If authors wrote books solely on personal experience, knowledge and understanding, the fictional world would be pretty stinking boring. *YAWN* Think about it! Where would all the fairies, vampires, dragons and elves be? We all need to use a little imagination when writing.
Then, of course, there’s the issue of trying to stay true to history, folklore or tradition. I find it highly unlikely that every author who has written about vampires, werewolves or shape shifters knew EVERYTHING about these mythical creatures before they started writing about them. They probably had to do some research. And what about writers that want a novel that takes place outside of their personally travelled geographical location? There’s a lot you can accomplish with Google maps and tourist catalogs. Why should an author be limited to just their small corner of the world? IMO, they shouldn’t!
But there are some topic matters that I do believe are best written by those that have personal experience in them. One example: domestic violence. I can almost always tell if a person has been affected by domestic violence by the way they write about it. It’s a very sensitive subject matter, and it’s one that you simply don’t understand if you’ve never been there or been affected by it. It’s very easy to make some very stereotypical judgments about the abuser or the victim when you’ve never had either in your personal life.
Does that mean that I think that others shouldn’t try to write about domestic violence? Not necessarily. If they can do so with compassion and empathy, I say go for it! I’m not so certain I would delve so deeply in the mentality of either the victim or the abuser unless you do some extensive studying, but research kind of goes along hand in hand with writing about topics you don’t have personal experience about. It’s just like writing about a serial killer; it’s highly unlikely that any of the authors that have written about serial killers have ever BEEN serial killers. They’ve probably done a lot of research on the thinking, mentality and mannerisms of a serial killer, though. They may have even studied themselves to the brink of insanity just so they could get inside their killer’s head.
So write what you know? No. Write what you’re willing to understand and comprehend to its fullest capacity? YES!