Writing what you know – from experience

Writing advice is easy to come by. What to do with it can be a mystery.

Take a look around the internet and you’ll find plenty of free advice, and more than enough takes on this bit, which is frequently attributed to Mark Twain:

Write what you know.

Some people write about themselves because that’s what they know best. Others write about rock climbing, or travel, or science, or whatever subject they know well.

The concept is complicated when it comes to writing fiction, as this piece on Literary Hub illustrates.

I think I’ve led an interesting life so far, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to buy a book about it. Most of my writing has been nonfiction based on research and interviews on various topics. Still, I’ve made use of what I know from experience in my Detective Red Shaw novels. The following excerpt from North of Grand is one example, which draws on my love of bicycling as well as other lived experience. It’s my favorite way of writing what I know.


In which Red Shaw visits a bike shop…

…while investigating the murder of a cyclist.

Half an hour later he was parked outside the place watching a middle-aged couple load two new bicycles on a brand-new rack on the back of a shiny, black SUV. They chatted with a young blonde woman who he guessed had just made the sale. The scene took him back to the time he and Sally bought new bicycles at a discount store and rode them three times one summer. He wasn’t sure where they’d ended up.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

Inside the store he took a few minutes to browse, inspecting the lines of sleek, pricey road bikes and rugged, shock-equipped mountain bikes. He wondered how many of them ever actually saw a mountain. Assorted helmets hung on one wall near displays of water bottles and gloves and seat bags and other paraphernalia. There were hard, narrow saddles that weighed nothing or close to it. He could buy balm and padded shorts for his butt to ward off pain and chafing, then spend more bucks on tight, techno-wonder jerseys to keep him cool as he sped down some road in the sun. He picked up a coffee-can-size container of powder from a nearby display. The label claimed it would keep his electrolytes in balance and help him stave off dehydration if only he would mix it properly and drink the proper amount every hour during a long ride, then mix and drink more later to make sure he’d gotten enough.

The only employee in sight was adjusting the brakes on a bicycle in the shop area. A surly type with long, graying hair, he looked over once then turned back to the brake job without saying a word. He seemed to assume that Shaw wasn’t going to buy anything. He was right.

“Can I help you with something, sir?” The young woman from the parking lot appeared beside him. Up close, he guessed she’d be in her thirties, a little older than she looked outside. Attractive and obviously fit. Tess, her ID tag said.

“Thanks, but I’m just kind of looking around. Some people I work with swear that riding a bike has been all kinds of good for their health, mental and otherwise.”

She smiled at that. “I’m sure it has. It’s a great way to spend some time, get some exercise, get to work, whatever. I ride here every day, eight miles each way, unless there’s snow and ice.”

“You’re kidding,” Shaw said. “That’s a long way, isn’t it?”

“Not really,” she said. “If I wasn’t working I’d be out with my club for about fifty miles, and we’re doing a metric century tomorrow.”

“A metric century?”

“A hundred kilometers. Sixty-two miles or so.”

Shaw grimaced. “That doesn’t sound like all that much fun.”

Continue reading “Writing what you know – from experience”

Get the first Red Shaw crime novel free (read on for how)

My bad. I just noticed that I have some Kindle ebooks that I have neglected to give away, the first crime novel featuring Detective Edward “Red” Shaw.

Blood Solutions

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

From a few reviews on Amazon:

Each twist and turn in the story line kept me eagerly turning pages, fascinated by the thoroughly and expertly developed plot points.

This engaging whodunit is worthy of a PBS show like all those British detective series, especially Inspector Morse! 

I am recommending this book for my book club. It will appeal to both the men and women in the group.

Crossword puzzles will never be the same.

Hit me up on Twitter @bjsmith and mention #RedShaw – or leave a comment here. Offer good while supplies last!

Actor, Hindu god, nightmare?

Sometimes the mind wanders and a guy starts to wonder about things like, say, how a search engine finds images that have a lot in common. You never know when something like that might come in handy in a plot or even just in real life.

Unable to focus on anything else for a few minutes, I grabbed my phone and tried it with my own face, the one that shows up on my new About me page.

What to expect?

I remember a woman on an airplane once asked me if I was Richard Dreyfuss. Me?

Then just the other day, I’m told, my sweet granddaughter saw a picture of Brahma, the Hindu god of gods, depicted in a children’s book sporting a white beard. Papa!

Source: id.wikipedia.org

Needless to say, I had high expectations for my little experiment. I tapped the phone.

In the blink of an eye I was scrolling through the “similar images,” which turned out to be a diverse collection of men and women – some of them bald, some clean-shaven, dark hair, white hair, curly and straight.

Then there’s this guy that I hope I never see in the mirror. (Crossing my fingers that the link isn’t broken again.)

Stay curious, my friends.

B.J.

Expert: Make it “About me”

Some blogging expert said it’s a good idea to have an “About me” page even if you call it something else, so now I have one.

Here it is.

It’s all about me.

How do I deal with writer’s block?

Update 4/28/2019: I came across a tweet that linked to a blog post about “writer’s-block shaming.” I read far enough to answer the question it asks at the end about if the post made me think. Yes, it did. The following still works for me.


This is like asking me how I deal with the Great Pumpkin, the imaginary character that Charles M. Schulz created. I don’t accept it as a real thing.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t times when it is difficult to sit down and write. Sometimes doing something else is just a choice, a matter of procrastination or distraction.

An absence of discipline.

If I somehow found myself going weeks or months or longer without writing anything, I wouldn’t consider myself a victim of some imaginary blockage. I would quit calling myself a writer.

Silence of the Elms

Our power-mad HOA slaughtered several trees this week. I was home to hear the last of them fall to the fearsome teeth of the chainsaw.

I heard the roar of the chipper shredding life itself into mulch.

Now all is quiet.

Accidental trip to that time in-between

Speaking of being preserved on the internet (or writing about it as I was on Friday), I stumbled across my old blog, puncture proof, this morning.

It had something to do with bicycle tires and opinions about various stuff.

The last thing I posted there still pointed to a Tumblr blog that I no longer have, so of course I felt compelled to update it to point to the one you’re reading now. This other page caught my eye and took me even farther back in time and memory and I found myself obligated to fix a mistake I made there, too.

I’m supposed to be writing something else at the moment, so I won’t dwell on this for long, but seeing myself in that in-between state left me feeling pretty good about where my wife and I are now. Both of us have had two feet and all of our bicycles in Colorado for quite a while now.

Some other pieces of us, however, are still back in Iowa and probably always will be.

B.J.