The old adage “Write what you know” has its value. It also creates unnecessary confusion in what really is a writers job. Obviously a fantasy or sci-fi author recognizes where this advice starts and where it abruptly stops being relevant. That isn’t the case for all writers. Your experiences are often at the core of what you write. Your voice is not the only relevant voice that needs to be heard. There is a lot you can do to elevate the voices of others.
For myself, my experiences are of the LGBTQ+ community. Other aspects of my community, especially those of the trans community are not my personal experience. All the same, the trans experience is very important to me. They are apart of my world, but I see their experiences from a friends perspective. It can be challenging to write compelling and honest characters that are trans because I don’t have the answer for every circumstance. Whether those writings get shared or not, the beautiful thing about writing characters that are of a different race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, forces you to learn, and it forces you to ask a lot of hard questions.
How to Write Outside Your Experience
Often times there is a stigma behind writing outside your experience. For example, as a white guy, me writing about the black experience may seem straight up offensive. For myself I don’t know that I would ever feel comfortable publishing a book that focuses on the black experience. That isn’t my story. I definitely want to explore that experience through writing because I care deeply for mending the many inequalities we still have. I don’t want to just a casual friend of people who are black. It is important to me to look for every opportunities to listen and be directed by others within the community on how I can best support them.
All of our experiences are important. As writers our job is to tap into that empathy our readers should experience. If you doubt whether you can do so fairly, ask. All you have to do is talk with friends that have had the experiences you want to write about to begin writing about it. Be sensitive to how naive you may be. If you come from a place of wanting to learn and grow and most people will want to hear you out and will want to make your writing better. It is well worth your efforts to try, and regardless of whether you ever share it with the world or not, it will expand your experience and make you a more empathetic, relevant writer.