It is equally excellent and inconclusive to say that one must write from experience; to our supposititious aspirant such a declaration might savour of mockery. What kind of experience is intended, and where does it begin and end? Experience is never limited and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web, of the finest silken threads, suspended in the chamber of consciousness and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue.
What James brings to the table here is quite philosophical. If we are constantly experiencing, then there should truly be no end to what we have experienced. Not only can we take from what we have honestly gone through in life, but we can take advantage of our endless imagination. Fiction isn’t necessarily embellishing the truth, it can be entirely produced in one’s imagination. Writers need not rely on first hand experiences to construct a story, but may begin from nothing and create something artificial, yet seemingly real to the readers.
Henry James, “The Art of Fiction”. <public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/artfiction.html> Longman’s Magazine 4, September 1884