That old piece of advice, “write what you know”, has been tried and tested for decades, reminding writers that they ought to only write about what they have personally experienced, and what they truly understand.
Or at least that is how it has been read.
Personally, however, I don’t believe writers need to write about what they know. Not in the physical, literal sense, that is. After all, if J.K. Rowling had only written what she knew, there would be no Hogwarts. If Tolkien had only written what he knew, there would be no Hobbits. Imagine a world with no Oz, no Wonderland, no mysteries, no fantasies.
Every book written would be full of the mundane and, ultimately, the boring. Books are an escape from real life, not a reflection of it. Therefore, “write what you know” does not and should not apply to the actions of characters, or even the places in which they find themselves.
Research is wonderful for finding out about places and things that you want to write about, and it’s certainly not necessary to have experienced everything that happens in your book – not necessary and not possible. That’s the beauty of writing; it is fiction, and anything can happen.
The rest is down to imagination. And why not? Why not pretend? Create it, and the readers will see it in their minds. As long as there is a little something of yourself within the work, nothing else matters.
For me, writing what I know means putting my own emotions, thoughts, and feelings into my work. I add little snippets of information that only those incredibly close to me will understand, and perhaps not even then. But it’s not for anyone else, it’s for me, to keep me on the right track, to ground my ideas in some form of reality. This reality, however, is the one I have created for my writing, not the one in which I sit and write.