The old advice, “write what you know” has long been due for an overhaul, in my opinion. Some people treat it as poison advice to the writer. This is what they think:
What do most of us actually know? The daily office routine, traffic laws, relationships. All the mundane things that are in anyone’s life. Boring, right?
But these trivial qualities are the very things that keep us reading bestselling novels. I was never more aware of this than when I was reading through the Pendergast series by Preston and Child. A certain character had struggled against a rival in another business(while having hair-raising adventures along the way) and I went to bat for him in my mind. Each of his victories against the man and his bosses made me believe in the character even more.
Then–spoiler–the character died. I was angry that this happened, because I believed in him.
Because I knew the struggles he went through. I’d been through similar ones myself.
As Countee Cullen says in his poem, “Any Human to Another,” we are never alone in our experience:
Let no man be so proud
To think he is allowed
A little tent
Pitched in a meadow
Of sun and shadow
All his little own.–C.Cullen
So, write what you know. All your joys and sorrows, but put it into your fictional world.
Speak to your reader of the things that are human and universal.
My new proposal for the old advice: change it to–“When you write what you know, you can write what you want to.”