Writing Diversely

Today I want to talk about something that has been on my mind for a while now. If you’re a part of the bookish community online, specifically on Twitter, you’re bound to have seen the discussion surrounding diversity and #OwnVoices and making space for marginalised writers. I absolutely believe that we should be reading and promoting more books by marginalised writers, as well as seeking out #OwnVoices novels, but has this gone too far in some aspects?

We want to read books written by people about their own stories and identities, but at the same time, it’s important to recognise that that shouldn’t be the only experiences these authors are capable of writing about. If you’re a marginalised author, you shouldn’t be confined to writing about characters of your own specific identity, but at the same time, privileged writers shouldn’t only have to write about characters of their identity. It’s important to respect the spaces of marginalised writers and promote their own stories and books, but at the same time, we need to recognise that authors shouldn’t have to stay in their own lanes if that means not including characters who are of different cultural backgrounds or identities to themselves. And we also shouldn’t demand authors justify themselves and their right to write what they do – many authors may not feel comfortable disclosing such personal details about their lives and it’s not the reader’s place to pry. It’s simply disrespectful and invasive.

I’ve seen marginalised authors being attacked for not writing about their heritage or writing about protagonists who aren’t of the same cultural background as them, and this isn’t okay. It’s appalling to see writers told they can’t write about characters who don’t align with the author’s own identity. At the same time, privileged authors shouldn’t be told they can’t write about characters who are people of colour or in the LGBTQIA+ community or are disabled or neurodivergent, so long as they aren’t taking that space away from other writers or taking the voices from these people. There’s a line between including a diverse array of characters in your work and taking the voices of marginalised writers away from them, and it’s important to recognise that.

So it’s essential to realise that we should stay in our own lanes when writing, but at the same time, it’s also important to recognise that staying in your lane can be the cause of problems. It wouldn’t be my place to write about a person of colour experiencing racism because that’s not something I have dealt with, as a white person. However, as a white writer, it’s still important to have characters of colour in my work, without taking their voices from them. But in doing so, it’s necessary to conduct the right research and do the essential reading to ensure that you’re not perpetuating harmful stereotypes or making these characters unrealistic.

But as a bisexual writer, should I always have to write about protagonists who are bi? What if I want to write about a character who is gay? Are my experiences as a young queer person limited to being bisexual? If writers could only write about characters who are exactly like them, our community would suffer for it. But at the same time, we should also lift the voices of lesser-known, marginalised authors and make space for them and their stories. So writers — stay in your lane. But at the same time… don’t. And the most important thing to do in this community is to listen.

Let's Talk

What do you think about the notion of ‘staying in your lane’? What are your favourite #OwnVoices or diverse novels? Do you think that people should only be able to write about their own identity? I’d be interested to know!

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18 thoughts on “Writing Diversely

  1. I do agree that writing from your own experiences is a much more authentic experience as a reader, even if we cannot relate or share a difference experience to that of the author. But the issue I have with own voices reads is that unless the author is comfortable in sharing their own experiences, it’s intrusive to ask and the line between reader and author is blurred. Authors don’t owe readers their personal experiences and in the case of readers only promoting own authors promotes exclusivity.

    A narrative without diverse characters isn’t representative of our multicultural communities, with publishing cycles, hopefully within the next year we see a wider range of representation.

    • Absolutely! Authors shouldn’t feel the need to have to disclose such personal details about their lives if they don’t feel comfortable doing so, and readers should’t demand that writers have to justify themselves. I do hope every book is one day representative of how diverse and vibrant our world truly is 📚💖

  2. Very interesting topic. I agree with you; I don’t think anyone should feel limited to only writing “what they know” so to speak. But, like you said, it’s important that IF authors decide to include characters with a different background / sexuality than their own, they should do the appropriate research and make sure they’re representing them correctly. Sometimes this seems like an impossible challenge, but it IS possible. An example I’m thinking of right now is Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Albertalli is clearly not a gay teen boy, but she made Simon her main character anyway. If she’d decided to “stay in her own lane” as you say, we would never have been able to enjoy her wonderful book 🙂

    • Exactly! It’s such an important issue, and more people need to recognise that staying in your lane is necessary in some situations, but it’s also just as important to write about others that aren’t just representative of your identity or culture, but are representative of the diversity of the wider community. And I absolutely agree – there are some phenomenal, diverse novels out there, and they shouldn’t be seen as lesser because they aren’t classified as #OwnVoices 💕

  3. I think it is so important to bring diversity to literature and if an author feels strongly about race or LGBTQ rights, for example, they should be able to write about them without the backlash despite not experiencing these things as long as they stay realistic. I think the whole point of writing fiction is that authors are free to write about what they want to write about and the shouldn’t be criticised for it. Great post😊

    • Thank you so much! I completely agree. It’s necessary to have a diverse range of characters in our writing, and we shouldn’t feel limited to our own experiences if we approach writing characters of other identities or cultures with respect 💜

  4. Short but very concise discussion. I agree, there are boundaries between giving representation and taking away people’s voices. People shouldn’t tell other people what they should write about, especially if the author truly cares about the issue despite not from the marginalized group. I mean as a reader, we can find books from marginalized authors and read them over other authors, boost them and share them with the rest of the world. We don’t have to tell authors to stay on their lane to support marginalized group’s voices.

  5. I think people are entitled to write whatever they like and preventing people from writing outside the field of things they know is extremely limiting for everyone, marginalized and not alike. I am Hispanic and so many times people tell me that I should write about the Latin American experience. Or that I should write about immigration in my stories despite the fact that those things have never really affected me personally nor are things I really want to write about. Still I’m Hispanic so I guess that’s what people assume I should write about because that’s what’s “in my lane”. And that’s wrong and it’s it’s stupid. Everyone should have the freedom to write about whatever topics they want, regardless of whether they had experienced it, so long as they don’t offend others while doing so and do enough research to do it right and represent them correctly. I think the main issue is that sometimes people don’t research and so that reflects badly on all the authors ‘driving away from their lanes’. So long as it’s realistic I think they should write whatever they please without backlash.

  6. This is a question I’m still debating with myself, honestly. I am straight myself, but I have a character in mind that I want to write who is bi. But I haven’t lived that life. I haven’t had to deal with the struggles. So I’m worried I’ll do it wrong. And I don’t want to do that. So yeah… I am still undecided on this.

  7. Thanks Sarah for writing such a positive post that looks at multiple angles to this issue. I’m struggling with the problem in my own writing at the moment, especially as an avid reader of Own Voices writing and advocate for lifting up those narratives. I had a plan for my characters, but when I developed them more and got to know them better, I discovered my protagonist made more sense as a gay character. I’m conflicted between wanting to follow my gut and get my writing friends to monitor what I’m writing for sensitivity and accuracy, and wanting to stay in my lane at the cost of losing a character I’ve fallen in love with.

    • Thanks so much for reading my post! I definitely understand your concern, but I think as long as you ensure you’re writing about this character as accurately as you can while still being sensitive about it, you should keep this character you’ve fallen in love with. Happy writing! 💕

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