Write What You Know?

Today, I awoke to posts on Twitter once again arguing against white people writing stories with POC characters. Several POC authors insist that if white people write stories about marginalized cultures, it’s stealing voice from actual POC writers and we should not oppress and suppress POC writers’ stories.

While I agree with the second part of that (oppression and suppression are bad, ‘k?), I feel that in today’s inter-sectional society, NOT writing diverse casts into a book is a travesty.

As a white, cishet Jewish woman of a certain age (can I combine that? Cis, Hetero . . .), I don’t believe I should only be restricted to writing books about cisgender, heterosexual Jewish women of a certain age. “Write what you know” is advice I’ve heard given to writers for as long as I’ve been writing. But if I limited myself to writing only what I know from personal experience, I seriously wouldn’t bother. My life is not that exciting.

Writing in and of itself is about the art of creative exploration. In the real world, my friends circle is wide and diverse. I have friends who fall under the LGBQTIA umbrella. I have friends of color. I have a Trinidadian ex-boyfriend (with whom I am still friends). I have friends with disabilities and medical conditions. I have friends older than I am, and friends who are younger. So why shouldn’t my characters also have diverse friend groups?

Absolutely write your stories – the ones YOU know about. But make sure that if you’re going to include diversity in the cast, that you do it with fidelity. Don’t throw in a stereotype just to have your token “x” character. The most important part of writing, to me, is authenticity. If you are going to put characters in your novel that are something you’re not, whether it’s race, sexuality, gender, etc., make sure you’re doing your due diligence and research to put REAL people on the page.

Write what you know, thoroughly research what you don’t. And if you’re not sure you’re being authentic, that’s what sensitivity readers are for.

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