Should writers really “write what you know”? This Mark Twain quote is often misinterpreted. I think better advice is to “write who you are.”
An example of this is Sweet Dreams by Steena Holmes. I don’t usually read romances, but I liked this charming novella. It had characters I could care about, and it was grounded in the world of baking, catering, and chocolate. It also had a strong sense of place. The story takes place in Banff in the Canadian Rockies. I could get a good feel of the town from the “boxy and modern” storefronts where the Decadent Events and Decadent Sweets shops are located to the Banff Springs Hotel where the climax of the story takes place.
I know Steena from social media, so I can see the connections between her novella and her personal life. Even if you didn’t know her, you can still see her personality, her experiences, her interests, and her values come through in her story. Reading it made me feel like she was in the room with me telling her exciting story about Lexi and Paul.
I like when I can feel a personal connection between the author and me as the reader. I felt that connection when I was binge-reading Kurt Vonnegut in high school and college. Even when he was writing about Tralfamadorians, I could tell that story was personal to him. When I saw recurrent themes or characters, like the notorious Howard W. Campbell, Jr. from Mother Night and Slaughterhouse-Five, they strengthened my connection with him as an author. They further emphasized that these were his stories, and they expressed what mattered to him. I didn’t see them as repetitive.
That sense of personal connection elevates storytelling and creates a strong relationship between author and reader. It builds an audience because readers want to keep that relationship going. It something I strive to do with my own writing. To build that personal connection, we have to go beyond writing what we know to writing who we are.