In a recent writers’ group meeting, we discussed writing fiction and the value (or otherwise) of the writing dictum: “write what you know”.
A new member, who’s a new author, posed a question. She’s writing an American Civil War novel, inspired by Gone With The Wind… and a family diary.
“Does that mean,” she asked, “that since I didn’t live in those times, and have no ancestors who were enslaved, I can’t write my novel?”
It’s an excellent question. Terms like “cultural appropriation” make novelists nervous. Then, whether they’re aware of it or not, they censor their creativity. When they get an idea for a novel, or a fictional character, they censor themselves in case someone, somewhere, objects.
Fiction writing: should you only write what you know?
It turned out that our new group member was writing what she knew. She’s basing her novel on the diary of a woman who’s an ancestor, and did live through the American Civil War.
However, the fact that she asked the question and was obviously concerned chilled me.
Do we censor ourselves when we write fiction?
Do you censor your imagination?
Our discussions became heated. Some of our group staunchly maintained that they’d stop writing if they were forced to censor themselves.
Others thought that these authors were overly dramatic. One author said: no one asked writers to censor their imagination.
I looked around online, and found an interesting article, Whose life is it anyway? Novelists have their say on cultural appropriation:
“Of course fiction writers can write whatever they want, no matter their backgrounds… But here’s the thing: you have to try to do it well.”
I think that’s the key: trying to do it well.
Our new author and friend doesn’t have anything to worry about.
Please comment—if you’re a writer, do you censor yourself?
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