Recently, I wrote a piece about why I’m going to be relaunching my writing coaching practice soon as a specifically feminist thing, supporting women of all kinds who have big things to say, including my trans sisters, as well as gay, bi and straight guys who have also had enough of the patriarchal BS which is also toxic to men.
Since I shared my post about the gender bias in publishing and how cultural conditioning impacts the way women writers create and put their work out into the world, I’ve also been talking to the lovely peeps in my Facebook group and various social media communities about how best I can serve them as a feminist writing mentor and editor and I’m writing today’s article to not only share some of the great insights I’ve been lucky enough to receive from my audience in recent weeks, but to also ask you, dear readers, if you would be good enough to tell me the sort of things you’d hope for from a kickass feminist writing coach – the sort of things you’d expect and hope would be distinctive when compared to ‘regular’ writing coaches.
I’d be delighted if you could share your wisdom and opinions with me as I want to ensure that the kind of support I’ll be providing really does make a difference to people’s lives and creative success. I may not be able to change the patriarchal bent of the publishing world singlehandedly, but, beloveds, we can shatter that glass ceiling, one book at a time!
A wide selection of issues have come up as important to the women who’ve spoken to me so far, but there seem to be some strong commonalities and I thought I’d share them with you today to see if they strike a chord with you too. I also feel it’s also important to talk about these points as a lot of women I encountered weren’t sure exactly what a feminist writing coach would do, but they really liked the sound of it!
I’m aware from this reaction that I’m doing something pretty new (even though there are fabulous magazines for women writers, such as Mslexia) and this makes me aware that my work as a feminist writing coach is not only necessary, but also needs to be damn amazing in order to truly have the powerful effect I want it to have, especially given the way the world seems to be currently going back around 50 years in terms of gender politics!
So here are some of the things women writers have said they want from me as a feminist writing coach, things which I now see as ‘promises’ to my clients – things I will do my damn best to fulfil in my new practice because they’re things my women writers have asked me for. Things they want and need to thrive. Things they deserve.
1. I WILL SUPPORT WOMEN WRITERS OF ALL AGES, ALL RACES, ALL FAITHS, ALL CULTURES, ALL SIZES, ALL SEXUALITIES & ALL PHYSICAL ABILITIES – AND THAT MEANS YOU TOO, TRANS BEAUTIFULS!: I’ve been a feminist my entire life, from the time I was 13 years old, in fact – so long before ‘intersectionality’ was used as a term to describe a more inclusive feminism, I was reading academic studies, such as the work of Chantal Mouffe, on the way we all occupy a particular position politically, one which is unique, depending on where we individually sit in relation to multiple elements of identity.
Hence I’m white, working-class in origin, educated, disabled (though I don’t look it!) and so on and this specific combination makes up my particular sociopolitical position. This, to me, explains the special nature of every person I meet and work with – this means too that I cannot and will not box you into a corner, saying if you are one thing, you must be another. Our work together will meet you exactly as you are.
I do believe though in sometimes using our broader identities in order to fight social injustice – that’s why, although I think gender is performative, I still am a feminist and specifically support women’s causes because the gender pay gap, human trafficking and rape, amongst many other pressing issues, are very real. That’s why the main focus of my work as a feminist coach will be supporting women writers too – because the gender bias against us is proven and our specific cultural ‘training’ can impede us, therefore, women need specific help to get past these obstacles to their creative achievement.
But I also strongly believe that if you feel you are a woman, you are. I don’t care about biology or the name you were born with. Maybe it’s because the first experience of truly being accepted I had as a bold, young woman was in trans clubs, or maybe it’s because I see my own femininity as a kind of drag act, so I feel we’re all on a spectrum of gender – whatever the reason, I want to ensure that trans women and queers of all kinds know I am an ally and I want our work together to create more literary success for LGBT writers.
I also want to make BAME authors more visible and to ensure that the stories of disabled and chronically ill women are given their due weight (I sadly know exactly how illness and physical limitations can hold one back creatively), as well as doing all I can to help women of all faiths from all over the world share their stories with as wide an audience as possible.
And I vow to work against the ageism which makes some older women feel it’s too late to start writing or that they have nothing valuable to say. Personally, my grandmother was my Wonder Woman and I know the incredible Annie Proulx didn’t write fiction until her 50s, so I want to support women at all times of life to fulfil their authorial dreams. You’re never too young and you’re never too old in my book to write your book.
There’s never been a time during my life when this multiplicity of wisdoms has been so needed. There has never been a time for a long time since this diversity of viewpoints has been faced such repression either. I promise then to do all I can to fight to get more women’s books written, published and out there changing the world.
So, come as you are, baby, and let’s get this book thing done.
2. I UNDERSTAND THE CHALLENGES WOMEN SPECIFICALLY FACE IN WRITING AND SHARING THEIR BOOKS WITH THE WORLD AND I’LL HELP THEM OVERCOME THEM: Although there’s been some recent discussion of the gender bias of the writing world, generally it’s pretty much overlooked – like most of patriarchy, I would argue, its power continues precisely because of its invisible and insidious nature.
Maybe it feels like you’re being a ‘bad sport’ if you wonder why your book isn’t getting anywhere when you submit it, when a male friend whose work you don’t really rate has been published. Maybe it feels too much like stereotypical female nagging to ask your partner to look after the kids and pick up after himself so you can have some time to write. Maybe it feels too scary to actually put yourself out there and promote your book because nobody likes an overly ambitious woman and surely your family life should be enough for you?
All this stuff – from the inherent biases agents and editors have against women authors and women lead characters, to the lack of time and
opportunity and the ways in which women are taught to play small are exactly what most writing coaches and tutors, in my experience, never address.
And yet they’re hugely important obstacles in the way of women writers’ success. And female writers seem to make up the majority of authors who seek editorial support and come to writing classes, so it’s about time their specific needs were taken seriously.
I promise then to work with you to not only create a writing practice which works for you, despite all the demands of work and family or illness you may face, but to also support you as you face the specific fears and issues which arise as a women writer trying to create, publish and promote your work in a still male-dominated and often horribly racist, Islamophobic, homophobic and transphobic world.
The struggle is real, so let’s go change that together.
3. I WILL SUPPORT YOU – FULL STOP: This kind of surprised me as I, perhaps naively, expected this kind of compassion and wish to empower one’s clients to be a general thing amongst writing coaches and mentors – but apparently not! A lot of women writers shared with me the experience of harsh male writing tutors and critics of their work and felt that a woman and a feminist, in particular, would be able to better encourage them during their creative journeys.
I promise to always be my clients’ biggest cheerleaders – outside of their cats and their mothers! – even as I will also gently and carefully offer constructive criticism when needed in order to make them be the best writers they can be.
I don’t believe in the school of hard knocks though or harsh take downs – I feel they say more about the insecurities of the critic than the talent of those writers on the receiving end – and, having faced this stuff before during my own education (I did my postgrad at Cambridge – eek!), I totally cannot stand spite or competitiveness or see any reason for them in writing coaching and mentoring.
Needless to say, I will praise you generously when you’ve done well and I’ll help you improve where you can, but this feedback will always be given with respect and kindness.
As a feminist, I consider it crucial to help other women rise – and we don’t do that by tearing them down. Expect to be loved on!
4. I WILL HELP YOU WRITE STRONG FEMALE & MARGINALISED CHARACTERS: Again, I was a bit stunned to discover that this isn’t something all writing coaches do for their peeps – but then I guess I have a feminist English Lit Ph.D. so I was taught to read texts in this way and I love books which celebrate women’s strength and that of figures from marginalised communities.
Hence if you have a powerful, marginalised, unconventional heroine and you want someone to support you as you create her story and those of your amazing and different minor characters, I promise to go to bat for you and them. I promise that you won’t have to feel like you’re writing the ‘wrong’ thing and you won’t be shamed if you’re bringing in all kinds of characters who aren’t the usual run-of-the-mill and who don’t live ‘normal’ lives.
You may even not be writing an overtly feminist book and that doesn’t matter to me –
I just love quirky, original writing, writing which stretches our social imagination in terms of what is possible, so if you do too, let’s put our heads together and make sure you write a magnificent lead and majestic minor players who will make the world see things differently.
5. I WILL LISTEN TO YOUR STORY & ACCEPT IT AND YOU AS YOU ARE: Listening is one of the most tricky things in human life – the Buddha said we have two ears and one mouth because we’re meant to listen more than speak and he’s probably right. As a Martha Beck-trained coach, I have learnt to listen sensitively and that such attention and understanding is one of the biggest gifts I can offer my clients as it’s so rare that we’re truly heard in life and accepted as we really are.
But I will do more than promise to offer to listen carefully to you and take your wants, needs and fears seriously in our sessions (as well as laughing with you, as my coaching often involve quite a lot of fun!) – I promise to also hear your story, the story which many of the non-fiction and memoir writers amongst you want to share through your writing, with gentleness and caring.
I consider it one of the biggest honours of my coaching work that I get to hear people’s inner truths, things that may not even share with their loved ones (all my work is confidential, of course), but when I asked my writer clients to express what it was they wanted from a feminist coach, one powerful thing that came out was that a lot of women had walked through hell and come back to tell the tale and they now want to share their wisdom and experience with others. That’s why I’m creating a special package to support women who want to write their life stories, but it was particularly important to the women writers who spoke to me that they could work with someone who would not be shocked or judge their experience of things such as domestic abuse, rape or abortion.
As a feminist coach, I promise to embrace all that you bring to the table – for all our experiences, no matter how traumatic or hard or even
unusual, are incredibly relevant and valuable and not just to us, but to other women too.
Indeed, it could be that your particular story is the one which touches another woman and helps her to feel she’s not alone. It might even help someone leave a difficult marriage or finally heal from a miscarriage. You might give someone that wonderful thing called ‘hope.’
This is why all women’s stories are so badly needed by our bruised and confused world – and why I’m going to do all I can to support women to write, publish and share their writing. That’s why I will be here to listen to and support women writers as they go about the brave work of telling their truth.
If you have any other ideas about what I can offer to my clients as a feminist writing mentor and editor, please do leave a comment below or contact me. You can also join my private Facebook group and chat to me there.
I’m on a mission to get more women’s books written, published and out there changing the world. I hope you will join me.