Inspiring Quotes from Women Writers

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I met a rather lovely guy in a sociology class today, who asked me what I did when I wasn’t studying. When I told him I was a novel writer, he said, ‘Romance?’ When I politely told him I wrote fantasy, he replied, ‘Oh, magical romance.’

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing harmful about a woman writing romance. Some of my favourite books are firmly seated in that genre, written by women whose ability to create story and structure leaves me in awe.  What I resent is the assumption that being a woman and a writer automatically means I write romance to the exclusion or subversion of any other genre.

Feeling a bit glum at having to discuss women’s ability to write damn good fiction no matter the genre, I used a study break to look up inspiring quotes by female writers. Naturally, there’s a lot, so I’ll be posting a few every week. This is to remind myself and others that female authors are important and valuable contributors in the writing industry, and do not deserve to be pigeonholed because of gender. Enjoy.

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Jane Goodall

“Tell almost the whole story.” Anne Sexton

“Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.” Rainbow Rowell

“If you want to cry, you’re not going to like my books.” Janet Evanovich

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” Jane Austen

“Write what should not be forgotten.” Isabel Allende

Apocalypse Dog

My Labrador, Sheldon, has an adventurous palate. Whether it’s wombat pooh, jellyfish or dead animals, he’ll generally roll in something foul and then eat it. He’ll find the smallest crumb in the tightest nook, and delight in sitting beside the dining table with foot-long drool strings in the hope that a single pea will tumble to the floor. His alternate name is Apocalypse Dog, because when zombies inevitably take over, he’ll be the one relegated to finding the food source (whether said food source will actually be suitable for human consumption is debatable).

Today I decided to do a bit of Sunday baking. I settled on a zucchini cake and, without really paying attention, chose an online recipe that for some reason used both metric and imperial measurements, plus US colloquialisms I didn’t quite have the capacity to decipher.

As an aside, let me just mention that I’ve been knocked around by a virus for the past week, and so my mental functions haven’t been particularly optimal.

Consequently, the half cup of dressing oil became french salad dressing (it was the only ‘dressing’ I had in the fridge), and the 350˚ cooking temperature resulted in the oven being ramped up to full and the timer set for almost double the baking time to compensate for my oven’s 220˚C limitation.

My only excuse is I think I had a fever.

An hour later, the kitchen was blackened with smoke and what promised to be a somewhat zesty creation (the batter had been delicious) was in fact a hardened brick.

With no other option, I presented a slightly charred portion to Sheldon, certain that at least someone would appreciate my efforts.

He buried it in the garden. With enthusiasm.

I’m still a bit dumbfounded. Only this morning, Sheldon had discovered a dead fish on the riverbank that was so badly decomposed that it looked like patient zero for the newest plague. He ate that with gusto.

But my blackened, pockmarked cake with its fusty smell and questionable green bits was headed for the bin, hitting the bottom with a dull thud of rejection.

Apparently even Apocalypse Dog has his limits.

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Writer’s block is a gift

It’s the thing that wakes us at night with sweat on our skin. It’s the lump in our throats as we stare at the blinking cursor or useless pen. It’s the hammering in our hearts, the hankering in our souls, and the siren call that beckons us from our true paths—which is to write, write, write.

Sure, writer’s block leaves us feeling anxious and neurotic and as if all of our creativity is spent, but the reason we feel such anguish is because it matters. Writing matters. Down to our core, writing matters.

Through its lack, writer’s block reminds us of the joy of a beautifully turned phrase, a character in full bloom and a plot that evolves as we ourselves do. It reignites the yearning we all felt when we started writing down the words in the first place.

So next time the fear and emptiness comes, don’t take it as evidence that you’re not meant to be a writer. Don’t reduce yourself to a blank screen or bare scrap of paper. Take this pause, this pain and fury, as incontrovertible proof that writing is a part of you. You wouldn’t care so deeply otherwise.

With time, those words you love and nourish will untangle themselves, and you’ll fill the page once again.

Writing update

I head back to uni next week, so the pressure has been growing to get in as much writing as possible before my mind is yanked in multiple learning directions.

That said, the past week of writing has been good. I’ve finished overhauling the first act, which I’m pretty stoked about. I’d made the classic mistake of starting the story in the wrong place, and have consequently had to let go of entire chapters and scenes that I really loved. The overhaul has involved about 18,000 new words entering the manuscript. I’ve kept approx. 3,000 words from the original draft.

I’m now in the second chapter of act two, where I take the book in a slightly different direction. It’s been slow going. Two key characters in the first draft are being reimagined—one had admittedly been a bit of a by-the-numbers asshat, and the other an angsty manchild who even I was tired of dealing with by the end. Turning them into interesting characters with complex motivations and manipulations has been difficult. This week I’ve written multiple versions of the same scenes as I try to get a handle on them. I’m finding perhaps a 30% retention rate with this new writing.

I’ve also given myself the deadline of the 31st of May to finish the second act, and while that is still ages away, I can already feel it looming. There’s some major work to be done, and based on previous shenanigans, I’ve got about five weeks before I start calling friends and family in hysterics about my inability to handle my study load, writing and life in general. I’ll likely be under my bed for a few days with a platter of cheese and dips.

Fun times ahead!

K.

Kelly's a lefty

Female Stereotypes

I don’t know if I’ve made some poor choices lately or if it’s a reflection of ongoing gender stereotyping, but the female characters in the fantasy books I’ve been reading have played into some pretty shitty tropes: the meek and caring girl, the hapless love-driven schemer, the whore with a heart of gold, and the woman requiring rape in order to ‘grow’.

Where is the strong, independent female character whose self-worth and growth is not predicated on a dominant, masculine force?

I’m not saying that a female character can’t look for love or enjoy sexual freedom (hell, yes!), but why does it have to be her most defining contribution to the story? And let’s not even go there on the whole rape trope.

Seriously. What the hell, people.

And, sorry, making a female character a mercenary, sword fighter or ship’s captain doesn’t automatically make them ‘strong’ women. Strong characters aren’t defined by their physicality. It’s the inherent core of their being—their personality, flaws, foibles and decisions—that defines the character.

By plonking women into traditionally male positions which require physical strength, the writer can skip over any real sort of character development and still wave their hands around, saying, ‘See? Strong woman character over here!’ But what the writer is really saying is that these female characters are ‘strong’ despite their gender. They act like men. They fight like men. They’re essentially men with shapely breasts.

This type of writing is lazy, divisive and patronising. And I’m done reading it.

Come on, writers, we can do better than this.

Rant over.

Plot bunnies

They came a-visiting today.

They bounced all over the place, dropping unwanted characters and weird tangents all over my redraft. One plot bunny in particular was drunk.

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Now I find myself cleaning up the mess. My favourite scene is broken, another a bit singed. And a little lass—who has murder and mayhem in her liquid brown eyes—has decided she likes it here. I guess she’ll stay.

As for the other bunnies, they’ve moved on.

No doubt they’re just down the street, already gambolling in someone else’s writing.

Selling your ebook for free: yes or no?

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It’s a quandary many of us emerging writers face: should we take a gamble and expect readers to pay for our self-published ebooks (and therefore potentially have few or no readers at all), or package up hundreds of hours of hard work and give it away in the hopes that many more readers will discover us and like what we do.

Let’s look at both sides of the argument.

Free books undermine our industry.

If we sell our first ebooks for free, what we’re doing is telling readers that even authors place little value in the skills, struggles and hard graft that goes into the creation of literary works.

We’d never expect a plumber to fix a blocked drain for free because they’re just starting out or because we’ve never heard of them before. Same goes for the local doctor, mechanic, dog groomer, musician, cake decorator and barista (or anyone, really).

So if we’re willing to pay such people, even if they’re new to the job or haven’t got many likes on review sites, why would we be okay with underselling ourselves?

By giving away something that required skill, dedication and likely more than 500+ hours of grit, tears and self-doubt, we jeopardise the industry we wish to thrive in. We tell the consumer world that writers and our contributions are of no value.

But we matter. Our work matters. And we deserve to be paid.

Free books are simply another form of customer service.

If we want a reader to invest their time on our writing, we have to build trust. It’s basic customer service 101. It allows readers to experience minimal risk while discovering new authors and new series that they otherwise would not have bothered with.

It’s about presenting a product in such a way that it stands out from the crowd. It’s smart marketing, and (for some) it works.

New authors who have experienced success with this method find that their first book—quite often written in such a way that a reader has to read the second book to get the full story—leads on to actual monetary sales with subsequent publications.

By giving away the first book, we get to build our author platform with readers who, having invested only their time so far, become our fans and are (hopefully) willing to invest in future works.

Free ebooks can give us the push-start we need to have a future in the industry we love.

What’s the best choice?

That’s a personal decision for every writer, and it’s not an easy one.

In my freelance work, I resent having to negotiate up because clients undervalue writers and editors. I’m often asked to work on the first article or webpage either for free or for a pittance to ‘prove’ myself. I can’t think of another industry where this kind of exploitation is the norm, and I can’t help but wonder if the prevalence of free ebooks plays a part.

But for my future as a novelist, sometimes I think the first book should be free so that readers can decide risk-free if they like my work. Like any emerging author, I want to have a sustainable career as a novelist, and obviously a fan base is crucial.

I might shoot myself in the foot if I don’t go ‘free’. But I could be shooting at the industry if I do.