It's what you want to know. I know, that's not exactly how the saying goes. I tweaked it a bit. Because honestly, if we all really wrote what we knew, none of our stories would have dragons or faeries or vampires or magic. No historical fiction. I think we'd all eventually get... bored. And there are some things I do to change what I know to write outside of the box. Things I shall share with you. These work for me.
Do your research.
Research can actually be fun. I know! I was surprised, too. For my latest W.I.P. I'm writing about a girl who's part of an Amish community. Knowing absolutely nothing about the Amish, I've been taking out books from the library and printing off pages on the web. Not only am I learning a lot - something I managed to avoid in high school - but it's interesting stuff. At some point, I think every writer is going to have to hit the books. Or.. the web page. Might as well do it now, right?
In order to really write as if I know what I'm talking about, I like to close my eyes and picture myself in a bonnet and a skirt. Working in a garden. Going to barn raisings. I imagine the sweat beading on my forehead and the sound of laughter amid all the hammering. (It occurs to me this might seem a bit melodramatic, but like I said, works for me.) This could be applied to anything you're writing, of course, but especially when you're in a time or place that isn't typical. Does that make sense? Does to me, but I find I sometimes say things other people don't really get. Either I'm just weird or everyone else on the planet is slow on the uptake.. It's got to be everyone else.
Don't give up.
It's going to be hard writing a book set in ancient Rome or Victorian London or a tale about trolls who possess mystical powers. Harder than writing a story about a girl in Wisconsin (the last book I wrote). Writing anything is hard, especially seeing it through to the end. Writing something we have to research is going to be harder. So. Don't give in to those urges to forget about this stupid story that you have no idea how to write and you're starting to hate. Again, this could be applied to anything, but there it is.
Maybe this post will change that saying forever! It's not what you know, it's what you want to know. Did I come up with that, or has it been said before? Anyway, I think it's pretty catchy.