I eventually realized a few things I chalk up to being life lessons, and these helped me overcome the seeming limitations that old adage offers.
1.) Life is very much a journey--but one shouldn't forget the destination (seriously, if you were handed a map and had no place you really wanted to get to, how would you know when you'd finally arrived?). For me, my destination is related to improving myself and my knowledge and understanding of people and things. Writers sometimes call this "character evolution." ;-)
2.) We have more things in common than things we don't have in common.
- Let's look at religion (I know--going right for a big one, right? ;-). Most religions believe in a supreme power or force. It may be God. It may be the Goddess. Go ahead, slap a name on the power of your choice and although we may all get mired in the semantics, most religious (and spiritual folks) believe there's something bigger (and better in some ways) than we mere mortal shells.
- Now how about race--we all start by being the product of male and female attributes *ahem*. We all have at least one family member who tries to shape us. Sometimes a different one screws us up (sometimes it's the same one and all a matter of "good intentions"). We all struggle with our own identity and role in society at some point, whether we are black, white, or any other beautiful shade or color.
- Gender? Again, we all at some point struggle with love, acceptance and understanding, regardless of if you're male, female, straight, bi-, homosexual, polyamorous or whatever.
- We all face failure and we all have some taste of success (and if you don't believe me, you aren't opening your eyes to the good things in your life--they DO exist).
- In the end, death is the great equalizer--we all eventually die.
- Most characters are set on a course to evolve or change, whether they're the waitress at the local pub or the werewolf dealing with hunger pangs and government agents.
- Most of them will have to deal with some sort of emotional epiphany (often in order to evolve). It may be realizing they're aiming too high with a crush or that people aren't coping well with their arrogance or self-destructive traits. Who knows? Wait...
I don't care if you're writing werewolves and you have such an allergy you've only ever had lizards for pets! Maybe watching "Wild Kingdom" reruns makes you develop hives--still you must make us connect to your werewolf (or vampire or brain-sucking zombie) through your emotional, physical, mental and spiritual understanding and experience.
"Write what you know" isn't an excuse to limit our scope as writers--it is an invitation to examine ourselves and push the limits of our personal understanding of our world by reflecting it through our characters.
So get writing! ;-)