You may have heard the writing advice ‘write what you know’, and you may have heard arguments for and against that idea. But, perhaps, we need to look at the advice with a more inclusive eye.
Most writers are at least 18 years old before they fully start ‘working’ at writing. They may have dabbled with it before then, but as they grew to adulthood, they began to realize that it was something that was a part of them, and that they wanted to be an active part of their lives. That being the case, they have had 18 years (or more) of experiences in their lives. Of course, not all are remembered, but many are.
This doesn’t mean just the experiences they personally had, but also the ones they witnessed. Why is this important? Those experiences can provide fodder for the writer’s story. Some experiences can be plucked from our history ‘as is’ and presented as belonging to a character. Some will require tweaking to make them fit into our story scenario. Either way, they can provide nuance to a character, and make them a little more real. This doesn’t mean write about yourself or pretend the character is you. The character just happens to have an experience that you’ve had, making it easier to describe how the events play out and what the character feels before, during and after it happens.
Many people have been in a romantic relationship, and many have broken up with someone – or been broken up with by another person. That helps give the writer perspective on the deep feelings and thoughts a person has at a time like that. It wasn’t the same for every single couple who broke up, so it shouldn’t be the same every single time you write it in a story.
Similarly, we can get ideas for creative events to include in stories. A writer can always use activities in their stories that every other writer also uses, but why? If none of us are living exactly the same life as the billions of other people on this planet, then why should our characters?
Are you really into video games, but you also are an avid gardener? Use that. It can give your character more depth.
Did you once have a mouse die in the wall of your home, and the smell drove you nuts for over a week until the problem could be found and resolved? Use that.
As a child, did you or your brother or sister decide to cut your own hair, to less than spectacular results? How did the adults/your parents react?
Did you see someone fall asleep in class and witness the embarrassment when the teacher awoke them?
Did you try to fly home for Thanksgiving one year, but end up spending the entire holiday stuck in the airport without ever making it home? Did you go on a long-planned trip to Disney World only to be sick the entire time and unable to enjoy it? Did your weekend of planned sun and fun at the beach involve gray skies, high surf and a steady rain?
Don’t know much about 6-year-old kids? Look around you and find some to observe (not in a creepy way – we don’t want to get you arrested). How do they talk – how well has their vocabulary developed? How do they move – what are they physically able/unable to do at that age? How do they think/perceive – do they ask questions when told to do something, though you think the instructions were clear? If you’re, say, at a park, and there are parents with those kids, talk to them and ask them questions. Most parents enjoy talking about (or venting about) their kids. Reading about 6-year-olds online as research can be useful, but even better is to actually see examples in person. Many times research gives you generalities about things, not the specific details you might want.
Look at your past for stories or incidents that happened to you or someone else. Then start looking around you at other people. Notice physical traits (hairstyle, a limp, a mole on their cheek, their build), notice what they do and how they behave, study the way they move or talk, watch the choices they make. There are people everywhere – on the street, in stores, in the car next to us on the road, on the train, at school, at work, sitting in the doctor’s waiting area, in elevators. If the opportunity presents itself, maybe strike up a short conversation and learn a little more about them, or what you are seeing them do (maybe a teenage girl is sitting in the doctor’s waiting area and knitting – why?).
Depending on what you write, not all of it will be of use to you as source material, but you might find unexpected nuggets of gold if you keep sifting. Just because you aren’t sitting at your computer/desk doesn’t mean you can’t work on your writing.