"Write what you know."
How long has that phrase been going around? Forever? Close enough, right?
Some people say that's bad advice, but writing about things you know nothing about is a sure way to end up with bad writing. For instance, it's clear that George R. R. Martin writes about a lot of stuff he has no clue about, which is fine for other people that have no clue about it, but, when you get to someone who does have a clue, the writing comes off as, well, stupid. Like the whole ravens as couriers thing. That's just dumb. Clearly, his thought process was, "That would be cool," but ravens aren't that kind of bird. They don't work like homing pigeons. And, sure, you can say, "Well, in his world they are that kind of bird," which is fine, but, then, why call them "ravens"? [And, yeah, I'm picking on Martin because he can take it (he's mega-rich), but I strongly object to doing something in your writing just because it's cool if it's also stupid and/or wrong (like the Emperor going down into the arena at the end of Gladiator: That was stupid and historically inaccurate).]
My advice is to always write what you know, if for nothing else, so that you don't come off looking stupid.
Here's the good news, though, it's easier, right now, to be a writer than ever before in history. Even just 20 years ago, doing the research you would need to do to write anything could be a laborious and time consuming prospect, not to mention that, in some cases, travel might be required. I mean, if you want the setting of your story to be Paris or Egypt, it might be a good thing to know about those places, right? That's part of why authors so desperately needed advances. Sometimes, delivering the product required money to do the research. But not anymore...
Today... well, today, you can know anything. Seriously. But, wait! There's more! Today, you can know anything without ever leaving your home! How amazing is that? And that... That was the whole point of my "a-to-z" theme this year.
If you want your protagonist in your shiny, new novel to be a brain surgeon, you can do that. You can find out everything you need to know about it without having to actually find a brain surgeon to tell you. If you want your main character to work for the CIA, you can do that, too. If your character discovers ancient ruins, you can have all the info at hand that you need to present that in a realistic way. Even if it's unidentified bones. If you're writing sci-fi, you have, at the touch of your fingers, all of the latest information from genetic engineering to warp technology. Or, if you're writing historical fiction and you want to have knights in shining armor, you'll know not to set it during the First Crusade or include King Arthur.
Just as a personal example, when I was writing The House on the Corner, I frequently used Google Earth to cruise around Shreveport to remind myself of details about locations that I needed for the story, even things that didn't necessarily get stated explicitly in the book (like the name of the diner they have breakfast at). You can make any place as real as being there that way. It's really rather amazing.
Being a writer has never (NEVER) been easier.
Not only is virtually any piece of information you might need to know a few key strokes away, but there is no longer the need to wait at the gates of the Giants anymore. Those giants aren't so big after all. In fact, the publishing industry is more akin to the wizard of Oz. No, not the book, the dude. That dude behind the curtain that's acting all scary and powerful, but, you know, he's just a dude, and the thing that's been between you and publishing your book is just a curtain.
It's just a curtain! There's no magic. No gate keeper. No special power or insight. All you have to do is pull back the curtain and step through. Wait, maybe, that is magic!
It's the magic of the Internet.
If you're writing fiction, there are no more excuses. You can do it all. Wait, let me say that again. You can do it all. Oh, wait, one more time. You can do it all. You can do it all! (yeah, so I lied; that was twice)
Really, the only thing standing between you and being a writer is, well, yourself. Which is not to say that you can just throw some crap onto some paper and be done with it (although there are certainly plenty of people that do that), but, if you work at it, if you practice, if you read, if you read a lot, and you practice some more, writing that is, if you practice writing, and you practice writing a lot, you can be a writer. All of the information you could ever need is at your disposal, be it about monsters or being the voice of god.
So... just... get out there and do it. Work on it. Be it.
[This post has been brought to you by Alex Cavanaugh's IWSG.]