“Write what you know” can only get you so far.
What if you want to write something you don’t know that much about?
One word: research.
Thought you were done with that when you got out of school? No such luck, my friend.
When you write, you want to make the reader/audience feel like you know what you’re talking about, or least give the impression you do. Just making stuff up or copying something used in an older movie is the lazy approach.
This isn’t saying you need a character spouting a master’s thesis on the subject, but tossing a few facts or proper terms here and there can really go a long way towards establishing credibility.
If you’re still in the outline phase, this is prime researching time. As you’re developing your story, try to find out something you can use that would make it that much more believable. While this practice definitely applies to anything history-based, it also works with stories set in the present.
Say you’re working on a medical drama. Those characters should be able to immediately identify a certain condition, the cause (if necessary) and what the treatment is. Spending a few minutes finding this information out will make that possible. You think the writers of HOUSE just made stuff up? Nope. The medical problem in each episode was based on facts.
Researching could also prove to be a key part of moving your story forward. Maybe a character finds something out or reveals something that suddenly changes the direction things are going.
Writing about a profession you know nothing about? Talk to someone who actually does that for a living. How would they handle this type of situation? When someone finds out you’re writing a story and want their input, they’re usually pretty enthusiastic about helping you.
Spending some time finding stuff out can even pay off when you least expect it, or aren’t expecting it all. Even if you don’t use it this time, there’s a good chance it could come in handy somewhere down the line.
This way you can solve that particular problem faster, thereby making yourself look that much more like a writing genius, impressing all who sample your craft.
And isn’t that what it’s really all about?