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Use Your Life and Work Experience

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 12 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Writing Creative Writing Speech Writing

When you're first starting out as a writer, one of your biggest problems can be finding material to write about. Whether you're involved in novel writing, technical writing or even speech writing, finding ways to draw on your previous work and life experience can give your material an edge which really helps to get it noticed.

There's nothing like the personal touch to bring creative writing to life, and the authority which comes from a past career or academic interest in a particular subject can be a great advantage when you're developing and marketing non-fiction.


In the age of social network websites many people publish their journals online, and we are becoming increasingly used to talking about ourselves in public. It's not uncommon for people to get involved in the serious business of creative writing by aiming to adapt their own life stories.

However, unless you're already famous for something, your full length autobiography is unlikely to appeal to a publisher, no matter how interesting you are. A smarter way to undertake autobiographical writing is to write about specific incidents in your life for magazines and anthologies.

Anthologies about personal life experience are extremely popular and there are always editors out there searching for writers with interesting tales to tell. Because your story will matter more than your reputation, this can be a good way for a new writer to get established, even though it's not particularly lucrative. You'll also find websites which specialise in collecting stories like this.

Glossy magazines are often interested in stories of ordinary people dealing with unusual relationship problems, illnesses, and similar big life events. Though some of these stories are researched in-house, there are always opportunities for capable writers with stories of their own to get involved. This can be a great way to get a widely circulated byline if you have a book or other product you'd like to advertise.

Industry Writing

When we think about using our life experiences in creative writing, we tend to focus on dramatic or exciting incidents, but these are far from the only source of valuable material. There is a great demand for people with experience in ordinary day-to-day jobs who can write about them.

For instance, if you have a day job in a bakery, you could write for a company newsletter, for magazines and books about cookery, or for trade publications about the bakery industry. This approach can be extended to almost any job. The more specialised the occupation, the more exclusive the opportunities for writers, and having good writing skills in combination with that experience can put you in a very strong position.

Potential Pitfalls

New writers, especially in the field of creative writing, are often advised to write about what they know. To an extent this is good advice. It can certainly save a lot of time which would otherwise have to go into research. But the problem is that new writers, in particular, often find it hard to draw the line between the environments and situations they know and the ideas and emotions which they experience in relation to them.

Whilst drawing on your life experience to create realistic settings is a good thing, and whilst it may tell you some useful things about how people in particular situations are likely to behave, you must always be careful to give your fictional characters room to develop in their own right.

It's important to keep a clear line between autobiography and novel writing, even if your novel features incidents similar to those you've experienced yourself. Remember that your characters should have personalities of their own and react to the world around them in unique ways, each different from the others. This is an essential element of bringing your fiction to life.

Similarly, in technical writing, speech writing and so forth, it's important to develop a keen awareness of the perspectives of others. Don't let your personal familiarity with your subject lull you into the belief that there's only one way to think about it. You should also be careful to remember that the audience you're writing for may not be as well grounded in the subject as you are, so things which seem obvious to you may if fact require explanation.

In short, personal experience can make a valuable contribution to your writing work, but it is essential to keep it in perspective.

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