When I started writing journal entries and basic ideas for what I wanted to write a book about, I did what felt right to me. There weren’t lists and lists of character ideas or plot points or a mapped out storyline. I started with something simple. I wrote what I knew. The old adage, “write what you know” can sometimes come across cliche or vague, but when I look back now, I had set out to write what I knew without even realizing it.
I wanted my characters to come across as real and relatable and without knowing it, I pulled bits and pieces from people I already knew as well as people I’d studied from a distance. That may sound strange, but I guess there’s a reason people watching is a writer’s favorite hobby! You want to capture how people interact with each other, their facial expressions, and think of how they might react to something.
The characters are only the beginning. Next, I wanted to choose a setting for my book where I personally felt comfortable because my character wouldn’t be going through a simple, care-free life. I wanted her surroundings to be normal, yet beautiful, because what my character was going through wasn’t normal and at times, she didn’t feel beautiful. By choosing the beach as my setting for my book, I wanted to evoke a supposed care-free lifestyle because when I typically think of the beach, I think of relaxing and not a cloud in sight.
I had decided that I wanted to write about what I was going through. My main character, Adira has muscular dystrophy and I have muscular dystrophy. Before I had ever heard the term, #OwnVoices, I had already decided that I wanted a character to represent me because up until 2018, I hadn’t seen or read any books that had a main character with muscular dystrophy.
The marketing and publicity platform for authors and publishers, NetGalley, describes #OwnVoices as follows: “The OwnVoices Category is used to indicate ‘books where the protagonist and the author share a marginalized identity’ per the definition from the author, Corinne Duyvis, who coined the term OwnVoices in 2015.”
As I kept researching, I kept coming across more and more platforms that help promote diversity in books. The statement from We Need Diverse Books says that it “is a non-profit and a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry. Our aim is to help produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.” Their definition of Diversity says, “We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.”
By reading books that are in the #OwnVoices category, people get to read a book that has a new and sometimes different perspective from their own. This category helps to give a voice to the people who are underrepresented in literature as well as our society as a whole. I think that this is the step that we need to take to help keep making our world feel more attainable for marginalized voices and it also lets people know that everyone has a voice no matter how quiet it was at one time. I only fit in one of these categories that #OwnVoices represents, but I hope to keep reading books from all types of #OwnVoices authors.
While I was writing and highlighting my character Adira’s strengths, I was able to see how important it is to celebrate differences rather than disregard them. I believe in representation of disabilities in books and creating a world that demonstrates how everyone, no matter how they appear on the outside, is still able to accomplish so much when they believe in themselves and when they feel accepted by the people around them.