Women as Writers: Take What's Useful...
A few months ago, I seemed to keep running into the same theme concerning women as writers: that once women start families, the vast majority of them stop writing.
I read it in Alice Walker: A Life
, where she recalls one encounter with a woman she upset with her assertion that having more than one child hampers a woman's full creativity (I'm paraphrasing). Ms. Walker, of course, only had one child. The woman who reacted was bothered by the assumption, prompting her to write a letter to the author, who in turn told the woman that she should take what is useful and ignore the rest.
On one hand, I often say that same thing: take what is useful and ignore the rest. On the other hand, it does nag at me when I continue to run into the idea that women aren't allowed their full creativity when children come on the scene. When men become fathers, no one expects them to stop writing, but for women, who most often are the primary caregivers (whether they work outside of the home or not), unless she's a bestselling author, she can be expected to put her writing on the back burner.
If you've always been a writer, this can be akin to setting your dreams
on the back burner, on a low fire and watching it slowly die.
Yes, it can be more difficult to find time to write when you have children, but if writing is truly your passion, what you were called to do, then it shouldn't matter if you have one child or five or ten. We all find time for what we truly value, whether it's reading, exercising or scrapbooking
Of course, this may hit closer to home if you're a mother, but whether you have children or not, take what's useful: you're a writer, and ignore the rest: the idea that women always have to sacrifice the best of themselves.
Labels: Creativity, Family, life and writing, Mom writers, mother, women writers, writers perspectives, writing, Writing Moms
Baby-steps to Fiction
Over the last few years I have been dabbling more and more with writing short fiction. Generally I am most comfortable writing non-fiction, but one summer day the inspiration struck me to write a short story. Since it was nap-time for my two-year-old I took my seven-months-pregnant self downstairs to the computer to try my hand at short fiction writing again.
I’ve never been officially trained in short-story writing or any kind of fiction. I surfed the web and found a site that explained the typical components of a plot. I mulled over the definitions of the lead-in, the precipitating incident and the rising action. Climax and falling-action seemed understandable, though tricky to write. I had to look up denouement on several sites to get a clear idea of this concept.
I knew I needed to take baby-steps to learn to write short fiction. The thought of starting with the lead-in and writing the climax and denouement without a plan made me slightly short of breath. I only had about a half an hour before naptime was over, so I knew I couldn’t write for very long. With all of this information swirling around my head, I developed my own short fiction writing exercise that I could complete in about half an hour.
Here’s what I did. I told myself to write one sentence for every basic plot structure component. That meant only one sentence for the lead-in, the precipitating incident and so on. Here are the plot components I used and here is the first paragraph that I came up with (color coded of course):Lead-in
Falling ActionDenouementWhen I was a child I lived in the mountains of Colorado. One summer we went away on vacation for a few weeks and came back to find our house robbed and ransacked. As a child I couldn’t understand why some of my larger, more expensive toys were gone. My mother circulated the rumor that my brother’s friends, knowing from my brother that we were out of town, had been the perpetrators. Nothing came of those rumors, however, at least nothing concrete that brought my toys back. So I did without my toys and eventually forgot about them.
I was surprised by how things turned out. It seemed like I expressed an idea very completely and in a more satisfactory manner than my usual fiction ramblings. It also surprised me because, though had its own mini-plot, it seemed like this piece could be a small piece of a larger story.
Later that week I did the same exercise again, only this time I had two sentences per plot element. This is what I produced:In a cold, quiet forest, a small squirrel ran up a lodge-pole pine tree, skipping from one trunk to another, gripping the bark with its claws. Below the now sky-borne squirrel, the lumbering of a brown bear on its water path broke into the quiet of the forest with snapping of twigs, the rustling of leaves and the bear’s own heavy, rumbled breathing. The bear descended the hill in front of him, following his normal route to the small silvery pond for a drink of water. But the bear stopped; no ordinary animal possessed that smell. Through the trees at the edge of the pond a man in a red and black plaid flannel shirt and jeans was squatting, filling his silver water canteen. The man turned suddenly, sensing the nearness of something; in what seemed like the same instant the bear sprinted and lunged at him. The man fumbled at his waist, trying to get something free. His gun went off, the sound reverberating through the trees, through the silence, shattering the stillness. The gun was flung from the man’s hand at the onslaught of the brown bear’s attack. The man attempted to fight the heavy bear with his fists and with swift kicks before the beast was upon him, pinning him to the forest floor. The two creatures resisted each other in a few tense moments of struggle before the man was overcome. The last sound the man remembered before fading into blackness was the bear’s lumbering breathing at his throat.
I hate writing stuff that twinges of tragedy, but this is what came to mind that day (interesting how mood can affect our writing). It was satisfying to me to being able take baby-steps to understand how my own writing style can interact with plot structure. This exercise challenged the way I thought about writing fiction but it also stimulated my creativity and excited me about the possibilities that fiction might hold for me.
Am I touting this as a way to write short stories? No, not really. For me these were exercises, ways to slowly but surely push me out of my non-fiction comfort zone into a new world of short fiction.-Susan L. Eberling
Labels: life and writing, short fiction, writing inspiration, writing practice
I’d like to think my writing evolves in spirit, soul, kindness, and wisdom as I age. Wouldn’t that be nice if it were that easy? Just age and improve like the often-clichéd fine wine!
But it’s just when I’m feeling a little smug that I fall back into the over-forty sticky web of complaining and nit-picking. I tease my 80-year-old mom that she’s always complaining (and she knows she does it and chastises herself for it). But why do I do it? It certainly doesn’t help my writing. Who wants to read someone complaining about a stress-invoking vacation or kids’ arguments? I mean, at least I have a place to vacation and kids who are capable of arguing. Plus, for the first time in twenty years of marriage, we’re actually going on our second vacation in the same year. Whoa! That should make me smile.
Maybe my attitude needs readjustments. Well, not maybe, but definitely. I’m losing grip with my gratitude-attitude. I need to make sure my vacation resets my outlook. What about you?
We Americans don’t take enough time off. But it’s really foolish. Vacations can be anything or anywhere that take us away from our normal, daily grind, whether we work from home at a job, as a mother, as a writer, or in an office elsewhere. No matter the time involved, either; work will always be there when we return.
While you’re reading this, I’m vacationing in South Lake Tahoe, California, tent camping with about a hundred of my husband’s relatives. The vacation gathering is for a family reunion that happens only every five years. I should be grateful to get away and join a crowd of happy campers! The funny side note is that my husband asked me to bring my laptop along, so he’d have a partner-in-crime, a person to dash away with from the campground, lakeside, and boats, to find a Wi-fi coffee shop from where he could stay linked to his career stresses.
I must confess, I did think about it. But my final response was, “no, I’m not taking my laptop along; that would go against the grain of balance, and you shouldn’t bring yours along either.” But he’s rarely lived a day without his cell phone, gadgets, or laptop near his body, as if it’s a lifeline.
Why do we tend to do this? Too much work and not enough play forces hard-working people to weave nasty webs of complaints, negative thoughts, and ungrateful feelings. I don’t want to be this way. It doesn’t improve my writing.
What is a lifeline for your writing or your attitude? Do notice when you complain too much? Do you notice when the smallest parts of life that should bring you pleasure, instead leave you feeling down or knotted up? Do you need to get away?
I intend to return from camping with fresh ideas for stories for children and teens; maybe I’ll steal away a few moments in the tent with a pen and pad and actually “write away my sticky web of complaints” while smelling the pine trees, the dry earth, campfire and soot. S’mores, roasted marshmallows, and trail mix sound so different and delicious, along with some fattening hot dogs, beans, and all foods other than spinach salads and light dishes.
When was the last time you took time away? Even only a weekend? You deserve to at least pencil it in on your calendar. But don’t take your gadgets for work. Take only your attitude. If you find yourself laughing at this in an ironic sense, as if there’s no possible way to take time off, then you should write off your stress in some fashion.
Please let us know about your writing lifelines, lack of vacations, or actual vacations. If you take plenty of vacations, instead, then we could live vicariously through you! Or tell us how you manage to keep a grateful outlook in life.
The bottom line is that we want you, your Blogs, your words, your attitude! Speak Out is every Friday here at WOW!
Labels: attitude, life and writing, Sue Donckels, vacations