I’m all for giving the “go sit on a tack” to “write what you know”. You think I know what it’s like to be royalty in a monarchial society? What it’s like to use a sword on another human being? My work in progress involves a sassy, pregnant, woman, with shorn hair, who’s in charge of leading a nomadic tribe, and their prisoners, through a wide expanse of forest. I happen to be sassy but that’s about the only thing this main character (MC) and I have in common.
I also enjoy reading Amy Tan’s work. It occurred to me the other evening while reading The Joy Luck Club that I will never be able to pattern my work after hers. I think all fresh creators have a master they wish they could be like. But I will never be able to write what it’s like to be part of a Chinese-American family living in San Francisco. If you haven’t read Amy Tan’s auto-biography I highly recommend it. She and I have had completely different life experiences and that’s not something to despair over. It’s something to celebrate. She can’t write like me, either.
I don’t mean to send you mixed signals, but what I’m trying to say is that not every novel you write has to be a thinly veiled portrayal of your own life, nor does it have to be something completely disaligned from your perception of reality. I often find that the books written to please crowds of people and [hopefully] top best seller’s lists are dry things that feel like they were pasted together with the whims of an entire nation. I don’t like them. As a reader, I want to hear your voice shine through your work. I don’t need to know how good you are at using a thesaurus. I find the most well written books read like having a conversation with someone. Write like you talk! Be yourself when you write.
That being said, although I write fantasy I can confirm I’m not delusional enough to believe I live in a fantasy world. (Ask me about the lengths my fantasy writer friends and I go through to make sure we’re not mocking things like physics.) No matter how fantastical I get there’s always one thing at the heart of every story that makes it mine. My voice.
Don’t feel obligated to write what you know. Do write like you. Write from your own voice. Do not write like the writer you admire.