Friday Find: Vintage Essay on “Writing What You Know”

I never knew John Gardner, yet I’m certain he would have hated the story I submitted to my first fiction workshop. In The Art of Fiction, Gardner denounced the tendency to transcribe personal memory onto the page; he understood it was precisely that practice that many people, especially beginning writers, equated with the famous dictum to “write what you know.” I had fallen into that trap myself. That first workshop submission proved it. I had not yet read Gardner. I did not appreciate that “Nothing can be more limiting to the imagination, nothing is quicker to turn on the psyche’s censoring devices and distortion systems, than trying to write truthfully and interestingly about own’s own home town, one’s Episcopalian mother, one’s crippled younger sister.”

So I wrote about my own home town.

So begins “Pushing the Limits of ‘Writing What You Know,'” an essay that I wrote many years ago.  Published originally in The Willamette Writer, it’s now available on, and I invite you to read the rest online.

Enjoy the weekend, and see you back here on Monday!