I walked out of the Brisbane Writers Festival Keynote Address. This is why.
Yassmin Abdel-Magied
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I didn’t walk out of the Brisbane Writers Festival.

Sorry I’m late, I just got in from an inter-dimensional trip you see.

Not far, not really. It was a world where authors were only allowed to write about their own experiences, since it would be racist for a white man to write about black experiences, or sexist for a white man to write about a woman’s experience.

In fact I picked up a paperback whilst I was there, it’s a fascinating read. It’s about this 36 year old white dude. He works as a paperback writer, got a wife kid, that sort of thing. It gets a bit dramatic since his wife is also a 36 year old dude, since the author’s no allowed to write about a woman’s experience, but since the author isn’t gay he can’t make the couple gay, so he’s his wife.

They’ve got a kid too, he’s also 36, since the author can’t write about the experiences of children, that’d be sexist of course. Now the kid isn’t adopted or anything, he’s their biological son, it’d be wrong to write about adoption when the author hasn’t gone through that process. It breaks the suspension of disbelief a little bit.

The dude has a friend as well. He also works as a paperback writer with the same publisher. He drives the same car too, and it gets a bit awkward since they live in the same house. After all, it’d be unacceptable for an author to presume to write about living in a house they hadn’t lived in.

Things start to get going in the book when the dude starts having an affair. His wife finds it particularly difficult since they all sleep in the same bed; after all, it’d be wrong to presume that an author can write about anyone sleeping in a bed they didn’t experience themselves. It’s only a double, and it’s a bit crowded what with the man, his wife, their son, friend and the dude’s mistress. But they find a way.

So I figured I’d give this kind of writing a go, since this paperback is so enthralling. I’ve been trying to write like it, but there’s one thing holding me back. I’d like to write about someone like myself, but all the other characters have to hold my same experiences too. Now, when I try to get it down I end up as a 21 year old straight white man, dating a 21 year old straight white man, living with his mother and father, two 21 year old straight white men. But while I may be a 21 year old straight white man, I do not date a 21 year old straight white man, nor are my parents 21 year old straight white men. So these aren’t my experiences.

Which meant I had to write other characters who had other experiences, besides my own. But then I wasn’t only writing about my own life again. I had to presume about their lives, do research, and be creative. I had to actually write.

That too me down a path of talking to people like those I wanted in my story. I spoke to people unlike me who I wanted to include in the story. I found out about their experiences, their goals and their motivations. I didn’t presume anymore, I learned.

I guess you could say I wasted my time building an inter-dimensional transporter just to fail at writing a style of book. But I can say now that books are best when they’re written by people who do not just write about their own individual experiences.