Happy Monday, writers!
We might no longer be doing the Doing Diversity in Writing podcast, but that doesn’t make the episodes we produced any less relevant. If you haven’t listened to the three seasons we put out yet, here’s your chance.
The full show notes and list of resources mentioned in the episode I’m sharing today can be found below.
In this episode of Doing Diversity in Writing, we—Bethany and I—talk about two very common pitfalls when representing diverse characters: essentialism and affirmative myopia.
More specifically, we talk about:
- what essentialism is and what makes it problematic
- the fact that a lot of stereotypes that persist today are based on pseudo-scientific practices we don’t consider science anymore
- what affirmative myopia is and why we need to avoid it
- how the movies Stonewall (2015) and Carol (2015) both fell into the affirmative myopia trap
- why bringing down the dominant group upholds the structures we are trying to overthrow
Some quotes from this week’s episode:
From Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin: “Essentialism is the assumption that groups, categories or classes of objects have one or several
defining features exclusive to all members of that category. Some studies of race or gender, for
instance, assume the presence of essential characteristics distinguishing one race from another
or the feminine from the masculine.”
“If we believe people are determined by their biological make-up, we’re basically saying that the way the world functions and our positions and situations within that world can’t really be changed. If existing power relations are in place because there is some inherent logic in our DNA that defines our place and role within society, how do you challenge the status quo?”
“Those essentialised stereotypes, which are often based on science we no longer consider real science, are still running rampant. We still have so many assumptions about the ‘other’ – those with different identity markers – floating around in our collective unconsciousness.”
“This doesn’t mean we can’t have late black people, angry black women, violent Muslims, perfectly styled gay guys and butch lesbians in our work. But, whenever we write a character, we should make sure we didn’t give them these characteristics just because they are gay, lesbian, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Muslim, young, old, poor, rich, and so on. We need to give them solid reasons and explainable circumstances for why they are being this way or why they are acting that way, one that goes beyond mere biology.”
“If we, in our attempts to elevate those voices by representing them in better ways, fall into the affirmative myopia trap by, for example, negatively depicting those who’ve always been in power, we’re perpetuating the same structures that created that status quo in the first place. We lift one group by bringing another down.”
And here are the (re)sources we mentioned on the show:
- Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0415661919
- “Gay rights activists give their verdict on Stonewall: ‘This film is no credit to the history it purports to portray.’”: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/sep/25/stonewall-film-gay-rights-activists-give-their-verdict
You can find this week’s bonus material, The How to Avoid Essentialism and Affirmative Myopia Checklist, in our Diversity in Writing Toolkit, which you can download here.
A new episode of our Diving into Writing podcast just came out yesterday, and you can listen to it here or wherever you listen to your favourite podcasts.
Being the animal lovers we are, it was a matter of time before Lucinda and I ended up talking about animals and how we (don’t) write them into our stories.
Here’s what came up during the episode:
- Because horrid things tend to happen to the animals in the novels Lucinda reads, she doesn’t want to make herself include animals in her own story-telling
- When I just started writing, I always forgot to include animals into the story (unless they were relevant to the plot). Now, I always do but only in a way that fits the worlds she’s building.
- Lucinda and I realising that our shared love for animals leads Lucinda to NOT wanting to write about them and me to DEFINITELY wanting to write about them
- Lucinda and I discuss some ways animals can be included into stories without them having to be integral to the plot and in ways that subtly demonstrate your values around animals
This blogpost was originally published as a guest post about the second volume of my 365 Days of Gratitude Journal for What Is This Book About?
Last year, the people behind the What Is This Book About website asked me: ‘Do you find journals help people in their daily life?’ In a guest post I can no longer locate on their website (if you find it, please give a shout!), I set out to answer their question.
Journaling is the key to transformation
I believe journaling can be utterly transformative, depending on the shape our journaling practices take.
It’s one thing to just write down our daily thoughts, worries, or gratitudes—and that’s already a helpful thing in itself. Picking up those daily thoughts, worries, or gratitudes once in a while to reflect on what we’ve written down earlier, that’s when journaling has the potential to change lives.
Taking the time to ponder what those entries are telling us is how we figure out not just patterns of behaviour but also why certain patterns keep showing up. It allows us to get to the bottom of what’s going on in our lives, which is where we need to arrive at if we want real change to occur.
And a lot of us don’t. Not really. That’s why so many of us feel reluctant to give it a real try, to fully commit to the practice. It’s why I was anti journaling for years before I finally gave it an honest go.
Let me tell you the story of how I got to that point. If you own a copy of my 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner, you’ve heard this one before.
When I wrote the introduction to that journal, which was the first journal I ever published, I was sitting at my desk in my sea-view apartment on the coast of Cyprus, a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. In the meantime, I’ve moved to a bigger apartment, and I’m writing these words sitting on my new veranda, looking at the hills that surround that same coastal village.
Every day, I get to do what I love—I write, and, as an editor and writing coach, I help other writers do the same. I have the most supportive partner and a community that believes in me a hundred per cent. To top it off, I’ve published twenty books in six languages since I started journaling.
You guessed it right: my life wasn’t always like this. In fact, five years ago, it looked nothing like it.
About a decade ago, when I first began to realise something wasn’t quite right about the way I was living my life, I took up yoga, hoping it would return me to myself enough to figure out what was wrong and how to change it.
With every new teacher I encountered, the same questions came up: How was my meditation practice? My breathing? Did I do any journaling? No. No, I did not. No meditation, no journaling, and, let’s face it, I wasn’t breathing properly either.
I’ve embraced many yogic principles since I started doing yoga, but anything to do with sitting still, being mindful, and allowing thoughts to surface? That I avoided at all costs.
There’s always a reason why we avoid things, and my reason was that I was afraid to uncover the truth about why I wasn’t happy. With myself, my day job, my relationship at the time, my writing, how my freelance business was doing.
I kept telling myself I was content, and that being content was good enough. It took me years to figure out I wasn’t even that: I was uncomfortably numb. I was at a The National concert with a friend in 2017 when I suddenly felt so alive, listening to one of my favourite bands while being surrounded by such an energetic crowd, it hit me how dead inside I felt on other days.
That concert became my turning point. I bought a brand-new journal and started writing. I had journaled before in my life, years ago, and it had always felt like such a useless exercise. What’s the point of putting pen to paper if it doesn’t change anything?
They say writing it down—like saying it aloud—makes it real, but we underestimate how easy it is to forget what we’ve spelled out. Especially when there’s something at stake, like us being afraid to leave our uncomfortable comfort zones or face some cringeworthy truths about ourselves.
Having become aware that just writing my worries down wasn’t going to help me—it hadn’t before—I decided to free write every morning, reflect on what came up, and then write about that.
And so I did. Within the next twelve months, I quit my day job, ended my relationship, and moved countries to focus on my writing, editing, and coaching business and practice.
Now, I’m not saying I wouldn’t have gotten to this point without my journaling, but I know one thing to be true: if I hadn’t bought that notebook the day after seeing The National and started journaling like I meant it, I wouldn’t have gotten where I am now this fast.
So yes, I absolutely think journals can help people in their daily lives, because there’s nowhere for the truth to hide once we stop running from ourselves and start reflecting on what’s going on. That’s why all my journals, whether they’re for writing or gratitude, come with a reflection section. It’s the key to true transformation, I know that now.