This blog was featured on 09/18/2019
Am I Allowed to Write That?
Written by
She Writes
September 2019
Written by
She Writes
September 2019

She Writes University 2019 is officially off the ground! We are so excited to welcome award-winning, bestselling authors to our lineup of instructors for these exclusive courses on writing and building your publishing career. If you haven't signed up yet, make sure you enroll today! These courses are only available for a limited time.

She Writes was thrilled to get the chance to sit down with each inspiring author for a quick chat about their process, their class and why it's so important to them to teach fellow writers. 

In today's interview, we are talking with Rebecca Makkai about her course Am I Allowed to Write That? How to be a Responsible and Conscientious Creator.

About the course:

Unless every character you write is exactly like you, fiction involves writing across difference. Those differences might involve identity and demographics, or they might touch upon knowledge, experience, setting, or historical era. With so much valid concern and debate around the touchy issue of appropriation, writers can find themselves crippled by fears: Do I have permission to write this? What if I get it horribly wrong? And even if I do it well, will people be upset that I wrote outside my own life experience? In this course, Rebecca Makkai tackles the subject of writing about “the other” and how to do it responsibly, and well, using her own experience with her novel, The Great Believers, which took her far outside her own lived experience and identity. This class offers strategies and techniques for researching lives unlike our own, for working with filter and sensitivity readers, and for making sure we approach our characters with the respect they deserve.

Be sure to check out Rebecca's class and get to know her a little bit before the course!

SW: Briefly set the scene for your writing habits: Where do you write? How do you write? What's your routine? 

I don't believe in routines, and I think the worst advice you can give a beginning writer is that they have to have one. They're lovely, but they're products of privilege (time, resources, money) and just about everyone writes their first book in the car, on the train, in the bathroom, at Starbucks. Many of us write our fifth books the same way.

SW: What is the first thing you can remember writing?

I remember writing stories about my Smurf dolls when I was very young, probably three or four. And throughout grade school, I'd write plays and then force my friends to act in them.

SW: Describe a moment when your own writing scared you or surprised you. 

Hmm. One time I wrote a short story about guy who taught at a boarding school, and he had to move off campus because his apartment caved in. I was writing it over the holidays, and when friends of mine who taught at a boarding school came back from break, their apartment had caved in and they had to move to a Residence Inn for six months. I'm not sure what happened there. 

SW: At what point did you begin to truly feel like a “writer”?

It's funny, I skipped right over being a writer. When I was writing but didn't have a book out, I didn't dare to call myself that. (Which was silly!) Then when I finally had a book out, I realized "writer" meant a lot of different things, but "author" conveyed that I'd published a book -- so that's what I started calling myself. 

SW: What’s one of the lessons in your She Writes University class that you really wish YOU had learned earlier in your writing career?

My class is about writing across difference, writing about demographics other than your own, and the research involved. I do wish I'd had the courage to do more research on my first novel, but it would have involved introducing myself to people as a writer, and... see above.

SW: Why do you feel it’s important to offer a writing class to other women writers through She Writes University?

I love teaching, and I love sharing what I know. I don't have an MFA, and while they're wonderful I'm always interested in the ways we can share writing insight outside of academia. 

Sign up for Rebecca's course and check out the seven other classes available at She Writes University brought to you by the Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books podcast. 

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  • Claudette

    This was interesting to read as I had not considered doing this, write across differences, until just recently. I always thought that being authentic (to myself) was crucial. Sure I could create a character with a name I liked that was different than me but essentially she would be mostly like me...Perhaps this line of thinking is because I've been blogging for 10+ years where it's all about me... lol

    So now I know I don't have to. You gave me a lot to think about. And I have some ideas... :)