It was my birthday this week, and my sister gave me a family picture in a frame decorated with the following quote:
"Home is where your story begins." -- Annie Danielson
I immediately thought, ain't that the truth -- both in terms of my own life story, and the stories I choose to tell as an author.
That's why, when I hear "write what you know," I think it should always continue to include "emotionally." I mean, I never lived in the middle ages, so if I were to take "write what you know" literally, I wouldn't be writing romances set in medieval England, because I wasn't there. (Although I've certainly done plenty of research!)
But there are things I've experienced emotionally that often make their way into my books. For instance, we moved around a few times when I was younger, including just before I entered high school -- not an easy time for such a change. I don't think it's any coincidence that I tend to write stories of the "stranger rode into town" type. Emotionally, I understand how it feels to be an outsider, to want to fit in, even if you tell yourself it's not necessary.
I also learned very early on that home is not so much a physical place as an emotional one, a place where, whatever the surroundings, you feel loved and accepted, secure and happy. My main characters often crave such a state, and it's the relationship that develops during the book that ultimately provides it for the character who lacks it.
I also got a birthday card from a friend that said "Can't laugh too hard, too much, or too often." I think those are very fine words to live by!