

    Both my parents suffered from severe emotional problems so my childhood wasn’t a good one. There was little sense of family and the divorced adults too often used the children as pawns. That, coupled with other issues, led to my suffering depression for over 20 of my adult years. My life fell apart in 2005, yet it was then that someone entered my life who both saved and changed it. All that I do now honors what he gave to me for the 5 years I knew him. Gratitude alone seems inadequate. All that influences my writing.

  48. #53 by Richard Snow - Writer on October 9, 2013 - 6:05 am

    Your story really stuck a chord with me. In 2009, my mother had been three years in a nursing. She had Alzheimer’s, poor heart function and diabetes, all of which were interacting with each other. She was 88. I heard my cell phone ring when I was driving the car. For some reason I pulled over the car and took the call. it was the nursing home. She had collapsed while sitting down to dinner. They could detect a weak pulse, had called an ambulance, but they couldn’t put their hand on the ‘terminal care instructions’ folder (the one that contains things like do/do not resuscitate. and other instructions” They asked me. I told them what was on the forms: call an ambulance but if there’s no pulse don’t resuscitate. They told me the ambulance had arrived, and couldn’t find a pulse. I repeated what was on the forms. After a long pause, they said “she’s gone.” So like you, one of my parents died while i was on the phone. I never imagined it would happen like that. you always know that elderly people will die. But you never anticipate exactly how it will happen. I’ve never put any of this in writing before today. Best wishes – RS.

  49. #54 by shauryathakur60 on October 9, 2013 - 9:31 am

    The most amazing thing I’ve came across. Wonderfull ? NO. That would be an understatement.

    Check out my blog🙂 Hope you like it.

    http://shauryathakur60.wordpress.com

  50. #55 by Pirkko Rytkonen on October 9, 2013 - 9:59 am

    Are you using WordPress.com or WordPress.org? I can’t post a comment because it won’t allow me to get into the Word press with my password that I always use for my own website. Is there a different password that can be used to post comments for this email post?

  51. #57 by Pirkko Rytkonen on October 9, 2013 - 10:20 am

    I will reply to this email because that works for me. Thanks so much for sharing about your dad which reminds me how much I still miss my dad after 23 years. He had a very unique homegoing. He, too, died on his birthday, 67th. He had always talked about how he would want to go: at home on his knees, or at church? God honoured his desires and allowed him to go at church after preaching his favourite passage. He keeled over and was gone. No one could stop him! He always did what he wanted! Ambulance attendants came but he was not there anymore. Thanks Kristen.

  52. #58 by Laurie A Will on October 9, 2013 - 10:25 am

    Kristen, I’ve found that I can’t help but let my personal experiences, the grief, sorrow, even the happy times over flow into my work. It’s not obvious to anyone else (I write fantasy) but after reviewing my work I can see parallels to experiences I’ve had or the emotions wrapped up in them. I guess that comes from becoming the pov character when I write. How can I not just put a least one aspect of myself into each character?

  53. #59 by Julie Glover on October 9, 2013 - 12:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing your difficult story, Kristen. Oftentimes, I think writers are cautious about tapping into the pain and triumph they’ve felt to create relatable characters and emotional scenes. We need to be willing to be vulnerable and allow our experiences — that “what we know” aspect — to help shape our fiction.

  54. #60 by Grass Oil by Molly Field on October 9, 2013 - 12:50 pm

    Great post, Kristen. I’m never afraid to dive into the abyss. Never. It’s hard, but always worthwhile, and it shows I not only have a pulse, but a heart too. People who skip this very important aspect are just scribes.

    • #61 by Grass Oil by Molly Field on October 9, 2013 - 12:52 pm

      And, my heart was touched by your story. God is with you. My mom just passed on Labor Day. These losses are monumental. Staggering.

  55. #62 by pamelacreese on October 9, 2013 - 6:48 pm

    Learning to tap into our own private resources of pain, horror, and joy opens us to healing, and allows our readers access to the hidden and private parts of what it is to be ‘human’ (even if most of my characters aren’t🙂 Thank you for sharing, Kristen.

  56. #63 by Jamie Salisbury on October 9, 2013 - 6:55 pm

    Losing either parent is painful, and your story hit close to home. My mom passed away back when I was a senior in high school. She had just turned 47 a few days before, and as most mothers and teenage daughters we were having our share of “showdowns”. I found her that day, had to make the difficult phone calls (before 911 and to my dad – telling him there was something not right with her). She never saw me graduate, never saw any of us marry or meet her grandchildren. Her sudden death left our family reeling, to say the least.
    I then had another close incident with the passing of someone extremely close –
    Write what you know. . .from experience. It isn’t easy, even after all these years. I have tried and tried to write both stories – fictionally, but I guess the time isn’t right. So until then I’ll keep trying to write both. . .

  57. #64 by Andy McKell on October 10, 2013 - 7:02 am

    I cannot give a “Like” because I cannot like what happened, but I admire your strength in dealing with it and in sharing your story with us.

  58. #65 by tam francis on October 10, 2013 - 11:07 am

    I am behind on my blog reading, so am late to this party. I have such mixed feelings about this post. My eyes are, of course, leaking from your story. My heart hurts, which is a little of the point? I think about these things (using our personal tragedies) and wonder if it’s right, to use our personal pain for gain. Part of me says yes, part of me feels sheepish about it. Not about reliving pain, not about having strength to face it, but about using myself. Thank you for giving me some things to think about….

    • #66 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 10, 2013 - 12:23 pm

      We have to use it. Not literally. I have no LITERAL story of this journey, but the emotions are harvested from this experience. In the beginning of my novel, my character is broke and can’t get a job even though she’s college educated. I went through that after leaving the ex. I had to harness the humiliation and depression and hopelessness of the experience to make the FICTION real.

      • #67 by tam francis on October 10, 2013 - 11:02 pm

        I understand, but in part it feels like selling part of yourself? I’m not sure…I understand the journey to recovery and I’ve certainly used emotions in my life in my writing, but part of me thinks there’s a fine line between using stuff for you art and sensationalism and (bear with me), prostituting yourself? I’m not saying YOU did (do) that, I’m just walking the line. does that make sense? Something I’m still contemplating…

        • #68 by tam francis on October 10, 2013 - 11:04 pm

          I also am about making the lemonade with the lemons, I want to turn negatives into positives, It’s a better way to live, to be.

  59. #69 by saralitchfield on October 10, 2013 - 2:35 pm

    Ah Kristen, I’m so sorry to hear of your loss and your evil ex… It’s amazing you are strong enough to share this in such a positive and constructive way.. I’m so so glad you got out and that you’ve gone on to bring your dad’s dreams to life for yourself xxx

  60. #70 by diahannreyes on October 10, 2013 - 3:01 pm

    Thanks for your generosity of sharing your personal experience and how this has translated into your writing. Reminds me of a quote by author Vicki Noble “your wounds are your treasures.”

  61. #71 by lisawhitefern on October 10, 2013 - 9:29 pm

    Kristen may just be the best blog writer ever. I’m totally serious here. Your blogs are just phenomenally good and always so worth reading.

    • #72 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 11, 2013 - 9:15 am

      Awww, thanks Lisa. LOTS of practice. I look at early posts and kinda shiver, LOL.

    • #73 by Gry Ranfelt on October 15, 2013 - 8:24 am

      And the writing’s TIGHT

  62. #74 by Raani York on October 11, 2013 - 8:49 am

    This is very touching, and very personal Kristen. Thank you for sharing!

  63. #75 by ravenclark on October 11, 2013 - 10:38 pm

    Oh man. Reading this, I literally cried. All I wanted to do was give you a big hug. I’ve lived in abusive situations, and oh, the memories this brought back. I KNOW how hard it is to get out from under a tyrannical thumb. (In my case, it was an abusive foster family, not an ex, although I had a stalker ex too). I’ve had loved ones die, but to lose them under those circumstances is unimaginable. I feel we are kindred spirits you and I. We’ve both looked into the face of evil, faced down our very own BBTs, and WON. You got out, Kristen. You made you dreams come true, and you’ve become someone others aspire to be. That’s the definition of a hero, to me.

    • #76 by Author Kristen Lamb on October 13, 2013 - 3:27 am

      You are too sweet. I fail every day, but I love people and that is all that matters. Who did you LOVE? Who did you SUPPORT? Did you CARE?

  64. #77 by Gry Ranfelt on October 15, 2013 - 8:24 am

    All the times I’ve forgiven a person too many times only to be misused again has definitely colored my works. Friendships are my favorite parts of stories. I love seeing them being forged and following the inside jokes. Like Daria and Jane in the MTV show Daria.
    Btw, Kristen, could you email me about doing that outline thing?🙂 if you don’t have time that’s fine, I know you’re busy.

  65. #78 by Mencara Mitchell on November 18, 2013 - 9:03 am

    Your articles are always informative but you broke my heart with this one. I know exactly what you are talking about. My family history is complicated and traumatic and we were taught to swallow our emotions. We don’t grieve or deal with things. We shove it down and away. When you do that, you do harm to yourself. My grief counselor has recommended a form of cognitive behavioral therapy called EMDR to help unblock the grief so I can experience it and “move on” emotionally. Something to consider. I am going to be trying it soon.

    I’m .
    glad you got away from that horrible, horrible person. A good partner is the brightest, best thing you can have. A lousy partner will just drag you down until you forget what sunlight looks like.

    Linked back to you!
    http://mencaramitchell.blogspot.com/2013/11/great-article-on-what-it-means-to-write.html

  1. What does it mean to “write what you know?” | Just Another Blog by Jen
  2. “Write What You Know”—Paying Attention to the Character Journey | Kristen Lamb's Blog
  3. Invisible | Paul Keene's Blog
  4. Hell Month and How Social Media Saved Me | Kristen Lamb's Blog
  5. Writing Journal – Poetry | A Gentle and Quiet Spirit

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