Write What You Know…Really?


When I first started writing, this was the advice I received most often. The problem was I didn’t want to do that. After thirty years in law enforcement, I wasn’t thrilled about giving one more ounce of energy to it. Don’t get me wrong, it was an exciting, challenging, and profitable career (in that it allowed me to retire early and pursue my passion for writing, not because it paid extremely well) but I was over it! The job demanded more of me than I realized until I retired. I needed to do something completely different. So ‘writing what you know’ became a double-edged sword.


Law enforcement and writing romance novels seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, but would writing romantic books with a level of intrigue be enough of a separation? When I asked myself that question initially, I wasn’t sure of the answer. But when I thought about what I’d like to write, my life flashed before my eyes like an unfinished movie—a life complicated and sometimes devastated by a demanding career. What better way to work through it than writing? Thirty years of catch-up therapy was way too expensive. And how better to keep a story moving than with tales of a chase, a mystery, or a challenge?

So I had to acknowledge that all those years of walking a beat, patrolling the seedy sections of town, playing undercover druggie, and bossing people around might actually be good fodder for stories. Next I had to figure out how to write about it without sounding like a bad version of Dragnet: “Just the facts, ma’am.” Police work was all about the facts and giving them as succinctly as possible, no frills and no embellishments. The edits for my first book, To Protect and Serve, were filled with comments like, “too many details, not enough description.” It’s a wonder the manuscript didn’t end up as a doorstop.

Another challenge proved to be just how deeply to delve into law enforcement procedures. How could I portray certain situations with authenticity without betraying trade secrets and/or giving the bad guys an advantage? Sometimes the things you see on television are true, sometimes not. Often the procedures are exaggerated for dramatic effect and some are deleted completely for obvious reasons. Writing what you know intimately requires a constant vigil to keep the extraneous bits from creeping in and putting readers to sleep—only you know if I’ve been successful.

My second and third books, Suspect Passions and Fever, were a bit less police procedurals, but still contained a law enforcement component with intrigue, and of course, romance. In my fourth, Justifiable Risk, out in January, I go back to the full-on police element. Hopefully I’m learning to balance writing what I know with writing what I love. Please send me your thoughts. We authors are all about the feedback.

Thank you for taking your valuable time to just relax and read!


VK Powell
(Rainbow Awards Best Lesbian Contemporary)
(Rainbow Awards Best Writing Style)
Suspect Passions
To Protect and Serve
Justifiable Risk, 2011

Bold Strokes Books, http://powellvk.com/, www.facebook.com/vkpowell

8 Responses to “Write What You Know…Really?”

  1. 1 jfaraday January 17, 2011 at 6:12 PM

    If people only wrote what they knew there would be no fiction, and a person can only read (and write) so many autobiographies….

    I love police stories, especially with the realism that comes from experience. Looking forward to reading yours.


    • 2 VK January 26, 2011 at 6:18 PM

      You’re exactly right! Fortunately, the internet has allowed us to become “experts” in many things and that expands our potential.

      Let me know how you enjoy my work…and thanks for reading!

      Sorry about taking so long to respond. My computer took a header off the chair arm and had to go to the emergency room for a few days.


  2. 3 djacksonleigh January 17, 2011 at 9:26 PM

    I’m having a really hard time picturing you as an undercover druggie.

    Seriously, I know what you mean. I’ve spent more than 30 years in the newsroom and I always say that once I retire, I’m done. I may never read another newspaper again. I’ll just be blissfully ignorant of current affairs.


    • 4 VK January 26, 2011 at 6:20 PM

      Right! You could never be ignorant, my friend, blissfully or otherwise.

      And I’ll have you know, I was an awesome UC. The suspects even warned me about another cop! THAT was hilarious. (We were at a Grateful Dead concert)


  3. 5 Char January 18, 2011 at 3:30 AM

    I have all of your books and have enjoyed them very much. I”m half way through Justifiable Risk and am loving it. Thank You for the good ‘reads’.


    • 6 VK January 26, 2011 at 6:22 PM

      Thank you, Char! You’ve just made my day, maybe even my week. I’m so glad you enjoy my books. It’s always nice to get feedback. Please keep me posted–don’t want to disappoint–ever!


  4. 7 Jemma January 18, 2011 at 7:34 PM

    “What better way to work through it than writing? Thirty years of catch-up therapy was way too expensive.”

    😀 When I eventually join the force in the next year or so, maybe I’ll take up writing as well. 🙂

    I enjoy reading law enforcement/romance novels alot. Thanks for providing wonderful stories for us to read.


    • 8 VK January 26, 2011 at 6:25 PM

      Hi Jemma,

      Best of luck when you join! It’s a great career, but I’d highly recommend friends outside the agency. It will help. Also, do consider writing down some of your experiences. You never know when it will come in handy.

      Thanks for reading my work and for your kind words.


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