Appropriately Well

Write it well.

That’s probably the single greatest admonition that I, as a writer, can take to heart.

Write it well.

I can research. Read. Interview. Have empathy. But can I ever truly write well about an experience I have never had? A life I have never lived?

For starters, I have to admit that as a human being, I am one big bag full of biases. Those biases are onion layered upon me by my heritage, my upbringing, my choices, and by, well, life. My characters are no different. The problem? When I let my biases creep into my characters.

A lot has been said, and doubtlessly will be said, on Cultural Appropriation. I find myself in agreement with Yassmin Abdel-Magied and with Lionel Shriver. Several months ago I read Kaitlyn Greenidge’s New York Times Opinion piece “Who Gets to Write What?”

I’m still clapping.

I want my writing to be Velveteen Rabbit Real. Bechdel–Wallace, Mako Mori, Vito Russo test certified. Things I don’t assign in the first draft: race, color, national origin, sex gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, marital status or parental status. The characters will fill those in for me. And where there is an imbalance, I’ll go back and ask the characters to reconsider.

I’m currently writing a wheelchair user.
I may not get it right the first time. But I will try. Again, and again, and again, until I get it as right as I possibly can. Wendy Lu gave a great primer on writing from the perspective of characters in marginalized populations. There are other resources out there. But the best resource of all? Interviews. And the dogged determination to Write it Well.

Like an example?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks