You keep 30 tabs for research open until the book is finished.
You have a pile of TBR books that fills you with guilt, because they are mostly written by your friends.
You plan your vacations around writing conferences and/or research opportunities.
You own fifteen different pairs of pajamas, because different colors and styles put you in the mood for different books.
You listen to music mostly depending on which book it gets you ready to write about.
Your best friends are people you have actually made up yourself.
Your family members have learned to stop asking you what you’re working on next because they don’t have the time to listen for that long.
You have plans to make a series for every single book you’ve written, and are waiting for a publisher to ask you to write them.
Your idea of a dream come true is getting a blurb from an admired author that no one even knows besides you.
You draw your own fan fiction for your books.
“In pretending to stand for “the human,” masculine subjectivity tries to force us to name our truths in alien language, to dilute them; we are constantly told that the “real” problems are those men have defined, that the problems we need to examine are trivial, unscholarly, nonexistent.
Any woman who has moved from the playing-fields of male discourse into the realm where women are developing our own descriptions of the world, knows the extraordinary sense of shedding . . . someone else's baggage, of ceasing to translate. It is not that thinking becomes easy, but that the difficulties are intrinsic to the work itself.” Adrienne Rich
Quoted in How to Suppress Women's Writing by Joanna Russ
There are a lot of things that writers pretend count as “writing.” Sorry, but I’m here to rip off the veil and expose the truth. There are things that are NOT writing and are likely holding you back from finishing your book (or even starting it):
1. Answering email.
2. Reading books written by other writers.
3. Watching TV shows and movies related to your current project.
5. Laundry (even though you may need clean clothes to write in).
6. Getting a snack to help you write.
7. Doing online “research” all day long.
8. Trying out recipes that might be used by characters in your book.
9. Making outfits that might be worn by characters in your book.
10. Imagining the fanfic that might be written about characters in your book.
11. Planning out your imaginary book tour.
12. Rereading fan mail from your last book.
13. Trolling the internet for bad reviews of your last book.
14. Writing your own outtakes.
15. Planning out how you will spend the millions of dollars in advance you will get from your next book.
16. Thinking about how many books in this series you could write.
17. Writing a fake author bio for the pseudonym you intend to use next.
18. Playing an RPG you’ve invented from your book.
19. Taking an on-line poll to decide what should happen next in your book.
20. Plinking out theme songs for each chapter of your book on the keyboard you keep near your computer for just such a purpose.
21. Making lists of character names for your next project.
22. Inventing a new language for your elves to speak.
23. Writing epic songs and poetry that will never appear on paper.
I am not saying there is anything wrong with doing any of these things. They are fun! I’ve done plenty of them, especially the imagining the crowds of roaring fans at my next book’s movie premier. It can be really useful to keep yourself interested in writing and having fun with the writing. But just be aware that there is a line between things that are actually getting words down and things that aren’t.
You’ll notice I didn’t include things like “staring off into space while sitting at the keyboard,” because I think, strangely enough, that this IS part of the writing process for almost all writers. But if you’re distracting yourself from the hard work of writing, you’re avoiding doing the work of getting the words on the page. What you’re basically doing is trying to keep from doing it wrong, because as soon as you start writing, you’re going to have to accept that you haven’t done it right, and that’s the most painful thing of all.
“The prejudice against decorative has a long art history and is based on hierarchies: fine art above decorative art, Western art above non-Western art, men’s art above women’s art …”high art” means man, mankind, the individual man, individuality, humans, humanity, the human figure, humanism, civilization, culture, the Greeks, the Romans, the English, Christianity, spiritual transcendence, religion, nature, true form, science, logic, creativity, action, war, virility, violence, brutality, dynamism, power, and greatness.
In the same texts other words are used repeatedly in connection with “low art”: Africans, Orientals, Persians, Slovaks, peasants, the lower classes, women, children, savages, pagans, sensuality, pleasure, decadence, chaos, anarchy, impotence, exotica, eroticism, artifice, tattoos, cosmetics, ornaments, decorations, carpets, weaving, patterns, domesticity, wallpaper, fabrics, and furniture.”
Quoting Valerie Jaudon and Joyce Kozloff
One of the things I love about Joanna Russ is how clear she makes all of the lines of influence that get muddied by time and by the efforts of the patriarchy. And she herself quotes other female critics right and left.
In my own life, I think about how my knitting, quilting, and crocheting aren’t art, but craft. We are just beginning to appreciate quilting as an art, but it’s not at the level of other things. I’m glad for etsy, because I think it ups the game for these so-called crafts and allows them to command a higher price because they have a real marketplace to compete in.
In addition, there are all these generations of “folk art” that are part of Mormon culture are denigrated in similar ways. If they’re anonymous, they’re not art. In the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, there are incredible benches and “marble” pillars that are actually pine, which was the main wood available at the time, and they’ve been painstakingly painted to look like oak and marble. You’ve got to see them to understand what I mean.
And at the end of the book, Russ has this brilliant, pithy chapter on what is wrong with the whole system of valuing one set of experiences over the other, and why valuing a few new ones isn’t going to work, because it ignores the ways in which all of the experiences have been misunderstood by the dominant one. Go read it!
"When I used to write mean reviews of people’s books, I thought of them as big, powerful people who deserved to have their work torn down. Then I started running into those people, and to my shock, they had read — and remembered — even reviews I’d written for obscure outlets. They were people who had spent years of their lives working on something — something they thought was really important — and I had spent perhaps two or three hours composing a sarcasm-filled denunciation. They were hurt, just like I’d be. This is both sobering and socially awkward."
"I have written some epic snark, and I have written a book, and let me just tell you, there is no comparison. Books are hard. Reported features are hard. Sarcasm and outrage are easy, which is why they tend to peak in adolescence, unlike, say, mastery of nuclear physics.
There is nothing harder than writing a good review of a book or a movie, for the same reason that it is difficult to write an essay on “why my mother is great” without sounding like a particularly inarticulate third-grader.”
Brilliant, seriously, go read the original!
means spending half your time doing things that are not writing, such as:
1. answering business emails.
2. talking to your agent/editor on the phone, sometimes several times a week.
3. going through multiple edits of every book.
4. arranging for book-selling opportunities, like signings.
5. answering fan email, snail mail, or other social media alerts.
6. traveling to conferences to speak about writing and your own books, often on your own dime.
7. making nice with people in publishing whose books you may not like and whose personalities you may not enjoy.
8. deciding how to write an email explaining your objections to the proposed cover of your book.
9. looking over contracts, yes—even after your agent has already done so.
10. doing your own taxes every year as your eyes glaze back in your head, sometimes on New Year’s Eve when everyone else on the planet is celebrating.
11. asking to be paid—again!—for a school visit you did a year ago.
12. looking for sites giving away ebook copies of your book for free and asking them to stop.
13. trying to avoid getting sick so that you can keep your schedule.
What it rarely includes, despite the hype:
1. spending a lot of time dreaming about who will star in the dream cast of the movie version of your book.
2. creating art for your book yourself.
3. deciding how much your book will cost, in either paper or ebook format.
4. choosing which celebrities will appear at your book launch.
5. planning how much space your new house will have for your writing office.
6. paying for other people to promote your book for you.
7. glamorous vacations without family so that you can research your next book.
8. hiring nannies and housekeepers full-time so that you can relax at your pool.
9. hanging out with Stephen King and JK Rowling.
10. sending away books to people for free who simply thought to ask you.
11. painting your car to match your book cover.
12. designing dolls to look like your favorite characters.
13. discovering the manuscripts of brilliant, unknown authors whom you can promote with all of your new found power.
"I spent most of my life raising children. It's the thing I'm the best at in the whole world. I know how to teach a child to pick up his toys. I know how to keep a child from touching a hot stove. I know five different ways to bribe a child to sit on the potty until his first success. I know how to talk about dating. I know how to make a teenage boy see how to look at the world differently. I know how to teach compassion and hard work. I'm a mother, Kurt. This is what being a mother has made me. I'm good at this one thing, and around me, people keep saying that maybe it's time for me to learn how to do something else. Go back to school. Get a degree in something so I can start a new stage in life."
I got comments from several people who said that they were surprised to read about a mother who thought of herself as a "good mother." The problem is that it sounds arrogant and possibly wrong-headed for any woman to think of herself as a good mother. This is probably true of any woman thinking of herself as good at anything--we're supposed to be quiet and sit around waiting to be complimented by men, right? But motherhood in particular is fraught with this image of perfection. No real woman can live up to that, which is why Mother's Day is so painful for women when it ought to be a celebration of all that they do and give in a way that makes them comfortable rather than making them feel like they can never live up.
I wrote: "I feel like one of the most important parts of mothering is showing kids that mothers are human, with strong and weak parts. This is vital, because our daughters will grow up to be mothers and we don't want them to be afraid to be imperfect. Our sons will grow up to marry mothers (and possibly do mothering of their own) and they need to know what is a reasonable expectation. That is, not perfection. They will need to step in and help and not be afraid that they're not perfect, either. Imperfection is part of perfect mothering."
This idea that when you become a mother, you are endowed with some kind of angelic insight into your children, along with this perfect love that makes you capable of knowing how to do everything right, and the capacity to give and give until you are sucked dry--that is so unhealthy. Really good mothers ought to be pointing out their flaws left and right to their kids so that this horrible, angelic ideal of motherhood is good and well destroyed. When you give birth to a child, or adopt, or however you get your child, you aren't promising never to do anything wrong. You are engaging in a special, lifetime relationship with someone else. You agree to share your self, good and bad, with someone else, to keep working things out, to compromise, negotiate, and love. And like with any other normal, human relationship, you will get things wrong. You will want to give up. You will question yourself and wonder if you should turn into someone else to make this work. You shouldn't. You're doing it just fine.
Another one of the problems of the angelic,perfect mother is that there are crappy mothers out there, but we so very rarely call them on it because of this bizarre ideal. That is, I think children want so much to pretend that their mother is good that they end up unable to see what real good mothering is. A good mother isn't a mother who refuses to let you make your own decisions. She doesn't smother you with love. She doesn't nitpick you to perfection or make you wonder if you're crazy. A good mother doesn't make problems for you with a new spouse. A good mother doesn't tell you all the things you're doing wrong with your kids. Or at least a good mother doesn't consistently to that stuff, and apologizes for it if you call her on it. There are no perfect mothers, but imperfect ones are the best kind.
When I started working on The Bishop’s Wife, one of the things I most wanted to do was to create a character who was a mother and a hero. This is done less often than you think. There are a lot of kick-ass heroines, but most of them don’t mother actively. I guess this may seem obvious, but having little children who cling to and depend on you can get in the way of guns blazing.
But what if you could do a great female hero who wasn’t a guns blazing type? My favorite mother-hero of this type is Cordelia Naismith, who is a former member of the Betan Expeditionary group and ends up rather unwillingly fighting a war, and then being captured. But once she gets married, she wants to settle down and have babies and be happy. Only the world doesn’t let her do that. Or she doesn’t let herself do that, depending on how you look at it. So she saves her new planet from civil war, and she saves her son at the same time. But she does this in part because she isn’t pregnant and she has a uterine replicator to make it possible for her to not have to deal with our real-world realities of pregnancy.
I wanted to write a mother-hero who is in our real world and has to deal with real world stuff. In particular, I wanted to write a story about a woman who is a mother in a culture in which motherhood is lionized and women are told that motherhood is their most important role. To wit, Mormonism (which is, in fact, my home religion).
It’s one thing when you’re a dad and can go off, guns blazing, sure that your wife and children are safe left behind. Even when you’re Jack Ryan or James Bond and your wife/kids are killed or threatened with death, you aren’t held to the same standard as I think a mother is. Yes, you deal with guilt the rest of your life for failing to protect them. But what happens to the reader audience if a mother lets her kids be threatened in that way. I think the series beginning with The Boy in the Suitcase is a great exploration of complex motherhood.
But in Mormonism, the religious overtones of motherhood matter even more. What if you’re a mother who isn’t a mother anymore, whose kids are grown up? What are you good for? Do you continue to hover over kids who don’t need you? Do you find people you do need you? What are your internal excuses or explanations for putting yourself in physical danger if you get involved in crime? What about when you start wondering about the underpinnings of Mormonism and the expectations of male and female roles? What if crime seems to be helped rather than hindered by the Mormon culture?
Anyway, these are some of the things I’m exploring with the character of Linda Wallheim, Bishop’s wife and 50-something mother of 5 boys whose last son is a senior in high school and soon to head off on a mission.
Many authors feel that this is the most annoying of the frequently asked questions of authors. They feel like it is like asking a surgeon where he gets his steady hands or asking a dentist how he knows which tooth to dril on. They evade it, ignore it, or flippantly answer that they get ideas from aliens. I’ve felt the same way on many occasions, but I was thinking yesterday that it might be helpful to expand a little on the truth.
I get my ideas from:
1. Books or other story forms that make me angry about a wrong turn I see has been taken, or angry at a bunch of assumptions about the story itself and who is interesting in it. This burns inside of me and pushes me to try to do it better myself.
2. Books or other story forms that I love so much that I want to pay tribute or duplicate in some sense what I see, but would like to make into my very own.
3. News events that make me ask, What If, this were to happen to me, or to my family. How would I feel?
4. Sometimes I just read a news story or an article in a magazine and think—this is cool! I want to revel in that coolness and share the experience with other people.
5. Something in my real life is so deeply a part of my psyche that I need to shape it and make it understandable with words.
That’s pretty much it for me. I’m sure that other authors have other reasons that they write. But you’ll notice that all of my reasons are emotional at base, which is why my stories are the way that they are. Cool ideas tend to matter less to me than characters who experience something that causes an emotional reaction that feels real.
My main point here is that if you experience emotions on a regular basis, you are experiencing story ideas. You can turn any emotion that you feel into a story. You just need a beginning, a middle, and an end. Writers aren’t these people who actually feel more than anyone else. They just know the tricks to flesh out those feelings into a story. Anyone can do it if they practice it.
I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to aspiring writers who have a big story they want to tell, but they’re afraid. Not that they aren’t good enough to tell the story (though that happens), but because they are afraid of offending people. Family. Friends. Co-workers. Old colleagues from school who might see themselves in certain portrayals.
This is what I have to say about it:
Get over it.
If you’re a writer, you’re going to offend people. Don’t do it casually. Don’t do it without it meaning something. Don’t do it just for fun. Do it when it matters, though. Do it to make a difference, to make people see themselves in a new light.
And just think about this:
As a woman (and all of the writers who are afraid of this are women that I’ve met), you offend people by:
1. Taking up space, air, and resources that could go to a man.
2. Having a thought in your head that wasn’t put there by someone else.
3. Wanting something more than what other people give you.
4. Daring to disagree.
5. Demanding your voice be heard.
6. Keeping a female writing name.
7. Changing a female name to a gender neutral name.
8. Using a male writing name.
9. Speaking about your book to men and women alike.
10. Not apologizing for everything you do.
Write what you were born to write. Write what you need to write.