• Ian Kirkpatrick

Can I Write About Something I'm Not?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Scarlett Johannson being embarrassed because, as an actress, she didn’t literally live the experience she was planned to portray in a movie. An actress pretending to be something that she’s not. Crazy that. Following that, and just as ridiculous, people criticized Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for being cast as an amputee when he’s not really an amputee. Hollywood is being plagued by these outrage mobs that make up zero percent of the population (if we were going to round their actual number).

It’s not just Hollywood that’s taken this hit though. Every creative outlet I’ve paid any attention to I’ve seen this same thing surface. This idea that you can’t write or think about something that you haven’t personally experienced. This harassment usually comes from people who aren’t creative themselves, but somehow feel like they have authority over those who are.

Actors, visual and comic artists, and authors are all under fire from this loud mini-mob that demand you first represent them, but in the same breath say you better not write about a character that hasn’t lived the daily experience of. This is a really confusing idea on so many levels.

In some ways, it can be taken that these people are telling others not to write, period -- but in particular, telling straight, white people note to write because they demand “representation” then say you’re unqualified to write a certain type of character.

But straight white people aren’t the only ones that suffer from this type of environment. Everyone is set to become victim to censorship and the mob if you don’t write a character how they want it written. In the past, most people would say, “If you want to see something, then you create it.” But somehow, somewhere along the lines, content viewers got this pig-headed idea that their opinions matter?

I’m sure this wasn’t the first time it ever happened, but the first, recent major push I saw for uninvolved people to control a work of art was the fandom for MTV’s Teen Wolf. They seemed to think harassing the series creator with threats and “you better!!”s was all they needed in order to control what other people wrote.

I have creative friends who have expressed fear over writing the story they want because “What if the sensitivity readers” don’t like it? What if they’re accused of cultural appropriation for taking old mythology and reworking it for their story? It’s not like hundreds (or more) of authors have done the same thing in the past. So then this gets back to that idea that if you haven’t lived the experience, then you’re not allowed to write about it and … it is the most confusing idea I have ever seen for creators of any kind.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never lived on a spaceship. I wasn’t alive in the 1800s (or any time period before now). I’m not the woman at the grocery store. I don’t know her life. I don’t know the life of the shoe seller at the mall. I haven’t lived the life of a captain. The only experiences I’ve ever had are limited, but if I’m only allowed to write about things I’ve done and experienced, then I’ll only ever be writing about myself.

If you say, “You can’t write about black people because you’re not black,” how is that any different than saying, “You can’t write about women, because you’re a man?” I guess romance novels will have to all be either //FF or //MM because the author can’t possibly write something they’re not.

I guess we must assume that the author of Spiderman was actually bit by a radioactive spider at some point in his life -- because you’re not allowed to create something that you’re not.

And this gets to the point of ridiculousness when you consider, everyone is literally one thing. One person. One life. A man can write himself into a novel because he’s following the rules and writing “what he’s experienced,” but… who will that man talk to? Anyone the author creates will surely peek outside of the chest of “your lived experiences.”

Creativity is not meant to only be used with what you’ve experienced. It’s not meant to hold you back and make you censor yourself. The creative mind works so we can empathize, innovate, understand, and do something new and the demands for who and what you’re allowed to write are what will kill creativity and good storytelling.

The next time you sit down to write a story, don’t worry so much about what other people want, if they’ll judge you, if you’re appropriating (to appropriate is to appreciate), or anything else. Just focus on telling the story you care about. You’ll attract the readers by weaving thoughtful, interesting stories together. More importantly, you’ll share your world with other people.

At the end of the day, even Shakespeare has haters. So don’t let the naysayers control you. Find inspiration anywhere, write what you want, and ignore the mobs that will always seek to destroy what they’re angry they cannot create on their own.

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© 2019 by Ian Kirkpatrick