I didn't go to my high school graduation. I didn't go to Prom or attend any high school parties. Much to my dismay (I love high school football), I didn't even attend any football games. I'm behind the curve in nearly everything, from romance to academia. I've had one sort of boyfriend, never been kissed, and never been on a real date. I haven't had a close-knit group of girl friends, gone on a road trip just for the heck of it, or lost someone I love to death. I'm now in college and I still live at home instead of a dorm or apartment. I'll most likely never be in a sorority and I've never gone to a college party.
There's a lot I haven't done. Cornerstone experiences that have, some way or another, passed me by. Years ago, this used to bother me. How was I supposed to write a believable couple, a girl going off to college, or a story of grief? It bothered me that there were so many things, so many very normal things that I hadn't done, that for this reason seemed to be "off-limits" for my writing.
And then something changed and I wish I could tell you what it was, but I honestly don't know. Maybe it was that I moved (and you guys, omg the move was a big deal) and was suddenly writing so much more (hello, I had no friends). Maybe it was that I'd grown up a bit and had more experiences (though they certainly weren't the typical ones). Maybe - and I really like this theory - I'd just gone through so much crap that writing about things I'd personally experienced seemed boring. And beyond boring, if you looked deeper there were experiences I couldn't write about yet, ones I had no words for and ones I still can't find the write words for.
I wanted to write stories. Make stuff up. I wanted to experience the lives of other people, even if those people were fictional, and especially if their stories weren't the same as mine. And at the same time I wanted to live my own life, have the experiences I was ready for and wanted to have. I didn't want to have a boyfriend or hang out with people I didn't care for purely for research purposes. Those are the wrong reasons.
So I wrote about things I had no idea about. A girl who ran away from home. An alcoholic mother and the daughter dealing with her. Substantial, requited romantic relationships. I wrote, and still do write, about whatever the heck I feel like telling a story about. I don't query all of it, I don't even edit or keep all of it. It's definitely not all super great stuff.
But I don't hold back. I write about things regardless of the experience I have with them. I step into the character's shoes and write their story knowing that it's not my own, knowing that the experiences and life and emotions this fictional person has are -- while very much a part of me -- not my own.
What we need more than experience, I think, is empathy, imagination, and passion. If you don't care about your character's story, if you think romance is silly and people should wait until they're 25 to date because they're far too immature before that time, then yeah, maybe a teenage love story isn't what you should be focusing on. If, on the other hand (and looking at a different topic), the complex emotions surrounding adoption fascinate you even though you're a biological only child who isn't planning to adopt, then by all means write that story. It's what you care about. It's the story you can write best.
I firmly believe, as simplistic as it is, that fiction is about making stuff up. And if you make stuff up that resonates with people even though it's nowhere close to your own life? Kudos. (And if you don't? Try again. Again. A dozen times, a hundred times, until something clicks.)