Priorities, by Sarah Dooley

When I was fifteen, I wrote a story from the point of view of a 32-year-old woman (and how grown and wise she seemed to me at the time!) named Patsey.  I was obsessed with the story. I lived and breathed it and, if my best friend Stacie is to be believed, I even talked about it in my sleep.

But I had a concern. At a student writing ceremony, I had been cautioned, "Write what you know." Having never been a 32-year-old woman (those were the days!), I was afraid of breaking this writing rule by trying to write from Patsey's POV.

"I don't know how to be 32," I told my mother and best writing coach. (News flash, kid: You never will, not even when you're 37.)

My mother was silent for a few seconds. Then she picked up a pencil and sketched a quick shape on the back of a receipt.

"What do you see here?" she asked, pushing the sketch across the table to me.

Being completely obsessed with the animal in question, I immediately answered, "A pretty little pony!"

"No, you don't," she said. "You see lines. None of them are touching. They only hint at the impression of a pony."

My mind was blown. But wasn't I supposed to write what I knew?

"You are writing what you know," my mother reassured me. "You're writing from the point of view of a character you identify with. That doesn't mean you have to be afraid to take a chance or two. I'm not worried about every connection yet, not in your first draft. Give me the impression." 


  1. I love your mother's advice! I needed to read that today as I am not writing what I know. Actually I'm having to do a great deal of research. Tucking that incomplete picture in my back pocket.

  2. What wonderful advice. We merely need to convince others that we are writing what we know to be true for our characters.


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