Write Like a Womxn: 5 Ways to Break from the Male Literary Tradition
In a literary world consumed with men’s voices and ideas it can be difficult to know what it means to write like a woman—and indeed, a womxn. With our beloved Shakespeare writing lines like, “Frailty, thy name is woman!” it’s no wonder men have overwhelmed literary movements and peed all over the English canon since time in memorium. Okay, let’s be fair: the world would be a much poorer place without our (malecentric) literary heritage; but it would be a helluva lot more interesting if we’d heard as many female and non-binary voices speaking to us through time. Unfortunately, with the male literary tradition so ingrained in our approach to writing, our education, and our ideas about what literature even is, it can be difficult to know where to begin when it comes to writing in your true voice. That’s why we want to share with you our five favourite ways to write like a womxn.
1. Be Loyal to Your Experiences
Don’t worry, we’re not requesting you box yourself into the “classic feminine” confessional literary tradition or decide that your writing should be outwardly political. It’s quite simple: create something that is true to your experiences. This could mean going full autobiography or simply conveying emotional truths through your characters. While “write what you know” has become a bit of a cliché, in a time when we are only just beginning to understand how often women’s claims are questioned, it’s especially important for them to write their own histories.
2. Write Characters with Substance and Voice
We’re as bored as the next gal by the exquisitely beautiful female character with legs up to here and no discernible goals in life except helping the protagonist along on his journey of self-discovery: in other words, the patriarchal idea of beauty and charm that has no relation to a real human person. It’s time to put an end to the lousy female characters so many authors have been guilty of writing for decades. Create complex characters with real goals and motivations. Write female characters who are flawed and unapologetically real. Basically, write people you might actually meet IRL—and want to know.
3. Be Fearless and Experiment
When we think of the literary tradition as a whole—save for a few movements in the early twentieth century (we're looking at you, Modernism)—we tend to think of a fairly recognizable, chronological structure that dictates how a story is told. If you find yourself writing with this structure in mind, give yourself permission to experiment with your work and break away from conventions. You don’t have to go full Virginia Woolf in To the Lighthouse, but consider how you can approach your story in a playful and interesting way. Sure, male writers also experiment with fractured or partial narratives, and many do it well, but there’s a lot of power in a female writer experimenting with how she wants to tell her story and then doing it her way.
Ready to get your story out there but aren’t sure where to start? Our manuscript assessment service will send you in the right direction. See where your manuscript stands and learn about what steps you should take towards publication!
4. Engage with Intersectionality
This one’s for our privileged ladies: if womxn are indeed to run the world, they all need to engage in intersectionality and remember the importance of marginalized voices in literature. This doesn’t mean write from the perspective of someone who is marginalized if that is not your experience (please don’t do it, pretty please). However, try to be aware of pre-existing scripts and write—or at least edit—from a place that acknowledges the intersections of class, race, ability, and sexuality with respect.
5. Write with Confidence
We’re stealing this one directly from the male literary tradition; write with confidence and see the potential in your own work. Champion your own career and push for visibility by submitting your work to journals and short story contests. Your story is worthy and meaningful and you need to believe and act in accordance with that in order to make it true—not to mention staking your place in the literary tradition. We’re rooting for you!
More than that actually—we can even hold your hand or lead your cheer. Keep you company. Assist and advise you. Encourage and empower you. And help you take your manuscript to the next level. Take a look at our Publishing Guidebook to see what working with JEC might look like and how we can help get you from A to P—for PUBLISHED!
How do you write like you?
Let us know in the comments! Let's spread the wisdom.