Write What You (don’t) Know

First, go read this piece by E Catherine Tobler. It’s more important than anything I have to say, and probably better worded. We talked about this particular exchange right after it happened, and I refrained from writing this post, but since she said it, I am going to say some stuff as well.

People say this kind of crap all the time- I don’t see race, gender, whatever– and I get what they are trying to say, even if they are saying it incredibly poorly. They- I assume-slash-hope- are trying to say ‘everyone is equal, so it shouldn’t matter’. That statement is true, but there’s a pretty important qualifier in there- shouldn’t.

(I am stealing her tweet because it is great)

I’ve used this before, but it holds true: walk into a bookstore and grab 100 books at random. How many of them are by something other than straight white males?

Does it matter?

Yes.

Because most of those books will be by straight white males. And, again, I get it- guess which category I fall in? And, man, I hope people buy my book. But that’s just it- it’s the vast majority. Of those 100 books you are metaphorically, I would bet you 80 of them fit that bill.

So by making the statement I don’t see X, well, of course you don’t. You haven’t given yourself the chance to. By literally grabbing blindly, you have ended up with a result that is primarily one thing.

Think of it from the publishers perspective: They publish primarily straight, white dudes. Then most of what sells is straight white dudes. So the publisher, in turn, thinks “Well, consumers want more straight white dudes! They sell!”

Yes, it is that stupid. Yes, that is the way consumerism works. So vote for some diversity with your five/ten/twenty dollars.

As a reader, that’s bad (and dumb) enough. But let’s talk writing for a moment. “Write what you know” is a piece of advice writers just love to dispense (along with ‘write every day’). Apparently, a lot of authors have much more experience with vampires and werewolves and romancing ghosts, based on the books I am seeing out there.

Stephen King said it best, though:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.

That is a great piece of advice. But if, like Mister Weir, you are only reading authors who are just like you, and write essentially the same things as you, what tools do you have?

So maybe start seeing it. Go to a bookstore and seek something else out. Read and write something outside of your wheelhouse- particularly if you’re in a vast majority.

-DESR

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