I once tried to follow this quote like a bible passage. However, as my writing has matured, I’ve found that I’ve strayed away from the quote.
To “Write what you know.” Seems so ideological, but as a creative being it limits you, to the confines of a comfort zone that is meant to be crossed.
If we did stick to what we know, we’d have some pretty boring, and uninspiring books. All of which can be directly linked to a lack of creative inspiration, and a decent imagination. It makes you glad that the imagination has no limitations; except maybe if you put into consideration a person’s level of comfort with subjects that are uncomfortable or different. Those authors who are comfortable with pushing the envelope, and emerging themselves in the uncomfortable; can usually manage to give the reader a powerful reading experience. (That will usually convey a life changing work of literary masterpiece.)
On the flip side, what you know and have experienced in life, if properly conveyed can teach the reader about different cultures, and give them a sense of worldly knowledge that other wise would’ve remained a mysterious, unexplored path.
So, perhaps to use this terminology successfully one must have been through an experience that has changed the way they view society, or on a larger scale the world. An experience of which, they have a very moving and therefore powerful message to convey. A book series that could fall under both sides of the creative spectrum, and the what you know spectrum. Would be the Harry Potter series. Where Rowling uses both a wonderful imagination, and also draws on her mother’s passing, as the backbone theme in the series. That love is a very powerful, magical emotion; which can fuel a greater purpose.
However, when an author can step outside their comfort, and let their creativity run wild. They can create worlds entirely outside the normal realm. Two books that come to mind are Alice in Wonderland and The Lord of the Rings.
Another book that draws from a very dark time in history, but also conveys beautiful, yet tragic messages of love, friendship, acceptance. As well as the importance of books, words, and imagination. Is The Book Thief, a book that lives up to its reviews as a life changing experience.
Writing what you know, is now at least for me, is a balancing act of which should not be taken lightly.