Writer Chats, Part III: Write What You Know (Or What You Want to Know)

Welcome to part three of our Writer Chats series, which comes from Harriet of New Zealand. Harriet is a a student who shares our interests in food and writing and blogs about them for various sites. In her below post, she looks at the classic advice to “write what you know” and what that’s meant for her.


As a young girl my favourite movie was Harriet the Spy. When you are 10, having your name in the title of a movie is exciting, and so perhaps this is why I watched the film over and over. But I think I recognised much more than my own name—I recognised the intense desire to observe the world and to write down what you see.

I haven’t seen the movie in years; I don’t think I could bear to see it now. What I remember is possibly inaccurate and clouded by my childish understanding of the world, but I envied all that Harriet had to write about. There was tension in Harriet’s life, an internal and external struggle that my writing professors challenge us to strive for.

I wanted a world so diverse and interesting it would fill pages and pages of my notebook. Instead I grew up in a cul-de-sac in suburban, semi-rural New Zealand. My childhood was wonderfully simple, and so my notebooks from this time are filled with the digits of car number plates and the comings and goings of our elderly neighbours observed from the branches of the oak tree in my front yard. I remember Harriet’s wise and caring nanny telling her to write what she knew, that’s all anyone can do, and at the tender age of 10, the local swimming pool and the streets of my neighbourhood were, indeed, all that I knew.

Now, over 10 years later I keep this in mind whenever I begin a writing assignment: Write what you know. I think now that I’m older, now that I want more from the world than simply to eat tomato sandwiches everyday like Harriet the Spy, I strive to write what I want to know, what I want to learn about myself and the world around me.

When I write, I hope to enter at one place and exit at another—there needs to be a change of some sort. I don’t mean high intensity, life-shattering drama, although for some genres this works well. I’m after the subtle shifts, the small realizations that make you sit back and think, yes, that’s it.

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Harriet for contributing this personal, thought-provoking post! If reading her story gets your own wheels turning about the nature of writing and creative work, let us know.

About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.

6 thoughts on “Writer Chats, Part III: Write What You Know (Or What You Want to Know)”

  1. Love this post. I so often strive for the big “a-ha” moments but that’s not what life is about. It’s the little realizations, the little changes that, overtime, equate to big ones. Wonderful writing. Thanks for introducing us to Harriet.

  2. What simple but very truthful advice! it’s so true, the best way anyone can bring forth value to the readers is when we write what we know – nothing gets more authentic than that! thanks for introducing Harriet to us Shanna! And Harriet, thank you for your words of wisdom!

  3. Sometimes I feel like I am too revealing in my posts. Then my husband tells me that that is the reason my posts are so endearing. I try to write from my heart, and I guess there is no other subject I know more about than what is in my heart. Nice meeting you Harriet. By the way, my daughter loved Harriet the Spy. She would put on her little red trench coat and sneak out of her bedroom window with paper and pencil and spy on everyone within viewing distance of our front yard. Thanks Shanna for the introduction!

    • My friend Ashley (comment above) wrote an excellent post last year that talked about how vulnerability is necessary for intimacy, and I’ve seen that to be so true. When you are open and revealing, you open up the door for connection, and that’s something to admire.


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