Friday, March 22, 2013

Who Do You Think You Are?

By Susan

There was a time when I spent too much brainpower deciding what kind of writer I was going to be. I felt an intense pull to name myself, to define what it was that I was doing with the words, to call myself something. If I couldn't name it, then was it real? Or was I just a scribbler, a pretender, a hack?

I came up with several options: Southern Literary Fiction Writer, Women's Writer, Kentucky Author, or simply Novelist. I practiced using each of those phrases in various forms. When it came time to send query letters to living and breathing agents, I was thrown once again. Who was I? And why would that agent want to represent me, an unknown amateur who couldn't even decide what to call myself, or my work?

The problem with any of these titles is that they limit my work-- the same way an implement used to prop someone up can in fact stunt their growth. Can a Novelist, for example, write poetry and non-fiction? Can a Kentucky Writer spin a tale about Africa? Is calling yourself Literary pretentious and off-putting? If you are a Women's Writer, does that devalue your work somehow, or keep men from reading it?

It all makes me wonder how much control we actually have over how we are perceived. I like to think that writing quality work is the best path to literary acceptance, yet I am not naive enough to believe that labels and stereotypes mean nothing. Instead of labeling myself, I've realized that by simply calling myself a Writer I've opened up doors that I'd previously closed without even meaning to do so. No labels anymore--just the words. I've had poetry place in a contest, I'm contemplating a narrative non-fiction proposal, and I'm stretching beyond my southern roots to write stories that are compelling to me--not just stories set in the South.

This blog, of course, is called What Women Write for a reason--even though we are all vastly different, we strongly identify with our roles as mothers, wives, sisters and daughters, and we are all writers. We are proud of who we are, and are proud of our words. In great part this blog was created to encourage other women who navigate this same culture--both with and without the labels.

So who are you, dear reader? Are you a writer, too? Or have you limited yourself by genre, gender, and guise? Because we control our image, to a great degree--not all of it, but quite a bit. Step outside of the labels you've scripted for yourself and see what kind of writer you can be.

You might surprise yourself.

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