There’s a big elephant sitting in the lofty rooms of the literary world … and it’s called patriarchy. Or gender bias. Take your pick.
But no one wants to talk about it.
Including most of the writing coaches, editors and literary consultants who support new authors to get after their literary dreams.
THE COLD HARD FACTS
This is the case even though studies have shown that women are still less frequently published than men, that women’s books are reviewed less by prominent publications and that we win less awards.
I mean the literary world apparently is so misogynistic that if a guy writes about a female lead, he’s much less likely to get a gong!
And then there’s the research which shows that women do way more domestic work and childcare than their male counterparts and this is bound to impact female authors’ ability to write (most of my clients have to get up at the crack of dawn or burn the midnight oil to get their books done and, frankly, they are knackered!).
But still the denial continues.
Editors, literary consultants and writing coaches act like it’s an even playing field and that women aren’t facing different circumstances both as they create their work and when they submit to the industry and begin to market their books.
I understand this in a way as for a long time I too just focussed on making all my authors as great in craft terms as I possibly could as all that’s needed is talent and a fabulous story, right?
If so, then I wonder then why J. K. Rowling chose to use initials, rather than her first name? (Just like George Eliot over a hundred years earlier … we’ve come so far, not!)
I also wonder why an identical manuscript which got submitted to the same agents under male and female nom de plumes got more attention under the male pseudonym?
Unfortunately, there’s something rotten in the publishing houses of Denmark and every other country.
And yet no one in the literary consultancy or writing coaching world wants to address this issue or offer support to women writers who are facing a particular set of challenges their male peers aren’t.
WHY WOMEN WRITERS NEED SPECIALISED SUPPORT
It’s not that we’re weak. It’s not that we’re useless writers. It’s not that we’re a lesser class.
But patriarchy has done a particular number on us as women and it has a massive impact on our creative careers and this requires particular solutions.
So often, in my experience, women writers:
Doubt themselves more than male peers, no matter their talent level or acheivements.
Procrastinate about writing and submitting or promoting their writing as they have been made perfectionistic by a patriarchal society which demands they do everything just right, from looking beautiful to always being nice.
Don’t submit or promote their work as they have been taught to stay silent and small and not rock the boat – ambition isn’t a good girl trait.
Put their creativity last, doing housework and putting others’ needs first so their writing projects never get written!
And on and sadly on and on.
AND YET MOST WRITING TEACHERS, COACHES AND LITERARY CONSULTANTS AREN’T SUPPORTING WOMEN WITH THESE ISSUES.
They are simply acting as if patriarchy and the distinctive pressures of being a woman don’t exist and the men in the group are confronted by exactly the same issues on the road to becoming a writer.
Let’s all have a little giggle at that! How we wish!
Personally, I think the only way you can solve a problem is by being aware of it …
AND THE BEST WAY TO WIN A BATTLE IS TO PREPARE YOURSELF AHEAD OF TIME.
So when I work with women writers, I’ll deal with how they’re time-starved with jobs and kids and housework and find a writing practice that allows them to finish their writing project without killing them.
Or I’ll deal head on with the ways women play small in a competitive industry where playing big I needed.
Or I’ll ensure their confidence is solid and they feel comfortable with embracing their gifts and sharing them with the world.
Other teachers and mentors may well inspire and encourage their writers and give them great craft skills and I can do that too, but I never forget the extra burdens women writers carry and need support with.
And if there’s racism, classism, ableism, ageism, transphobia or homophobia in the mix as well as sexism, I know they need me to be extra aware of what they’re fighting – and God knows too many people in the writing world act like that stuff doesn’t exist either because they’re working from a blind position of white middle class privilege! (Kit de Waal has been doing great work on discussing the issues of being working class in the literary world.)
I am a disabled woman from a working class background with a funny foreign name like a Star Trek planet, so I know what it’s like to be both an outsider and an insider as I am also someone with a doctorate in English and Cambridge on my CV (I hated it, but that’s another story!).
I know all about poverty, divorce, bereavements, stress, chronic illness, sexual trauma and domestic abuse and the challenges these have posed for me on the road to publication.
I know too that most women face a LOT just due to being women in our culture (including our trans sisters who take so much shit), with movements like #MeToo showing exactly how prevalent sexual violence is, for one thing.
So no one can tell me women writers don’t face specific challenges as they get after their literary dreams and don’t need someone who gets that on their side in order to succeed.
Someone who will have their back.
Someone who has got past a lot of the bullshit and knows how to get them past it too.
So the next time you’re at a writing workshop or literary event, take a look around and you’ll probably notice that it’s mostly women filling the seats, showing up, hoping, learning, doing the work.
And remember then that the men in the room are more likely to get published.
And ask yourself why your writing teachers, coaches and literary consultants aren’t talking about that or doing more to help you navigate publishing’s sexism or the things you face as a woman writer which don’t affect the men around you.
I’m all too aware of the particular challenges facing women writers and I’m out to create a movement to get more women’s books written, published and out there changing the world.
I want to smash the literary glass ceiling, one book at a time.
Let’s push patriarchy off the page together.
But the first stage means bravely staring its realities straight in the face.
YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT MY FEMINIST WRITING COACHING AND TO JOIN A COMMUNITY OF SUPPORTIVE WOMEN WRITERS AND GRAB YOURSELF ACCESS TO MY INSPIRATION LIBRARY HERE.