Labels are Self-Prophetic

I’ve been thinking about this sentence by Elif Shafak, perhaps the most famous Turkish woman writer: “Male writers are thought of as ‘writers’ first and then ‘men’. As for female writers, they are first ‘female’ and only then ‘writers’.”

When you think of your writer self, what do you call yourself? Are you a woman-writer? Are you a writer-woman?

I’ve come to believe there’s a significant difference in how we act out that nomenclature. You see, it’s part of the story we tell ourselves. Perhaps it’s time to start calling ourselves writer-women rather than women-writers.

The truth is what we call ourselves is the label we live by.

If we change the label we live by, quite possibly we change our lives.

Starting today, I’m going to think of myself as a writer-woman. Starting today, let’s, all of us, start thinking and referring to ourselves as a writer-woman.

Writing Tip #5

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When you’re not writing, read. The more you read, the better your sense for how to craft your own work — articles, stories, poems, novels — will be.

Writers from William Faulkner to Stephen King to JK Rowling have advocated reading. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master, we learn our craft by studying published work. Read the best of your chosen genre that you can find, read stuff you like, and don’t be afraid to read them many times. Reading instructs and inspires your own writing.

A Writerly Life: Maya Angelou

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou’s 1969 memoir, made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman.

Why Can’t I Find Time to Write? Part 1

When I first tell people that my research is about women who had difficulty finding time to write, I am usually met with reactions that range from making me feel that I don’t measure up (the unspoken “What’s the matter with you?” side-eye one of my professors gave me when I broached this as a dissertation topic) to condescending (“I wouldn’t generalize from your experience. I’ve never had to compromise, and my kids turned out great”).

The general assumption is that it’s a time management problem. And that if I wanted it badly enough, I’d find the time to do it. Unlike food, shelter and clothing, writing is not a basic human need, although to a frustrated woman writer it may feel like it is. So, in most societies, a woman’s desire to write is superseded by her life circumstances.

The standard advice touted by writing magazines, and the internet is, “Make writing a priority.” And the two most common recommendations seem to be: You have to make time to write and you have to give up something to write. One oft-touted quote is: “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” (H. Jackson Brown Jr.)

The implication is that if you take your writing seriously, you’ll give it the time and consideration it deserves. I had read so many articles on finding time to write that I assumed it was true.

But there was one problem that seemed unsolvable. No matter how much I created calendars, not matter how often I said I was going to write early in the morning or late at night, it wasn’t long before I wasn’t writing again.
Some days I write nothing, because I have no time, and I feel that pressure. I have had a special need to learn all I could to help myself and other women like me who have had let writing be stopped, interrupted, put aside, or left to die over and over again, and are tormented by the unwritten.

The idea that women can “just make writing a priority” is simply airbrushing reality. It is time to talk.

More tomorrow . . .

Why do You Write?

Today’s post is presented in a form called Lyric Essay that I was introduced to a creative writing teacher.

A Friday Q & A

Q: I return again and again to what I consider the most basic of personal questions, yet at the same time perhaps the toughest to answer. The question is, Why do you write? You could have done anything else—paint, do brain surgery, grow gardens, whatever—but you chose to write. Why?

A. That question haunts me. But, it also reminds me that all writers write from the same place—a wound. Kathryn Harrison says, “I write because it’s the only thing I know that offers the hope of proving myself worthy of live” (p. 71). Life goes on, but our shattering wounds are there. Everywhere we go. Everywhere we went.

Q. How does the process of writing help you?

A. I write to find my voice. I write to make sense of the world. I write to figure out the crazy things people do. I write as a way to process my disasters, sort out the messiness of life. Creatives, and I’m using that as a noun, see their world slightly skewed. We’ve been exposed to things that have pained our souls.

Q. Why do you write?

Writing Tip #5

“Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.”
– William Zinsser, On Writing Well

A Writerly Life: Robin McKinley

“One of the biggest, and possibly the biggest, obstacle to becoming a writer… is learning to live with the fact that the wonderful story in your head is infinitely better, truer, more moving, more fascinating, more perceptive, than anything you’re going to manage to get down on paper. (And if you ever think otherwise, then you’ve turned into an arrogant self-satisfied prat, and should look for another job or another avocation or another weekend activity.) So you have to learn to live with the fact that you’re never going to write well enough. Of course that’s what keeps you trying — trying as hard as you can — which is a good thing.”

—Robin McKinley (author of fantasy and children’s books; winner of the Newbery Medal)

Writing Tip #4

20 things that a woman writer needs to stop wearing:
1-20: The weight of other people’s expectations and judgments.

Have you ever been held back, by yourself, from writing because of the expectations and judgments of others?

That’s a trick question, because, if you’re a woman, the answer is, “Of course.” It’s so easy to get so wrapped up in trying to be enough for everyone else that you begin to forget about what you need. (Notice I said need, not want.)

Wearing the weight of other people’s expectations and judgments can vary from not seeming like a big deal to feeling immense amounts of pressure to have ________, to do ________.

Start walking down your writing path today – tiptoe if you need to. Chances are it won’t fit perfectly right now and might be a longer journey to get to where you want to go than you would like, but ultimately, if you are doing what you love, you’ll be happier than you are right now.

Have a Passion. Decide to Act. Make Art.

Today, I’m reminded to take solace in the act of creating. A while ago, in one of my PhD classes, the artist Gendron Jensen*, who has spent a lifetime transforming relics from nature – usually bones – into art objects of uncommon beauty, talked with us about art and creating.

Three things he told us resonated profoundly, and I want to share them with you:

1. The very act of creating changes the projection of world history, whether your art is every made public or not. (His point was that making art changes us, which changes our personal behavior and actions, which changes history.)

2. Art needs to be released.

3. Create. Then let in the other.

*Jensen’s drawings are in the collections of such museums as Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He works almost exclusively in graphite on sheets of paper as tall as seven feet, making meticulous renderings of the intricate infrastructures of wildlife.