The First Rule of Write-Club

by Julie Innis

If any of you happen to know who came up with the “Write What You Know” rule, send that jackass to me because I’d like to punch him in the face — one punch for every time some writer has justified his/her craptacular story with the classic defense, “But This Really Happened To Me!”

Let me be clear:  I have been, and still am, ‘that’ writer and have certainly foisted more than my fair share of craptacular stories onto the world.  If craptacular stories had a carbon footprint, mine would be the size of Brazil.  

Have you seen Brazil?  It’s fucking huge. 

But, my dear friend-in-writerly-struggle, today I’d like to suggest a different approach, a way to throw off those shackles of self, to be free from ego and strife.  Out with the old, in with the new. 

There is another way.

Some back-story: for a long time before I decided to become a Person Who Writes, I was a Teacher.  When you are a teacher, you participate in many team-building activities, also known as “Professional Development.”  In team-building, you learn that 1+1 equals far more than 2, that no matter how simple the task, it will always takes a village to get it done right, and, most importantly, that there is no “I” in “Team.”

To which the only appropriate response is “No Shit, Sherlock” or, in my case, something more … colorful.  But please do keep in mind, you are surrounded by Teachers, Shapers of Young Minds.  This is a School, not some sleazy barroom, some watering hole of last resort where you can lob your f-bombs then sit back and watch through the lens of your shot glass the splatter pattern your bad attitude creates.  This is A Warm and Loving Place of Learning, goddamnit, so please, Act Accordingly.  

Needless to say, I was deeply conflicted during my years as a Teacher.  

In those dark years of “There’s No ‘I’ in Team,” I somehow managed to stumble into another club, the club of “Write What You Know.”  In Write-Club, unlike the I-Free Zone of Teaching, the I reigns supreme.  The I abounds, the I abides.  I, I, fucking I.   Except, of course, when the I cloaks Itself in the safety of the third-person, or worse, second.  

In those years, I rolled in, wallowed in, reveled in my I.  Everything I wrote was thinly-veiled autobiography.  I mined the shit out of my I.   Oh if only I known the goldmine that is Creative Non-Fiction!  But this was Fiction, goddamnit, so I Acted Accordingly. 

When I look back at those stories, I don’t regret having written them, or, to be more accurate, having lived them.  I suspect we all have stories we need to get out of our systems, telling and retelling until they no longer demand to be told.  As if that need can ever be satisfied.  Even now, I suspect I will always return to the comfort of writing who I am and what I know.

But who among us hasn’t, on occasion, looked in the mirror and said ‘It’s not me, it’s you,” googled ‘lobotomy,’ priced the cost of a vacation from one’s self? 

Or is that just me?

I mean, sure, there’s an ‘I’ in Individual and Identity.  

And in Insomnia, Indigestion, and Insufferable.  

But there’s also an ‘I’ in Invention and Imagination.  

Really, there are probably hundreds of ‘I’ words that I could include here, but frankly I’m too lazy to look them all up and I think you’ve gotten the point by now, right? 

Please don’t make me beat you over the head with it.  

And so, yes, while there may be an ‘I’ in “Write What You Know,” let’s not forget that there’s also an ‘I’ in “Make Shit Up.” 

Making shit up is fun.  But there will be consequences.  People will assume that the shit you make up really happened to you. 

For example:  A man very sweetly asked me, after reading a story of mine in which a brain tumor figures prominently, if I too had a brain tumor. 

It is not a tumor, I reassured him. 

Or, to avoid jinxing myself, I should say that I really really hope that I do not have a brain tumor. 

Though frankly it would explain a lot. 

And while we’re on this subject, I should clarify that I have not experienced first-hand many of the things I have written about. 

            I have never befriended a goat.

            I have never been a serial killer or a victim of a serial killer.

            I have never philated a fly.

            I have never squeezed the breasts of a Russian woman.

            I have never owned a monkey.

            I have never been swarmed by killer bees.

 I have, however, 

            Lived places

            Worked jobs

            Met people

            Missed people

            Fallen in love

            Fallen out of love

            Drank too much

            Said stupid things

            Did stupider things

            Regretted a great deal

            Pretended to regret nothing

 Honestly, what I haven’t done is far more interesting than what I have done.  Which is perhaps the best case for “Make Shit Up” in favor of “Write What You Know.”

 And yes, I know all you Pocket-Freuds out there are saying “but the seeds of your personal experiences give life to the stories you tell – whether real or absurd.”

 To which I say, with all due respect, “No Shit, Sherlock.”

 And yes, there’s an ‘I’ in that too. 


Bio: When not working as a houseplant, Julie Innis can be found sending back soup in various delis throughout the Metro region.  If you ‘google’ her, some stories might pop up.  These stories may or may not be true.

Ok. I have to gloat.

I have to gloat that I’m the son-of-a-bitch lucky enough to have Julie Innis grace that which is my blog. 

I first stumbled across Julie and her writings on Fictionaut (a social writing community that we and many wonderful others are a part of). It was love at first read. Her stories always consist of something different I’ve never read about before. A certain coolness served up straight with a pretty bittersweet twist on the side. 


I want to be Julie Innis when I grow up.

No Comments
  • Reply

    Kathy Fish

    December 17, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    This is fantastic and true and funny and wise, like Julie Innis.

  • Reply


    December 18, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Damn what a fucking great post. So many great lines/passages but this seems to take the prize:

    I have never squeezed the breasts of a Russian woman.

    Julie Innis kicks fucking ass.

  • Reply


    December 19, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    I have a miniature Julie Innis shrine I pray to and light candles in front of in the hope of writing like her some day. It’s just a Barbie doll with glasses and a tiny laptop, but I think, or at least I believe, that sometimes it looks at me and smiles. Julie’s one of the finest writers I know–edgy yet grounded, contemporizing traditional human interactions to make something totally new.

  • Reply


    December 19, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    I laughed out loud at “There’s an I in ‘Make shit up'”. Lots of apostrophes there, sorry. Excellent post, Julie. I’ll probably read it again and again.

  • Reply


    December 20, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    christopher’s right. “There is an I in ‘Make shit up'” is a slogan for the ages.

    this piece is really fun. i’m glad i got to check it out.

  • Reply

    Marcus Speh

    January 1, 2011 at 12:50 am

    great post…why am i only seeing this now? nobody tells me anything, perhaps because i live in europe? i also want to be julie innis.

  • Reply


    January 12, 2011 at 4:16 am

    BRIALLIANT. I spelt that wrong on purpose-that’s how stupid Innis makes me feel. She is amazing.

    • Reply


      January 12, 2011 at 4:28 am

      Aww, she is so awesome. I really love her….

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