This was going to be a completely different post, but as I went searching for the original quote, I stumbled across this one:
“A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.”
― William Faulkner
If I could borrow Stephen King's toolbox analogy (for those of you going "huh?!" go read On Writing), I'd say experience, observation and imagination make up three hammers in our tool kit. Why hammers?
Well... I'm a firm believer in the following: If the thing you're fixing isn't working, get a bigger hammer.
On the other hand, I also believe that a hammer's a hammer. If I keep knocking away, I will achieve what I want, regardless of the hammer I used.
It's sort of like that when we write.
Sometimes, experience is exactly what we need. That's probably what they meant with "Write what you know". I think we writers are ingenious enough to fake it by using a mixture of observation and imagination. Think of all of the crime writers out there? Are all of them coroners or cops? No? There you go then.
Sometimes imagination in the right amounts would be the perfect tool for the job. I'm thinking of genres like fantasy and sci fi. Still, powers of observation and/or experience can lower the need for an imagination in hyper drive. For example, using observation of people around you to make the story more character driven...
Observation lacking? If you read or write a lot, you can use that experience to fill the gaps. You can even *shiver* stick to writing about what you know so that you don't have to learn anything new. Or you can use your imagination. Not everyone has two parent families (in fact these are becoming more and more rare), but writers can use what they've read to imagine what it's like. Or... they can avoid writing about two parent families.
All this makes me really happy, because I'm young and lack a lot of life experience. It really doesn't matter. I can observe and imagine. Just so, some of you might have felt constrained because you're unobservant. So what? Use what you have and make the most of it. That's why you have it, after all.
Do you have all three the hammers? Or do you compensate with the one or two that you do have? Which ones do you have and how do you use them in your genre?