in Blog, Writing Craft

Creative people say no; women aren’t supposed to

I read “Creative People Say No” the other day and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I think of myself as a creative person. This blog is evidence of that, as are the millions of words I’ve written in my life.

I also have recently struggled with several friends, all at once, airing their grievances about my availability and level of connection as a friend. Talking about it with another friend of mine, he pointed out:

“Right, you’re an introvert. As are a lot of people, but I think on some level it’s seen as less acceptable for women. I think [your husband] is more of an introvert than you, but does he get this kind of static?”

Mulling these two things over, it occurred to me that there are several habits of effective writers which are contrary to feminine socialization. These exist as additional challenges to overcome as a woman who writes.

(I’m going to talk about authors here, because that’s what I know the best, but I’m willing to bet this is true for other creative professions, as well).

So, the first one, brought up by my pal’s comment:

Creative people say no. Women aren’t supposed to.

There is so much written about how women get into states of overwork or burnout because they aren’t able to say no to invitations, requests, favors and other flotsam on the inevitable tidal wave of expectations that comes from interacting in the world.

I know this is true of me — even as I get shit for not spending enough time with my friends, I also know I too easily get sucked into things I don’t want to do. Ask me about how I can’t answer the phone when Vassar or Mass Audubon or the Huntington Theatre calls, because I’ll give them even more of my hard-earned money. Ask me about how I was convinced to serve as usher coordinator at the church I barely even attend.

When I mentioned this to another friend of mine, she said:

“Maybe you look like someone who can’t say no.”

Entertaining how I can be simultaneously “someone who can’t say no” and a bad friend, isn’t it?

At the end of the day, I love you all, but I also love my writing, and to succeed at it, I need to spend a lot of time polishing my craft. Time which isn’t afforded me in my day-to-day life, because, hey, I also need to earn a living, like a real human being. So please, allow me to love you from the comfort of my own home, from behind a computer screen.

Speaking of which…

Perfecting an art or craft takes thousands of hours of deliberate practice. There are still only 24 hours in a day, and women still do most domestic work.

I am just about the luckiest girl on the planet — I have a husband who’s a great cook, and does all of the cooking for us. He also primarily takes care of the laundry. We also don’t have kids, and don’t intend to.

And yet at 9pm every weeknight, I say to myself, “Well, I could wash the dishes, I could go to bed, or I could try to write a few words.” (I usually choose to wash the dishes). Washing the dishes is only fair; it’s my toll of love to the husband who cooks all the food. Also, living in a clean, organized house contributes tremendously to my well-being, and one of the biggest sources of disorder is the kitchen.

Not everyone is so lucky. Most women, I’d wager, have to make harder choices than this. Make dinner, or write. Do laundry, or write. Drive the kids to soccer practice, or write. I’m willing to bet that across the world, thousands of creative women are making those choices in favor of their family and home. And why shouldn’t they?

Publication is a numbers game–you need to keep submitting, keep believing in yourself when no one else does, improving all the while. And yet, women are more likely to self-reject.

I don’t have any clever statistics to prove the last point, just my personal experience. Submitting, and facing rejection, is the hardest thing I do every day. Many days, I don’t do it at all. I’ve been querying Gods & Fathers for a year, and I’ve only sent it to twenty agents. Those are terrible odds.

“When we ship, we’re exposed,” says Steven Pressfield in Do the Work, and it’s a phrase that sticks with me. Why would I want to be more vulnerable, when I’m already marginal? I get to fight to have my voice heard, and when I do, I face a greater likelihood of having it savaged. Seems like a mug’s game, some days.

I’ve seen — and I’ve been — the woman endlessly rewriting and polishing and dithering over a manuscript, wondering if it’s good enough to send. I’ve sat in front of my computer and thought, “With the thirty minutes I have to work on my writing, do I want to put new words down on paper, with their endless possibility, or do I want to send more queries out into a void?”

Meanwhile, across the world, some dude is probably scribbling a novel on a brown paper bag with a red crayon and sending it to an agent.

To be more concrete: women are socialized to not impose, to not take up space, to not matter. Submitting — shipping — is the opposite of that. We need to believe our words matter, even when no one else does. We need to believe we’re ready, even when we may not be.

Anyway. I write all this not to complain, and not to make excuses for not writing, but simply for my own awareness.