“Guess who I’m with at the Gala tonight.” Bella says to the front camera of her phone before shifting it to her right until the person’s face was shown on the screen. “Say hi. It’s for the vlog.” She added.
I love your thoughtful and measured response to that ask about what is ok and not ok to write about, but all I could think about was that quote by Joe Haldeman: "Bad books on writing tell you to "WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW," a solemn and totally false adage that is the reason there exist so many mediocre novels about English professors contemplating adultery."
I thought about that quote. I also thought that somewhere, I have read a wonderful essay about just the point I tried to make in my response– but I can’t remember enough of it to google it. That was the overarching point, thought– you can tell a story CONTAINING anything you want, but to presume to tell a story ABOUT that thing, as if an authority on the subject, is presumptive. It is not for me to write The Great American Novel About Being [X Marginalized Identity] when I am not [X]. But I can sure write The Great American Novel In Which [X Marginalized Identity] Exists And Does Stuff, regardless of who I am, if I do my research and, crucially, believe in my subject.
But to get back to the meat of that quote– the “write what you know” adage is a terrible one from the usual angle. You can’t take it literally.
You have to know things to be true before you can tell them as stories, that is true. You have to work out the internal logic and believe in them, even if only from a sidelong angle, to get a really effective story.
But that doesn’t mean you can only write about things that you specifically are.
It means you’ll tell a really shitty story, though, if your characters aren’t fully human to you.
There’s not really a formula you can employ. It does make it difficult to Discourse about. It’s very hard to define. But the line does exist and is describable. And I’m sure that damn essay I read did a better job of it, I just literally don’t remember a single coherent phrase from it, don’t remember where I read it, don’t remember what it was called or specifically what it was about. It’s just the point of it that’s stuck with me.