I have heard the advice my entire life that authors should write what they know. It is a great suggestion in a way but it is also open to a tremendous amount of interpretation. For many years I believed it literally meant to only write about things I knew first hand or had experienced personally. The problem with that can be the ability to inject imagination into a story that is otherwise simply a recounting of what you personally did. In order for a story to be relatable it is important to not make it too specific. People need to be able to picture things through the glasses of their own life experiences so in this case writing what you know means to use real life to inspire imaginative tales.
The second interpretation I eventually adopted was to write in a genre you know well. What do you read the most? Who are authors you know more about than a normal person probably should? Is there a genre of book, movie and television you can't get enough of? For me it is thriller / suspense. I love scary movies, drama television shows and books that keep me turning the pages as fast as possible to find out what is coming next while at the same time slightly afraid of whodunit. Many start out writing fan fiction, stories involving characters from those same shows, movies and books with their own spin on it. This is one way to break into the writing world with characters and worlds the writer already feels comfortable with before beginning to create their own.
The third is one I got more in touch with at a writer's conference recently. I was speaking with J.A. Jance the murder mystery bestseller. We were talking about her books and the fact that she sets them in places she has lived because it is a world she knows. She incorporates traits and quirks form people she has me because she knows how those people would act in the situations the characters find themselves throughout the story. She then asked me what my unique view is. I am a novice so I simply shrugged and told her unfortunately I didn't know. She asked what kinds of books I write and if any of them were series. I told her that I write in several genres but at this point only one series has truly come to life for me. It happens to be a thriller / suspense (go figure).
Over coffee we began discussing murder mysteries. They are her world but also something I love to read. As we chatted we got on the subject of where I live, Las Vegas. There are a number of shows and crime dramas about Las Vegas (CSI is one of the biggest) so that didn't lend itself to anything fresh until I mentioned that I am a casino dealer part time. The conversation then turned to murders in a casino and how it would look from the perspective of a dealer or casino employee, how it could revolve around a former casino employee turned detective but still maintains connections in the casinos. It could be a series with gambling related titles. Suddenly a series in my head was born.
Writing what we know is advice that works best when we incorporate all these aspects and turn it into something we have a personal ability to write but can be relatable and entertaining to a large audience as a whole. I have an incredible amount of reading to do in order to more fully verse myself in the murder mystery world but I am looking forward to writing one for my Nano novel later this year.