white man writing with chalk against green chalkboard

The Rules Won’t Save You, So Stop Looking For Them

A couple years back when I wrote about cultural appropriation for NPR one of the more intriguing reactions I got was multiple people saying what boiled down to “But you didn’t tell me exactly what cultural appropriation is and the exact steps I need to avoid it in every possible scenario!” and then demanding I do so on Twitter or other public spaces where they could get at me. I tried to say both in the article and in subsequent discussions that the issue was far too nuanced for the exactness people were looking for, which… wasn’t the answer they wanted. I thought about this again while reading Jeanette Ng’s excellent piece on Medium offering advice for writers who want to create diverse fiction but worry about culturally appropriating. She says:

Stop looking for rules. There is a tendency in humans to desire rules, of what should and should not be permitted. It is very easy, however, once you’ve reduced things to rules… for some to forget why something is bad. Some will begin to argue that the rules seem arbitrary.

YES to all that. Plus, I’ve argued with enough Rules Lawyersi to know that folks will also use the rules to look for loopholes or insist on rules so that they can get around them and then claim what they’re doing is okay because it wasn’t explicitly dealt with in Rules.

I know that this isn’t true of all people trying to work out how to deal with and avoid cultural appropriation. And I know some people are better with absolutes than judgment calls. There are some situations in life where that can’t be accommodated, and issues around writing inclusive fiction and cultural appropriation are an example of such. With these you have to develop discernment based on knowledge and understanding of the nuances.

This is why I’ve spent so much time putting together resources like the Cultural Appropriation Primer as well as many of the other links on the Writing the Other website. I want to make it easier for people to find information and grow their own knowledge. And I want them to get a sense of the complexities involved, which is why there are dozens of articles and sources instead of a handful. Hell, the resource list we give our students is around 200 links deep at this point, and still growing.

Even having read all those links I can’t and won’t create a set of concrete rules to follow because that wouldn’t be a solution. Writers could follow every rule to the T and still make mistakes that harm marginalized peopleii. So why even try? Because it’s not about following rules, it’s about doing your best to reduce harm and, if you don’t get it 100% right, apologizing, learning from your mistakes, and doing better in the future. That’s it. Most people aren’t looking for perfection. They are looking to see that you care, that you’re putting in a good faith effort, and that you’re willing to listen and learn.

So listen to Jeanette and stop looking for rules. They won’t save you.

  1. My usage of this term closely aligns with what TVTropes calls Obnoxious Rules Lawyers/Rule Sharks. []
  2. I address this in my LitReactor essay on representation when talking about Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: A Game Of You storyline. []

My #GivingTuesday Recommendations

It’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and the hashtag of the day is #GivingTuesday. This is the day to raise awareness for charitable causes that could use your dollars just as much (or more!) as retail stores. I am intimately involved with many charitable causes that I think deserve your donations. Some are 501(c)3 orgs, so you get a tax deduction, some are not. All of them come with my highest endorsement and recommendation. Click here to read the full list.

Cultural Appropriation What It Is and How To Avoid It

New Webinar: Cultural Appropriation – What It Is & How To Avoid It

My next class for Writing the Other is a one day webinar on Cultural Appropriation. A topic that continues to be fraught and also continues to attract opinions on the subject that are wrong-headed, maddening, and just plain dangerous. Hopefully this class will alleviate some of those problems.


When: September 9, 11AM – 2PM Eastern (Click to see when this happens in your time zone)
Where: Online via Zoom meeting  (video only registration option available)
Price: $50

Most writers want to avoid Cultural Appropriation but worry that they don’t fully understand what it is or how to ensure their work does not include it. They wonder what the difference is between appropriation and exchange or between appropriation and influence. And they hope avoiding cultural appropriation doesn’t mean only writing stories about people from their same race, culture, or ethnic group.

In this 3 hour webinar, authors Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford will offer concrete answers to those questions and a set of resources to help authors navigate these tricky waters. The webinar includes two short lectures and a lengthy Q&A.

For all the details, including information on scholarships, or to register, go to WritingtheOther.com.

Should Authors Write Characters Different From Themselves - a writing the other seminar

New Seminar: Should Authors Write Characters Different From Themselves?

We’re doing a new webinar through WritingTheOther.com as an intro into our more in-depth classes. Description:

Discussions of diversity in literature often boil down to a version of this basic question: Should white authors write characters of color? Should cisgender authors write trans characters? Should abled people write characters with disabilities? Should heterosexuals write QUILTBAG characters? The list goes on.

Though framed as a yes or no question, the answer is complicated and complex. Yet it’s the same one for every permutation that gets asked. In this 3 and a half hour webinar, authors Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford will give you the answer.

When: April 21, 3PM – 6:30PM Eastern (Click to see when this happens in your time zone)

Where: Online via Zoom meeting

Price: $50

If you can’t attend the live class, there is a video only option (you just don’t get to ask questions in the live Q&A). There are scholarships and sliding scale registrations available.

For all the details, including schedule, accessibility, technical requirements, registration, and more, click over to the Writing The Other website.

Dialect and Dialogue Deep Dive

Next Writing the Other Class: Dialect and Dialogue Deep Dive

Nisi Shawl is teaching her seminar on dialogue in a 2 week deep dive format. This class focuses on how dialogue works when attempting to write inclusive fiction and how to navigate the tricky skill of rendering dialect on the page. We start at the beginning of April and there are still spots available! Plus, there are scholarships available and sliding scale registration for folks who can afford some, but not all, of the price. Class description below, more details on the website, and you can register down below.

If you’re a person of color or Native writer interested in the class, ping me via email for a discount code before you sign up.

When: April 2 – 15, 2018
Where: Online — Available everywhere and at your own pace
Price: $200

Class Description:

An essential part of creating a character is understanding how that individual speaks or communicates. For writers who are working to create inclusive fiction with characters from races, cultures, and backgrounds different from their own, crafting appropriate dialogue is more than just idealizing and compressing speech to make it seem natural. It may also mean figuring out how to get across the nuances of language, accent, or dialect without Othering or exoticizing characters or the real cultures and identity groups they represent.

We will guide you through this aspect of writing inclusive fiction through lectures, hands-on exercises, and feedback. At the end of class you’ll have a wealth of resources for further study and practice.

Instruction begins Monday, April 2 and ends Sunday, April 15, 2018. The course does not have set meeting times. You can access class material and discussion and participate in class at any time, day or night, from anywhere in the world as long as you have an Internet connection.

This class is capped at 20 students. Continue reading “Next Writing the Other Class: Dialect and Dialogue Deep Dive”

Cover for the Sunspot Jungle next to text from the backer reward level

Get a mini Writing the Other class if you back the Sunspot Jungle anthology

Rosarium Publishing is celebrating 5 years of existence with a mega anthology called Sunspot Jungle. Two volumes, over 100 stories, and authors from all over the world. If you don’t know about Rosarium and what they publish, this anthology will be an excellent introduction to the kind of press they are. Later this year volume 1 will come out in eBook formati and volume 2 will follow in 2019. However, if you want a hardback version of the books you need to back the Kickstarter campaign going on right now.

The campaign only has a few days to go and is so close to its goal! I’m here to urge you to back it by talking up my contribution to the Kickstarter. Back it for $200 or more and you can choose an intimate Writing the Other class as your backer reward. There are only four spots in this tiny class available and, as of right now, two are already spoken for. Here’s why should you scoop up one of the other two:

Nisi and I charge $300 – $425 for the various versions of the full Writing the Other classes. Back Sunspot Jungle for $200 and you get the whole class. Plus, you and the other backers can choose your format — weekend intensive, 2 week intensive, somewhere in between… not the 6 week version, though — and the date/times the class will run. Big bonus: you only have to be in the class with a max of 3 other people.

If you’ve been wanting to take a Writing the Other class but have held back due to timing, due to price, due to being nervous about messing up in front of a bunch of strangers, this mini class is perfect for you and only available for a limited time.

Plus, you get two big books full of amazing fiction. Rading fiction by the authors in this table of contents is something Nisi and I recommend to our students, anyway. You’d already be on the path to greatness!

If this sounds good to you, go on over to the Sunspot Jungle Kickstarter, scroll down until you see WRITING THE OTHER course, hover your mouse over it, and click Select This Reward. Easy!

  1. I’m in this volume! []

New Class: 6 Week Writing Inclusive Fiction

Writing IOnclusive Fiction 6 Week Course Fall 2017

For folks who haven’t heard, our new 6 week class is open for registration! It starts August 25th and is designed to be accessible to folks who live around the world and also to writers with disabilities that make it difficult to attend our live class weekend intensives.

This will likely be the last multi-week class of the year, though Nisi and I will likely do a weekend intensive and maybe a week intensive before the year ends.

Key details below, full details on the class page.

Writers often wonder and worry about if it is possible to write characters whose gender, sexual orientation, religion, racial heritage, or other aspect of identity differs from their own. Many authors are afraid to try even though it is possible to do so sensitively and convincingly. In this six-week course, authors Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford delve into this tricky skill through a combination of readings, videos, discussions, and writing exercises in a safe, supportive atmosphere. The class is appropriate for all writers (fiction, plays, comics, screenplays) from all backgrounds and any skill level.

You can enroll below, but if you cannot afford all or part of the class fee, scroll down for information on scholarships and sliding scale fee registration.

Attending Class, Schedule, Time Commitment

Instruction begins Thursday August 25 and ends Sunday, October 8, 2017. The course does not have set meeting times. You can access class material and discussion and participate in class at any time, day or night, from anywhere in the world as long as you have an Internet connection. All class discussion will take place in a private online forum and all class work done on Google Drive.

The minimum time commitment per week will be six to eight hours. Lectures are posted to the class forum on weekends, discussions will happen throughout the week, homework exercises are timed and take 20 minutes or less to complete with two exceptions. Homework is due on weekends.

In addition to the lectures, videos, and other classwork, students are also expected to participate in forum discussions. Just as with the course work, they can be accessed at times that fit the students’ schedules.

In addition to forum discussions, both instructors will be available for one-on-one video chats during virtual office hours and every other week there will be an optional live chat on Google Hangouts.

Accessibility and Technical Requirements

The class takes place in an online forum or web space that is designed for accessibility. In addition, lessons and instructor essays are all available through Google Drive. Some class material will be in the form of video lectures. Each has closed captions and a text transcript is available for all. Live chats and Office Hours take place via Google Hangout (text or video chat, depending on student needs). The class mailing list will be through Google Groups. All of these services are accessible to students using screen readers.

During registration we will ask about your accessibility needs. If you have questions about potential needs, or if there are any other ways we can make a class accessible for you, please contact us before registering and we’ll answer within 24 hours.

Other than a computer, the only other technical requirement for the class is a Google account. If you don’t have one, you can create a free one just for this class.

Available Spots, Payment Plans, and Scholarship Opportunities

There are 30 spots available for open enrollment. We have several options for writers who wish to take the class but need financial flexibility.

If you can pay for the class but need to pay in installments we have payment plans available. Requirements:

  1. You must be able to pay $100 to secure your spot in the class.
  2. You must be able to pay in full by September 1, 2017.

If you meet these two criteria, please email writingtheother+pplan@gmail.com to register.

If you can afford to pay for part but not all of the class, we have Pay What You Can Afford enrollment. Under this plan you can pay any amount, but we do request that you pay at least $50. To register, please email writingtheother+pwyca@gmail.com with the amount that you can afford (you may also split this into two or more payments).

We also have a Sentient Squid Scholarship fund for writers who do not have the financial means to pay for this class. We encourage all writers who fit the criteria to apply. We have a broad definition of financial need that ranges from writers who do not have the money at all to writers who have the funds but can’t afford to use them for a writing class. Please don’t hesitate to apply wherever you exist on that spectrum. (Still not sure whether you should apply? Read this post.)

We’ve set aside one scholarship spot specifically for students who identify as POC or Native, though we do not limit the number of scholarships we’ll give to POC or Native applicants.

To apply, send an email to writingtheother+squid@gmail.com with the subject WtO 6 Week Scholarship Applicant, and include in the body:

  • A brief (300 or fewer words) statement of financial need
  • A brief (500 or fewer words) description of a work or works in progress that you hope the class will help you write.
  • A writing sample of 1000 or fewer words. This can be an excerpt from a longer work or flash fiction, from something published or unpublished, as long as it represents what you feel is your best work.
  • If you identify as a Person of Color, Native American, or First Nations, you may indicate that if you wish (it’s not a requirement).

Deadline: 11:59PM Pacific August 16th. We will notify all applicants of their standing by August 21st. If you have any questions, please use our contact form to ask!

Click Here For More Details or To Register

Writing the Other 8 Day Class

New Class: 8 Day Intensive on Writing Inclusive Fiction

I just opened registration for a new Writing Inclusive Fiction class Nisi and I are doing next month. It’s an 8 Day Intensive that doesn’t have live class times, so you can log in and do the reading and participate in discussion whenever you have time during the day and also from anywhere in the world. We will be throwing a ton of information at you during those 8 days, but students will have access to all the lectures, readings, and resources after class ends.

We have scholarship spots open for this course as well as Payment Plans and Pay What You Can Afford enrollment.

You can read all of the details on the Writing the Other website and register over there.

Writing Inclusive Fiction 5 Week Course

New Class: Writing Inclusive Fiction 5 Week Course

Nisi and I have a new class coming up that’s designed to be accessible on several fronts. It’s five weeks long with no set meeting times, so folks from all over the globe can participate. It’s a text-based class with some recorded video lectures, all with closed captions and a transcript, that will take place in a private web space designed to work with screen readers.

The class costs $500, but we have payment plans available, some spots set aside for Pay What Your Can Afford, and full ride scholarships. Plus, if you’re a writer of color or Native writer, ping me. I have a discount code specifically for folks who fit in this category.

Our hope is that all this addresses most barriers to taking the class!

We start April 6 and go through May 14.

This class covers several different aspects of writing Diverse Fiction or Representative Fiction, including description and “the Other,” dialogue and dialect, identifying and avoiding stereotypes and tropes across multiple identities, characterization, worldbuilding, and research. All students will get access to four Master Classes on writing Native American characters, Trans and Non-binary Narratives, Deaf and Blind Characters, plus a lecture on Worldbuilding from Max Gladstone.

All the details are over at the Writing the Other website and registration is open!

Description, Dialect, and Dialogue Course at LitReactor

New Class: Description, Dialect, and Dialogue – Writing the Other

Nisi and I continue to give online classes through WritingTheOther.com and on top of that we’re expanding to new platforms in order to reach more writers. This year we’re starting with LitReactor and a class on Description, Dialect, and Dialogue. It costs $199 ($179 if you’re already a member of the LitReactor community) and starts February 23rd.

During our WtO classes, students always ask us how to describe skin tone without using food metaphors or facial features without falling back on problematic cliches. When we do exercises around this and other aspects of description, we find that many writers unwittingly use words that reveal unconscious bias. We also see them struggle to depict dialect or regional dialogue without flattening characters into caricatures.

We cover all of this in our regular classes, but since this is such a big anxiety point for many writers, we decided that our first LitReactor craft class would focus on these specific aspects of writing the Other. It’s only 2 weeks, it’s structured so that you can read the lectures and do the hands-on exercises at your own pace. Plus, students will leave class with resources to hone their skills further.

Register at LitReactor or pass this on to any writers you think may be interested.