The old adage “Write what you know” has its value, but also creates unnecessary confusion in what a writers job really is. Obviously a fantasy or sci-fi author clearly recognize where this advice starts and where it abruptly stops being relevant, but that isn’t the case for all writers. The truth is, you experiences are often at the core of what you right, but your voice is not the only relevant voice that needs to be heard, so there is a lot you can do to elevate the voices of others.
For myself, my experiences exist within the world of the LGBTQ+ community as a gay man. Other aspects of my community, especially those of the trans community are not my personal experience, but are very near and dear to me because so many of my best friends are transgender. It’s a challenge, because they are apart of my world, but there experiences take an extra amount of effort for someone like me seeing it from a friends perspective, to write compelling and honest characters that are trans because I don’t have the answer for every circumstance. The truth is though, whether those writings get shared or not, the beautiful thing about writing characters that are of a different race, gender or sexual orientation, or religion, it forces you to learn, and it forces you to ask a lot of hard questions.
So 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. Now for myself I don’t know that I would ever feel comfortable publishing a book like that, but I definitely want to explore that experience through writing because I care deeply for mending the many inequalities we still have, and am not just a casual friend of people who are black, but look for every opportunities to listen and be directed by others within the community how I can best support them.
All of our experiences are important, and as writers our job often times 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, but 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.