Do Women Writers Face an Uphill Battle? How Women’s Writing Communities Can Help

by Marylee MacDonald, November 4, 2017 in Online communities

You’d think that in this day and age, women writers would have it made. After all, women buy more books than men. At writing conferences I’ve attended, women far outnumber men. Whether we’ve devoted our lives to our careers or families, I sense in women writers a pent up desire to explore their creativity.

But, is it necessary to have groups dedicated to fostering writing by women? I think it is. Or, at least it can’t hurt. Why is that? Well, for one thing, if you’re a woman you’re still called upon to juggle your family responsibilities and your writing ambition. You’re caught in a tug-of-war: a live person (whom you love) vs. a burning, but secret, desire for “something more.”

Groups set up to validate women writers’ aspirations understand that women can never really just do one thing. Once a mother, always a mother. And despite changes in society that sent women back into the workforce, I don’t know a single woman who delegated their jobs as cooks, bottlewashers, laundry managers, homework helpers, and caregivers for aging parents. No.

Women typically don’t give up responsibilities. We take more on. Women writers can’t stop grocery shopping, resign from being “soccer mom,” or bow out on babysitting for grandchildren.

We can’t “disengage,” and in fact, many in our families might see what we do as competing with what they’d like us to be doing.

One of women writers’ main challenges is to convince ourselves that writing is legitimate. I recognize that this isn’t just a problem for women. It’s a problem for anyone wanting to make a life in the arts. However, the sense of fragmentation can lead women to abandon their writing projects too early.

women writers on SCN

The Story Circle Network provides a forum for women writers whose focus is on telling personal stories.

The SCN

The Story Circle Network is a nonprofit “for women with stories to tell.” Of course, we all know that it’s not just the story you have to tell, but how you tell the story that’s of the utmost importance. And that’s where SCN can help. It provides a safe place for women to submit manuscripts and see their work published.

As I learned this summer when I was Writer-in-Residence for the Mesa Public Library, not everyone wants to write the “great American novel.” Many view writing as a means to sort out what has happened in their lives. Sometimes, that takes the form of short essays. Other times, the writing is simply a means to look at experience and try to plumb its hidden meanings.

The SCN is based in Austin, TX, where they schedule local classes, workshops, story circles, reading circles, and retreats. When I joined SCN, I received a welcome packet that invited me to become involved in their efforts to expand beyond Texas. To give you a glimpse of what they’re about, here’s a quote from their Mission Statement:

“The Story Circle Network is dedicated to helping women share the stories of their lives through memoir, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama, and to raising public awareness of the importance of women’s personal histories. We carry out our mission through publications, a website, classes, workshops, writing and reading circles, and woman-focused programs. Our activities empower women to tell their stories, discover their identities through their stories, and choose to be the authors of their own lives.”

SCN’s strength is its commitment to “personal writing.” They have an annual essay contest and one on “life writing.” You can be an absolute beginner, and they’ll make room for you.

Opportunities for connecting with other writers abound:

Apart from these excellent opportunities, I want to also mention a service that you might overlook. SCN provides a book review service to writers whose books are self-published or published by small or independent presses. If you need a testimonial for your forthcoming book, this is an excellent source. Their book review website showcases their thoughtful and objective reviews.

SCN women writers book reviews

Many women writing family stories can’t find sites to review their books. Story Circle Network is one site that provides objective reviews by real readers, and they’re open to self-published books and those published by small and independent presses.

If you’re blogging, you might want to take advantage of the visibility they can give you. Each month they feature a member’s blog in their newsletter. They also have an Older Women’s Legacy (OWL) Circle that holds a memoir-writing workshop in Estes Park, CO. Even if you can’t attend the conference, you might be interested in the workbook they use. You can learn more about that here.

Finally, the SCN sponsors the yearly Sarton Women’s Book Award. If you have a memoir, nonfiction book, book of contemporary or historical fiction, or a young adult or new adult book, then definitely submit.

Women’s National Book Association

Here’s a powerful statement from the WNBA, a nonprofit founded in 1917: “The Women’s National Book Association was established in 1917, before women in America had the right to vote. “ That gives you pause, doesn’t it? Here’s their mission statement.

“The WNBA’s founding idea—that books have power and that those involved in their creation gain strength from joining forces—reaches across the decades to now serve members in chapters across the country and network members in between.”

Like the Story Circle Network above, the Women’s National Book Association offers women opportunities to receive recognition for their work. This kind of validation can make all the difference.

As you can tell, the organization believes that literacy and access to books is as important a part of what they do as the writing itself. If you’re a member of the organization, you do have a chance to let the world know what’s happening in your writerly world. Writers can send 40-word snippets of honors or publications for the WNBA newsletter.

The WNBA does not have an international focus. Their real strength, and the reason you might want to join, is that they have eleven active chapters. If you’re within striking range of these groups, the WNBA encourages you to participate. Each chapter runs its own affairs.

The San Francisco WNBA chapter has a ton of activity and participates in all the local writing events, such as Litfest.

women writers WNBA-SF

Each chapter of the WNBA has its own busy slate of activities. Even the websites differ. What they have in common is a long history and a dedication to literacy.

An organization that devotes itself to readers and literacy is A-OK in my book. If we are to succeed as writers, then we must insure that the generations coming after us love books as much as we do.

The International Women’s Writing Guild

The IWWG is an inclusive, online community of writers that provides a safe space for women to decide whether they dare call themselves writers. Back in the 1980s, I attended a day-long workshop in Chicago. The workshop leader was Pat Carr, a writer who led me into territory I never would have explored. I didn’t know her as a writer, but I have come to admire and treasure her books: The Radiance of Fossils, The House on Prytania, and two very fine books on the craft of writing, One Page at a Time and Writing Fiction with Pat Carr.

Writing teacher Pat Carr

Pat Carr is an amazing workshop leader and a fantastic writer. I first learned about her writing from the International Women’s Writing Guild

More than any other writing experience, Pat’s workshop through the IWWG gave me permission to call myself a writer. It set me on a path.

And, I am not alone. IWWG is the organization that gave many women writers the inspiration and courage to tell their stories.

Despite a change in leadership and a reorganization, their tradition of offering reasonably priced, one day writing workshops continues. Their “Writing from Your Life” retreat in Boston (Saturday, April 28, 2018) costs $95. And, they have other workshops at Antioch University in Los Angeles, New York City, Florida, and Niagara.

IWWG

The IWWG offers conferences and online open-mics where women writers can read 3-minute snippets of their work.

Check out their “Events” page, and you’ll find that they’ve jumped into the digital world. This means that anyone–women living in Russia or Sri Lanka or Saipan–can have their voices heard. If you’re an IWWG member, you can claim a 3-minute slot, and if you’re not a member and just want to see if this is for you, listen in.

SheWrites

I can say that the sites above are “small ponds” compared to the “big pond” represented by SheWrites.com. This website has one of the largest communities of women writers in the blogosphere. They’re part of She Writes Press, an independent publisher that’s able to get their authors’ books into bookstores and discussed by book groups. But, don’t mistake the press for its offshoot, the community of 20,000 or so women writers who actively share their knowledge, insider tips, struggles and victories.

SheWrites women writers

SheWrites.com offers bloggers a platform. You don’t need to have a book published with their press. All you need is something interesting to say.

Before you wade into this pond, put on your wet suit and snorkel, and read the operating instructions. Learn how to navigate the site and find communities that address your issues. If you’re willing to read and review books for emerging authors, this is a great place to connect. If you’re baffled by query letters and the endless agent hunt, you’ll find help here.

SheWrites.com is also a place to develop a “fan base” of followers. However, you’ll see that there are now many, many bloggers with upwards of 200 posts each. Each has 30 to 40 followers. Unless you’re trying to market yourself as a writer who offers advice to other writers, I’d say it’s wise to think about your time commitments. This may be a great place to connect with other writers, get reviewers for your books and potentially ask for book blurbs, but you won’t find many readers here. Of course, writers read, but, you know what I mean. Still, there’s a lot to be said for visibility, and SheWrites.com is a great place to establish an online presence.

Women Writers, Find Your Tribe

There’s a lot of hype about how social media lets you “find your tribe.” I don’t think many of us are exactly looking for a “tribe.” We’ve set up our own families, work lives, and friendship networks. However, what we all could use is a pat on the back now and then. No one understands what it’s like to cope with rejection or to receive that first royalty check. Most of all, hanging out with women writers can provide that deep affirmation we all need.

If you know about other sites, please leave a comment and let everyone know.


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