IWD: The Sexism That Writers Endure

man wearing suit jacket sitting on chair in front of woman wearing eyeglasses
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

From the start, women writers have had to endure an unending slew of sexist attitudes and commentary. Pick a writer and she’ll tell you about comments claiming women aren’t serious writers, that they don’t write “important” works, and aren’t worthy of awards or acclaim. Women writers can tell you about how there is a constant assumption that they must write romance or “chick lit,” that they don’t write anything a man would want to read, that they can’t write certain genres, or that women’s fiction is fluffy and sentimental. We can tell you about how we’re questioned in a way male authors never are about work-life balance, how we can possibly work and take care of our children and homes and partners. The list goes on. And when we dare complain about any of it, we’re accused of being “whiny” and “privileged.”

On this International Women’s Day, I’m sharing a few of the sexist remarks said to, or of, women authors:

Sci-fi author Gérard Klein about Ursula K. Le Guin: ” … her art is the product of ‘a happily resolved childhood, an active feminine genitality, and her intellectual indebtedness to her historian husband.'”

 

Audience member at a reading, to Julia Fierro: “Who is taking care of your children?”

 

A reader, commenting about The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris: “The novel is ‘capitalising on the fandom of Tom Hiddleston.'”

 

Author David Gilmour, on not teaching women authors in his class at the University of Toronto: “I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women.”

 

Author V.S. Naipaul about Diana Athill: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not… My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don’t mean this in any unkind way.”

 

Interviewer to Victoria A. Brownworth: “I don’t think women should be writing about this kind of violence.”

 

A lecture attendee to Joanne Freeman: “How does your husband handle your wit?”

 

A one-time boss of hers, about Clarice Lispector: “She was ‘a smart girl, an excellent reporter, and, in contrast to almost all women, actually knows how to write.'”

 

Random people, to Lis Harris: “Oh, you’re a serious writer? But you’re so pretty!”

 

N.S. Willis, to his sister, Fanny Fern: “[…he stated that] her writing was ‘too vulgar’ and she should continue with her needlework instead.”

 

To these I’ll add a quote from Charlotte Brontë, which she wrote in response to harsh reviews. This is (or should be) the unofficial motto of women writers everywhere:

“It would take a great deal to crush me.”

person using green typewriter on brown wooden surface
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

The problem of sexism in publishing is improving–the fact that it’s finally being acknowledged is an important first step. Will it be solved anytime soon? As with other forms of inequality, probably not in my lifetime (although I live in hope). But there are things everyone can do to help get us there:

  • Read books by women (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, comic books, essays, articles…)
  • Review books by women (whether on a book site, store site, social media, or your own blog)
  • Buy books by women (let publishers know what you want to read)

If you want to start right now, you can download my free story Blood Magic. One reviewer wrote about it: “A sign of the times, this short story should be folded up, put inside an envelope, and slid inside the goody bags ready for the male attendees of the next Golden Globe Awards.”

Happy International Women’s Day. Show your support by reading more women.

Find Out More:

‘How to Suppress Women’s Writing’: 3 Decades Old and Still Sadly Relevant

Women Writers Are Over Hearing These Sexist Comments

Women’s Fiction Is a Sign of a Sexist Book Industry

Canadian Author David Gilmour Sparks Furore Over Women Writers

7 Breathtakingly Sexist Quotes by Famous and Respected Male Authors

A Woman’s Place

Sexism in Publishing: My Novel Wasn’t the Problem

Female Authors Are Speaking Out About the Everyday Sexism They Experience

The True Glamour of Clarice Lispector

I talked to 39 Women Who Write Nonfiction, and Here’s What I’ve Learned

The Evolution of Female Writers

5 Things Sexism Deniers Say to Woman Writers

 

4 Ways Travel Can Help Your Creativity

person pointing at black and gray film camera near macbook pro
Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

I recently read a great article about how travelling can enrich your writing. In it, the author outlines how travel is unpredictable, fosters empathy and reflection, and creates authenticity in your writing. All excellent points. The article got me thinking about how travelling has helped my writing, and how it can help you with your creative endeavours. Here are four more ways travelling is good for creativity, even if you go no farther than the other side of town…

1. It breaks up your routine. Even the most imaginative person needs inspiration, and nothing is less inspiring than doing the same things and seeing the same few places over and over again, day after day. Going somewhere new shakes you out of your rut, gives you a fresh perspective, and re-ignites creativity.

silver car beside building
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

2. It helps you learn. If you go somewhere you’ve never been, you’re bound to learn something, whether it’s a few words in another language, facts about local history, or even a new skill (so many places now offer classes and workshops for tourists). What you discover can be the spark you need for your current project, or the impetus for something new.

asphalt dark dawn endless
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

3. It gives you the chance to be a different kind of creative. There are so many opportunities for creativity while you travel, and if you can do so in a way that’s not your usual, so much the better (I’ve written before about how creativity begets creativity). Take pictures, write a journal entry (or poetry or even short fiction) about your trip, sketch what you see, take part in a workshop, talk to interesting people you meet along the way. Use it all as inspiration when you get home.

ball shaped blur close up focus
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

4. It can help you in unexpected ways. When I was having trouble finding the right image for the cover of Love Lies Bleeding, I decided to look through my photos to see if anything would be useful. Going through shots I’d taken in Paris, I realized the statue at the base of the Medici fountain at the Jardin du Luxembourg was perfect, so I ended up using it:

Love Lies Bleeding by Aspasia S. Bissas

(The statue at the top of the fountain is on the back cover.) Not only that, but another photo I’d taken at the Louvre became the cover for Blood Magic:

BLOOD MAGIC by Aspasia S. Bissas jpg

And I have a third photo in mind for my next book, which I’m currently working on. The point is, I didn’t go to Paris to take photos for my book covers, but my travels led to exactly what I needed. You never know what going somewhere new could end up doing for you.

You don’t have to travel to be creative, but it really does help. Even if you can’t make it to another country or continent, try getting on a bus and exploring a different town, or go for a walk and visit a neighbourhood in your own town that you’ve never been to. The important thing is to break out of routine and try something new. It could lead you to places you never expected.

What do you think? Has travelling helped your creativity? Share in the comments…

5 Famous Authors’ Drafts

brown wooden desk
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Although readers are generally interested in a writer’s final product, it can be interesting to see the early process. Drafts can be funny, surprising, and illuminating. For example…

Joseph Conrad’s preface to Victory:

jc victory

Conrad had trouble deciding on the right wording to convey his meaning in this preface. He was hesitant about using the word “victory” in relation to World War 1, and he couldn’t decide whether he was worried about “misleading,” “deceiving” or another word I can’t make out (any guesses?) the public.

Sylvia Plath’s outline for The Bell Jar:

sp bell jar

This outline was written two years before The Bell Jar was published. Since no copy of the manuscript draft survives, this outline is the only evidence of Plath’s original intentions for the book. Apparently Plath had planned a “coda” of two extra chapters at the end of the book. There are also smaller changes, such as the character of Joan starting out as Jane.

Marcel Proust’s draft of Remembrance of Things Past:

mp remembrance of things past

Shirley Hazzard’s draft for The Great Fire:

sh the great fire

Both Proust and Hazzard show that, no matter the time period, the first draft is never the final draft. How either could even decipher their edits is a mystery.

Mark Twain’s notebook:

mt notebook

Twain, pondering the concept of a doctor writing a play, jotted down several potential character names, including Siphillis Briggs, Asphyxia Beedle, and Typhoid Billings.

Would you want to see your favourite author’s early drafts and notes? Share in the comments…

See more:

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King

George Orwell’s 1984

Emily Dickinson’s poetry (written on an envelope)

Christina Georgina Rosetti’s poetry

A Peek Inside the Notebooks of Famous Authors, Artists and Visionaries

When Publishers Pass You By

pexels-photo-626165.jpeg

When I was much younger and just beginning to realize that I wanted a future as a writer, I had starry-eyed notions of a major publisher recognizing my talent and jumping to offer me a contract (with a generous advance, of course). Yeah, not so much. Instead I have a pile of rejection letters, mostly of the form variety, some with encouraging words about how my writing is good (just not quite right for them). I had to learn the hard way that being a good writer isn’t enough to get published. In fact, sometimes you don’t even have to be able to write at all as long as you have a big enough name to guarantee sales. Depressing doesn’t even begin to cover it.

A recent article in the Washington Post shares how Madeleine L’Engle and other well-known writers have suffered rejection over their careers. So how to deal with it when it happens to you?

Like L’Engle, stick to your vision. Don’t compromise your work to suit the industry’s sometimes narrow definitions of salable. Your readers are out there, even if your book is genre defying and a little odd (something readers are a lot more open to than publishers).

Like J.K. Rowling, keep persisting. Just because 12 publishers reject your book doesn’t mean 13 won’t be your lucky number. [Edited to add: Also like J.K., if you’re a woman, you might want to submit under initials or a gender neutral name instead of an obviously feminine name–especially if you don’t write romance or “women’s fiction.” Sexism in publishing is real, and I wish I’d realized that years ago.]

Like Beatrix Potter, do it yourself. Self publishing has been around a long time and is only getting bigger. When traditional publishers have let you down (or you don’t even want to bother with them in the first place), don’t be afraid to go the indie route (which is what I did with my dark fantasy novel, Love Lies Bleeding–and what I will also be doing with the new novel I’m working on).

Whatever you do, don’t let rejections get to you. They are common, they are inevitable, and they don’t reflect the quality of your work or you as a person. Just remember: a good story will find a way.

How do you deal with professional rejection? Share in the comments.

[This was originally posted on 13 March 2018. Re-posted with minor edits.]

It’s Okay to Hate Your Work

4-stages

If you’re creative at all, you’re well familiar with the feeling of hating your own work. At some point you’ll be 100% convinced that everything you’ve done is garbage. It’s not fun. It’s also probably not accurate. More importantly, just because you hate your work doesn’t mean anyone else does or will. Need proof? Here are some famous writers who hated their own work…

Anthony Burgess regretted A Clockwork Orange, claiming the misinterpretation of it (partly from the way it was presented in the film) would “pursue me until I die,” and also calling it his “little squib of a book” in his introduction to a later edition.

Stephen King thought his book Carrie was such a waste of time that he threw the manuscript away. His wife fished it out of the trash and encouraged him to keep trying.

Leo Tolstoy ended his life regretting and being ashamed of having written both War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Tolstoy scholar Pavel Basinsky claims it’s the Russian way to renounce everything they’ve done before. It might also be the writer’s way.

Speaking of Russian writers, Vladimir Nabokov got so disgusted with Lolita that at one point as he was working on it, he fed the pages into a fire. His wife, Vera, saved as much as she could and Nabokov ended up completing the novel.

Peter Benchley so regretted the paranoia toward sharks caused by his novel Jaws that he because a shark conservationist. He claimed in an interview that he could never write a book like that again, having learned about what sharks are actually like. Maybe hating your own work isn’t always a bad thing.

How do you cope when you hate your work? Share in the comments…

To find out more about these and other writers and the books they’ve written and hated, check out LitHub and Goodreads.

[This was originally posted 5 March 2018.]