Last thoughts for Women’s History Month

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Betty Friedan used to say that the 1950s and early 1960s were a time when we wore girdles on our heads.

I think of that remark when I talk to writers. If I ask a group, “Who’s working on a novel manuscript?” A few will put their hands up, boldly, but I see many hesitate and even more squirm as if the manuscript were an uncomfortable telephone book beneath their bums. My goal in a workshop is always to get those hands in the air, waving with confidence.

I set Eve’s Garden in those days, when our heads were wrapped in layers of expectations that didn’t accommodate bold visions for women. In some societies, in some segments of our own society, those confining, latex-like expectations and teachings still prevail.

Eve and her mother, Maisie, and especially her grandmother, Evangeline, defy those expectations. And they pay the price, but not without gaining more than they lose. In fact, Eve has a plan to build greater possibilities for the girls under her care.

In October, I’ll be teaching a workshop for Jane’s Stories Press Foundation on what I learned about writing a novel during my time spent with these three wonderful imaginary women. Date and time and place (other than that it will be in the Chicago area) haven’t been announced yet, but if you’re floundering with your novel or just a bit stuck or maybe hesitant to take it head-on, I hope you’ll join us; watch here for details.

In the meantime, if you have a story about what confines you and what you’ve observed about bold visions, please drop me a line in the comment section.

And, by the way, what is the difference, do you think, between what’s above and Spanx, etc.? Are we a little sexier, but still “reducing” ourselves?

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6 Comments

  1. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about something I surmised in my years involved in the Women in Print movement, late 1970s to mid 1990s, as a writer, reviewer, and bookseller. What I noticed about women’s writing was that our poetry was stupendous, our short stories and essays nearly as good, but our novels? Um, not quite up to snuff. The reasons weren’t hard to find — I could find them in my own life as well as the lives of my sister writers. We were all working for a living, full-time if we could find the work. Some also had children. Our time was fragmented six ways to Sunday. Hard to complete even the first draft of a novel under those conditions.

    But as a bookseller I learned that readers wanted novels above all. Story collections came next, and poetry last — although even non-poetry readers sought out the latest works by Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Judy Grahn, Pat Parker, Marilyn Hacker, and a few others. Publishers (even indy feminist publishers) made their decisions accordingly.

    To this day I’ve got strong reservations about using “working on a novel” as a litmus test for “serious” writers. These days we’ve got more ways to get shorter works out there. Better a good short story than a mediocre novel?

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    • Thanks for your observations, Susanna. Novels are daunting, they truly are, and I felt lucky to be able to have some handholding from the fabulous Connie May Fowler while I was working on mine, but, even though I was already “retired,” I found that I needed to withdraw from most of my volunteer work in order to get mine polished enough to send out. You can give yourself short retreats to finish a series of poems or stories, but novels can take much longer to finish, behind the reach of even a month-long retreat. Women in my workshops often tell me that they write poetry or short stories because they can be finished before the kids go to school, or after they hit the pillow at night. It’s sad to me that they have trouble finding the time and encouragement to write novels. So maybe in my workshops I should address some solutions for the novelist’s time crunch. There are some tricks that help, and I will try to get a conversation going here about that.

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  2. I will be putting this daznilzg insight to good use in no time.

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  3. Yo, that’s what’s up trfuuthlly.

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  4. One thing the helps is to concentrate on writing scenes–all the action that takes place in one place at one time. It makes the long work of a novel more manageable.

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