I've got a little spoiler alert.
J.K. Rowling didn't go to Hogwarts. She's not a witch. She's never swigged Felix Felicis.
But, wait... if she's never ridden a broomstick or sipped a butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks then how did she concoct such a vibrant and colorful world? How did she tap into the mystical arts of potion-making, wandlore, and divination? How did she stir up a rich fantasy world that sustained seven books and will probably be cherished for decades (if not centuries) to come?
It's simple. She wrote what she knows.
For J.K. Rowling, at the time when she was writing the first Harry Potter books, she was a school teacher and her closest relationship was with her child. She knew kids and what made them tick. She had also been to boarding schools and she knew that world. She knew classic literature and mythology. She loved mysteries and knew how to craft a compelling one at the core of each of her kids books. As a result, she's created beloved magic despite not possessing a real phoenix feather of her own.
One of the earliest pieces of advice that all writers get is: Write what you know.
But what if what you know isn't that interesting? Or that exciting? Or it just doesn't inspire you? What if you've never travelled to space, or a fantasy world, or even another state? What if your life has just consisted of school, a safe job, and a comfy house in the suburbs.
Perfect! Write what you know!
I choose to write epic fantasy novels about kings, wizards and magical kingdoms.
But I don't live in medieval times. I've never ridden on a dragon or had a swordfight. I'm not even British!
Instead, I've worked a handful of 9 to 5 jobs, I live in a nice apartment, and I've got a wonderful wife and two great cats.
I do know adventure, though. My favorite books usually involve some sort of swash-buckling hero overcoming some dastardly villain despite incredible odds (if you haven't read the book version of "The Princess Bride," go do so right away). I can break down the reasons why the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie works while its sequels don't work as well (it comes down to Jack Sparrow being an unconventional sidekick in the first movie and then being forced to be an unconventional protagonist in all of the rest). And I understand why the King Arthur legends are so enduring even though I've never visited Stonehenge.
Too often, I think writers squeeze themselves into a box, because they're trying to keep up with their area of expertise or "what they know." Just because you're not a lawyer doesn't mean you can't write courtroom dramas - you just have to understand themes of crime and justice. It doesn't matter if you're in your 60s - you can write YA novels if you're still a teenager at heart. Not everyone who writes space adventures has to be an astronaut.
If we dig deep into our hearts and into our imaginations and I think we'll be surprised what we know.
And that's where great stories and great writing starts.
We just have to write what we know.