Write What You Know – even in Fiction

Write what you know. This may seem like the most obvious advice in the word, but it’s not. While I’m sure many of us have a burning desire to write the next great novel of pure fictitious brilliance, there is something to be said for using the material your life has gracefully provided you. And it is immediate and at-hand. The only research required is within your own personal history and daily life.

Julia Cameron‘s suggestion of writing “morning pages,” from her book called the The Artist’s Way, is one great suggestion to mine the creative juices from our lives. In this free writing, free flow, pre-consciousness approach, we can find creative breakthrough by writing whatever comes to us. I suspect that this method frequently reveals gems from one’s own personal reality.

What if you rebut: “My life is so boring!”

I’d respond: “Is it? Is it really?”

My six-year-old daughter tells me when she is bored. Often times it is when she is not engaged by me or a teacher or a friend or her siblings; and also when she is too tired or grumpy to play by herself. When she says this, it always blows my mind. She has a pretty amazing life for a little girl – that’s what I feel from my perspective at least. I’ve stocked our home with countless garage sale books. She has neighborhood friends and they play (safely) in the street. We travel to visit our out of town family. When I look at all the places she has gone, the experiences our family has had together, the opportunities open to her, I think: “Wow, you’ve had a great life so far, my dear.” I hope most days she realizes this too.

It’s all a matter of perspective. 

write what you know alexis marie chute writer author mentor BLOG

One of our mandates as writers is to translate our experiences into our fiction, non-fiction, poetry, young adult stories, mysteries, essays, short stories, and the list goes on. Whatever your mind can conceive of, right?

If you are a fiction writer that has never considered taking inspiration from your own life, I suggest you give it a try! Think about the people that cross your path every day; your coworkers, family and friends . Maybe some of them can become your most beloved characters – or villains. You have a collection of people around you. People you know extremely well – from their opinions to their facial expressions. Take inspiration from these folks and write that kind of detail and intimacy with humanity into your stories. The same goes for settings.

I’ve heard it said somewhere, something to the effect of: there is no true fiction. (If someone can point me to the actual quote, that would be much appreciated.) There is a grain of truth behind all stories. What better reason is there to write what we know!

Somehow, my life experiences always seep into my writing. Or perhaps I would better describe it by saying: my life provides the richness of inspiration for my writing. This is something I am extremely grateful for. 

I am so inspired by the human experience that I have inevitably become an avid observer and recorder. For me, memoir and personal essays are an easy choice. However, it is nice every once and a while to break out and experiment with fiction. You could say my successful completions of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month; 50K in the month of November) and the 3 Day Novel Contest (September long weekend; 100+ pages) are just such a foray into crafting work outside my every-day life. I would also argue that I simply love a challenge.

Funny enough, I actually found it much easier to write fiction to the pace of the racing clock during these competitions than I did the one year I participated in NaNoWriMo with a memoir as my goal. I couldn’t unearth my personal stories that quickly. They require a slow-cook-approach I’ve discovered.

What I write about most often, for my profession and for pleasure, are family stories. Parenting. Motherhood. Being a working-mom. Being an artist-mom. Personal identity. These topics are close to my heart. They feel almost quintessential and spiritual to me. For now, I am telling these stories through creative non-fiction. Its a blurry category. Is it 100% truth? Well, no. Is it fiction? Nope, not really. At the same time, I feel like creative non-fiction is my perfect vehicle, for now, to write what I know.


What writing projects have captured your heart right now?

What are you working on?

How do you use your own life as inspiration for your work – no matter what genre you are writing in?

Please comment below. Let’s have a conversation : )

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Thank you for reading!


– Alexis Marie


A Pep Talk for the 3 Day Novel Contest 2014

The 3 Day Novel Contest is not a marathon; it’s a sprint. It requires stamina, determination and vision.

The first time I participated in the 3 Day Novel writing competition, which is held every labour day weekend, I had a newborn on my lap and an outline in my hand. My husband was supportive and kept my three year old busy and delivered plates of yummy food to my desk at semi-regular intervals. I knew roughly where my story would take me, what characters would be major players, and my approximate plot arc. The rest of the details were filled in as I wrote. I didn’t sleep much that weekend – but having a newborn to care for and nurse prepared me well.

The weekend was an adventure of speed and imagination – and I enjoyed every moment of it.

To coach writers in preparation for the 3 Day Novel Contest, in the final days leading up to the challenge, my advice is straightforward:

Perfectionism is your enemy.

First drafts are not meant to be flawless. The most important concern at this stage is getting your ideas out on the page. Perfectionism, while unattainable, is a characteristic better saved for the editing stage.

You can edit later.

Turn off the left brain urge to edit while you write; it will slow you down and bog you in details that should not matter in the initial time of creative expression. While writing, let the ideas flow. You can critique your sentence structure, grammar and pacing later.

Drink lots of liquids.

If your body gets run down, your writing will suffer. Creativity is a mental and physical engagement. Be present, mindful and aware of your body, taking care of it as if you were running a race. Water is essential.

Get some exercise.

This can be achieved by literally running to the bathroom after all the liquids, but, seriously, getting up, stretching and flexing your muscles is tremendously important. You will be challenging the muscle of your brain but getting the blood flow throughout your whole body will make all the difference.

Trust your imagination to fill in the gaps.

At this stage of the writing, don’t worry if you accidentally changed the eye colour of your main character part way through your manuscript. Don’t worry if you are unsure how to end your story or how to get your protagonist from point A to point B. As you write, your imagination will give you solutions to the problems perturbing you and any errors can be fixed later. Free write to see what will come out of you but don’t worry. Worry inhibits your best writing.

Believe in yourself.

Write a novel in three days? Yes, it is possible. You can do it. I have done it, lots of people have done it, and so can you. Challenges are fun and push us to the limit. It’s worth the effort. (Even if you don’t “finish” your novel, if you survive the weekend and gave it your all, that’s something to be proud of.)

Have fun.

The 3 Day Novel Contest is not meant to be work. It is a fun weekend getaway (in your office or at the coffee shop); a chance for writers to do something silly and goofy like write a novel in three days! Go with the flow. Make it a game. Also, join in the conversation about the writing process by tweeting using #3DayNovel. I connected with a few individuals during the weekend and we ended up continuing the conversation and starting an online writing group.

Well, do you accept the challenge? Tomorrow, Friday August 29, is the last day to register.

I believe in you! The 3 Day Novel Contest is upon us. Good luck!



Put Writer’s Block in its Place


Here are a few little tricks can you do to overcome writer’s block. First of all, don’t freak out. Try these techniques instead. With the 3-Day Novel Contest only days away, these are the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” I will be utilizing when caught in a block.



  • Run the stairs of your home or apartment.
  • Eat a healthy snack or meal. Nothing too heavy. Fruit and veggies are great for snacks.
  • Look out the window and let your mind wander. Watch cars go by, day dream about the shape of clouds.  Breath deeply and allow yourself to simply be for a moment.
  • Draw a picture or doodle.
  • Shift mental gears by doing something (besides typing) with your hands. For me, this would be work on my wood sculpture for 10 minutes. For others, this could be laundry, taking out the garbage, vacuuming a room, peeling potatoes for dinner.
  • Do a word search.
  • Lay on the floor and stair up at the ceiling while calming yourself.
  • Go outside and take a few deep breaths of fresh air.
  • Take a short nap.
  • Go for a brisk walk or run – a sprint even.
  • Take a cold shower (not just reserved for hormone filled teenage boys!).
  • Change your clothes; get out of your pyjamas and into clothes that gear you up for work.
  • Drink a whole glass of water.
  • Stretch out your muscles (yes, I would suggest getting out of your desk chair to do this).
  • Set the mood of your writing area: lighting, music, a photo on your desk of your favourite vacation spot (your happy place), and a scented candle.
  • Get away from your computer. Leave your office. Change scenery for a brief period of time.



  • Answer the phone if you are in the middle of a thought. Better yet, turn the ringer off. That’s what answering machines are for.
  • Update social media.
  • Check and respond to e-mail.
  • Watch TV (It could turn into a longer break than you had anticipated).
  • Eat junk food. Avoid artificial sugars and salts.
  • Give in to negative self-talk.


I will very likely refer back to this list myself in the heat of the moment as I participate in the 3-Day Novel Contest while battling the block. If I come up with any more ideas I will be sure to post again.


Do you know any good techniques you’d like to add?


When trying to overcome writer’s block, the most important point of both the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” is to not give in to negative self talk. It truly is in the fragile ground of our mind where the batter over blockages is either won or lost. Maybe you do not even recognize your negative thoughts. They are subtle for sure.


Be attentive and listen to the messages you tell yourself. If you are genuinely a self-nurturing and self-encouraging person – good for you! If not and you start to realize the words you use that defeat your own mojo, come back to Artist Reborn tomorrow. I will be posting an uplifting list of positive affirmations for writers.

Don’t Stare Directly at Writer’s Block


With the 3-Day Novel Contest less than a week away writer’s block is already trying to psych me out. The contest is a 3 day challenge to write a novel at sonic speed. It takes place the September long weekend and provides the ultimate writing sprint. This is my first year participating so I don’t fully know what to expect.


Apart from the actual writing itself, my sneaky writer’s block already whispers in my ear:

  • Your newborn will cluster feed and cry all weekend, you won’t be able to get anything done.
  • Your two year old will miss you; she’ll bang on the office door and scream the undeniable call, “Mommmmmy!”
  • You’ll grow lonely while all your family and friends are hanging out enjoying the last of the summer sun and eating tasty BBQ.


Then my writer’s block moves on to pre-emptive strikes against my writing process:

  • There is not enough time – you are too much of a perfectionist.
  • You don’t have enough experience. Who are you? You think you can write a novel?
  • The plot you are imagining has holes.
  • Your characters are flat.
  • Your fingers can’t type fast enough!
  • The jokes you write are only funny in your own head.
  • If you chicken out, no one will know.


That’s the catch, though, I will know. I will know if I don’t give it my all or fail to finish the race. This scenario would mean defeat at the hands of my nemesis. I am aware of what I must do: Wage war on the writer’s block that attempts to floor me before the 3 days have even begun.


My technique leading up to the weekend: Don’t look writer’s block directly in the eye. If I distract myself from the practicalities and instead focus on preparations, day dream about my characters and lose myself in imaginings of plot and structure – then somehow I can actually avoid thinking about the writing itself, the part that really gets my nerves quivering.


I am sharing my fears and telling everyone I know that I am in the contest because I need the accountability. If I write about writer’s block here on my blog, somehow its evil whispers wither in power. I am choosing not to chicken out before or mid-race –but it helps to know that everyone else expects me to push through as well.


Please ask me, come next Tuesday, “How did it go?”


Over the next three days I will be posting ways to combat writer’s block. Check back for helpful ideas.

3 Day Novel Contest

The 2012 Olympics will be followed up with another competition requiring the highest form of mental athleticism; it is the 35th Annual 3-Day Novel Contest which will take place over the September long weekend. It is called “The World’s Most Notorious Literary Marathon” and I have registered and paid my dues. The contest is less than a month away and my mind is already swimming with characters, lost in in exotic locations, and formulating an ambitious plot for the 72 hour race.

The challenge: write a complete novel in three days.

Challenge: accepted.

How am I feeling about this intense competition? Nervous but excited. I am antsy to begin and am already visualizing how the long weekend will play out. Will I sleep in my desk chair? Have a reserve of non-perishables and water mere arms reach away? The biggest challenge will be my newborn.

Yes, that’s right; I am embarking on this grueling competition with a two month old. He may get the best of me while I am in the grove of a scene OR could provide the needed break every two hours forcing me to stretch my legs and take a breath. I foresee us both spending the weekend in the office and doing the dance of feeding, sleeping and writing together. He may offer valuable advice at 4 in the morning. It’s a good thing I am already accustomed to waking at all hours to feed him. All I can say, we’ll see how it goes!

I will be tweeting as the contest progresses so follow me on Twitter (@_Alexis_Marie) to stay abreast of the action.

You can learn more about the 3-Day Novel Contest at: http://www.3daynovel.com/

Wish me luck! Hopefully I can finish and share my completed work in the not too distant future!