As a writer you will often be told to ‘write what you know.’ This is the wrong advice. I know; I was told this myself too many times. Writing only what you know can be limiting for a lot of writers. How many of us have lived the kind of life people will pay to read? There are exceptions of course. Some people have lived lives of terrible trauma and dysfunction and are able to take those experiences and cathartically release them into the pages of a novel. In many cases, these writers didn’t plan to become a writer, and then cast about for what to write about, they became a writer because they had to in order to liberate their demons. Augusten Borroughs said in an interview, "My mother was a writer. I just associated writing with mental illness and unhappiness and poverty. But I always wrote because it was efficient. It was a way to remove the steam and the pressure. I can't imagine my life if I hadn't written. I wouldn't be functional."
The other problem with telling writers to ‘write what you know’ is that people think in literal terms. There are some exceptions, Le Carre was a spy. However, most writers don’t actually write what they know. They take what they know, the tastes, emotions, smells, mannerisms, actions, expressions and people they observe and then add a spoonful of imagination to the stew. J.K. Rowling did not attend wizard school. She did have some neighbors, a brother and sister whose last name, Potter, she preferred over her own.
Next, think about James Michener. He was a meticulous researcher and spun his detailed notes into epics spanning geographies and generations. If you were asking yourself a minute ago who James Michener was, well that’s the other thing about writing. To write you must read. So put down the pen, close the laptop and start reading. Read it all. Read books, magazine articles, essays. Read the cereal box. Read Shakespeare, Oates, Alice Walker - read people you have never heard of.
William Faulkner said, “A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.”