Just read an excellent blog post by author Hugh Ashton about writing outside of your comfort zone. Ashton was born in the UK and later moved to Japan, where he now lives. He talks in his post about not being sure of where to set his novels -- as an expat, he's no longer familiar with contemporary British life, and he worries that setting all his books in Japan will have limited appeal to international audiences. His solution? He writes about the past, namely London in the late 19th century, when Sherlock Holmes was "alive."
To me, Ashton replaces one uncertainty with another -- I'm not comfortable writing about the past because it requires so much fact checking! But this obviously works for him. My current dilemma has to do with a murder mystery novel I'm working on. The main character is paraplegic, and I'm struggling with making her believable. I have no experience (thankfully) of spinal cord injuries, and while I know writing is about using your imagination, it's also about putting yourself in the character's shoes. I have been watching videos and reading blogs written by people with disabilities, but that has only made me more aware of how little I know! Nevertheless, I will keep plugging away. I like my main character, and I want her to get out there in the public!
I think it's extremely important for writers to move outside their comfort zones, not just to improve writing skills but to also help broaden their horizons, and their readers' horizons. Hopefully, by writing about what we DON'T know, we can bring a new perspective to the table, a new way of thinking about things. What do you think? Is it better to write what you know and not risk offending anyone with a lack of knowledge?
P.S. For more information about what it's like living with SCI (Spinal Cord Injuries), read the excellent blog http://tingletetra.blogspot.co.uk/