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How to write about your own culture

#Weneeddiversebooks and more #ownvoices

So you’re thinking – hey, I don’t see a story out there that represents my culture or my identity so you know what I’m going to do – I’m going to write the book myself! Whether it’s gender or heritage or history – there are so many super amazing stories and different experiences that likely don’t have the full representation that they deserve.

So what advice would I give to an aspiring #ownvoices writer who wants to write about their culture/experiences?

Do it for the RIGHT REASONS

Spoiler alert people! Writing a book is really really really HARD WORK! Like it will probably take over your life and you can’t eat or sleep or have a normal conversation without loved ones thinking you’re on a different planet (because in your mind you are!) So if you’re thinking of writing a book – make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and that’s because you WANT TO write a book.

If on the other hand, your primary motivation for writing a book is for representation and championing #ownvoices and diversity then you can do that in lots of other ways – like getting into publishing or blogging or using social media and promoting other voices – and you’ll likely be way more effective in those channels and also save your sanity!

Write A LOT 

I’ve heard this a bit from younger writers, they find it hard to express themselves on paper. Because writing is super personal and it’s like you’re putting all of your innermost thoughts to be judged and scrutinised by OTHER PEOPLE. *GASP*

So here’s my thinking, stay calm and recognise that yeah it’s super scary but you don’t have to jump into all of that straightaway. Writing is a way of communicating, it’s a tool we can  use to help us parse our own thoughts and understand our emotions for ourselves before we even attempt to put ANY of it out there for other people to see! So if you want to write a book, you have to first get into the practice of just writing. Write down observations, emotional responses, write bad poetry, write rambling drivel. That’s why all writers have notebooks – by writing A LOT of horrible words, we learn to find the good words that reveal the heart of the stories that we want to tell.

Story comes first 

The most important thing about your work is your story. That means the characters, setting, plot etc. So essentially, don’t sacrifice ‘story’ for diversity, representation, fairness or anything else. If you have a group of friends from 5 different cultures because ‘representation’ – but then you realise that 2 of those characters are useless and don’t do anything in the story – you will probably have to sacrifice them to the writing gods. Story comes first and foremost.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself 

Following on from my point above, you will probably not land the perfect representative story and achieve all of the things you want to achieve in your first work – and that’s okay! You are telling one story in a web of many many others – so don’t ever feel like you have to do everything! And especially important, don’t beat yourself up. There might be something you’re really critical of other writers doing, but then you very well might find yourself doing the same thing (remember point 1: writing is HARD). But that’s okay. Be kind to yourself and you can always try again next time and do better.

Don’t be scared to get things wrong

For #ownvoices writers, there might be a lot of pressure to be the ‘representative’ of a culture, a community, an identity or experience – but that doesn’t mean you will – nor should you – know EVERYTHING about it. Accuracy in representation is important but in fiction, you will find that certain things have to be assumed/imagined/fudged. And that’s okay, just be honest about it. The thing to remember is that as an #ownvoices writer you are already bringing a different perspective, a different outlook – a different voice – to the table, and that’s way, way more valuable than 100% factual accuracy.

Embrace the experience

And don’t get discouraged. Writing is hard, life can be hard, the system can be HARD – and the only thing you can do is keep trying. I believe in you – and most of all, I want to make sure you enjoy yourself in the process.

Happy writing!!

One Comment

  1. Cal B Cal B

    Wonderful advice.

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