The Most Common Writing Advice And Why I Disagree

Howdy, howdy!  I hope everyone had a fun and safe Halloween, and got tons of candy (whether you went trick or treating yourself or stole it from your kids/nieces/nephews/siblings/etc.).  Today, I want to ramble a little bit about some common writing advice that I really disagree with.  If you’re a writer, chances are that you’ve heard this statement at least once (and probably way more than that): write what you know.  On the surface, it sounds like common sense.  If you don’t know about something, how can you write about it?  But so many people take it too literally.

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No one wants to read about that, Calvin.  Unless the guy is transported into each show, then maybe.

 On the one hand, some people argue that the saying refers to emotions.  We’ve all experienced love and hate and happiness and anger, so our characters should too.  I agree with that reading of it to a point.  Characters need to express multiple emotions in order to be well-rounded.  My issue with this explanation is that we all experience and express our emotions differently, so our characters should too.  For instance, when I rage, I stew in my own thoughts and plot revenge.  I don’t really know what people who scream and cuss and break things are thinking or feeling.  Does that mean I should only write characters who stew?  No.  It just means that I have to work a little harder to understand and flesh out my characters who are screamers.

On the other hand, there are the people who think writing what they know means writing about things they’ve done or stuff that’s happened to them.  I actually started writing Garnets and Guardians because people kept telling me to write what I know.  I know about spending your childhood in and out of the hospital.  But honestly, that’s boring, so I threw in demons and references to different mythologies and a protagonist with a disease that’s fairly different from my own.  These are things that I knew little to nothing about.  Hell, my protagonist can walk.  I don’t even remember what walking feels like.  Does any of this mean I shouldn’t write about these things?  No.  It simply means I have to study up on them.  Writers enjoy research (supposedly).  It’s half the fun of writing.

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It’s kind of like that.

 I guess if I were to rewrite the quote, I’d probably go with something like “write what excites you.”  Not in a porny way, though.  What I mean is, if you’re super interested in writing about a guy who has to fight ice giants while climbing Mt. Everest, but you have no idea what mountain climbing entails, go out and learn about it.  Sure, once you learn about it, you know it, and thus the original quote applies, but it’s still up to you to study these things in the first place.  If it drives you to research something, it’s worth writing, even if you have zero experience with it.  So, write what you want.  Learn things.  Don’t limit yourself just because you’re inexperienced with something.

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Because Odin. And election day is soon.

 What’re your thoughts on “write what you know?”  Is there any common writing advice that you disagree with?  As always, feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments or on my social media pages!

The Writer’s Struggle: Cultural Appropriation

Hi all!  Today, I want to talk about something that is a really touchy subject for a lot of people: cultural appropriation.  It’s something I’ve seen tossed around a lot lately, and most of the time, I wonder if the people throwing that phrase around actually understand what it implies or if they’re just looking for something to rant about.  Honestly, it usually seems like the latter.

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It’s something that’s seeping into every aspect of life.  It’s gotten to the point where people are afraid to study other cultures because some lunatic might come up screaming “cultural appropriation” at them when really, they’re trying to learn how not to appropriate things.  People are afraid to cosplay characters outside of their race and gender because of the same reason.  It’s ridiculous.  As long as the cosplayer isn’t doing anything derogatory, what’s wrong with an African American Elsa or an Hispanic Tiana or a white Mulan?  There’s nothing wrong with showing your love for a character by cosplaying as them.  And that’s what cosplay is about, love and appreciation of a character, not taking something that doesn’t belong to you.

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For a writer, cultural appropriation is a terrifying thing.  We’re constantly told to write diverse characters, especially when it comes to popular fiction.  That’s like rule number one in writing.  However, I’ve seen a huge increase in authors (mainly white authors) getting called out and put down for writing outside of their own cultures, no matter how well they did their research and how respectful they were.  Basically, it seems like we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Personally, I tend to blend cultures in my longer stories (I’m from the U.S., aka the melting pot, so why wouldn’t I write that way?).  I’m constantly worried someone’s going to accuse me of cultural appropriation, but you know what?  I’m not going to whitewash my stories simply because some overzealous crusaders think a white chick from Texas shouldn’t incorporate Japanese culture, Greek mythology, and all of the other elements included in my stories in her work.  I like a colorful world that expands beyond my own horizons.  Sorry, not sorry.

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I do, however, follow a few rules when writing that I hope will deter the cultural appropriation shriekers if/when I get published.

1. I do my research!  Granted, I use a lot of mythology and, when there’s not a lot to go on, I tweak certain stories to fit my books, but I’m never disrespectful about it.  I know I’ll catch flak from some people for it, but I’m prepared for that.

2. I don’t rely on stereotypes when creating my characters and worlds.  Most stereotypes are quite insulting, a personification of the worst aspects of a person.  If something fits the character, I’ll use it, but it will be tempered by other aspects of human nature to create a fully fleshed out person.  At least that’s my goal.

3. The one don’t on my list is “don’t be a dick.”  I never use anything with the intention of making fun of or insulting a culture.  Research and not relying on stereotypes really helps with that.  Don’t get me wrong, my characters can be incredibly rude to each other, but there’s always a purpose for it in the stories.  It’s never an attack on any culture.

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So, to sum up…  Go learn about that culture you’re interested in (and all of the others)!  Go cosplay as that character you adore!  Go write all the things!  Just don’t be a jerk about it.