I don't tend to read a lot books about writing. But I have a few favorites, and they have been transformative for me -- Betsy Lerner's The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers
; Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird
; Robert McKee's Story
; William Zinsser's On Writing Well
. The last great book I read about writing, however, came from a very unexpected place. Shelved in the "women's" section or the "self-help" section, maybe, but not in the writing section, to be sure, the last great book I read about writing was our very own Countdown-to-Publication author Gloria Feldt's latest: "No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power."
And it's a book I think every
woman writer should read.
Gloria certainly doesn't consider "No Excuses" to be a book about writing. It is her attempt to awaken women to their power, and to show them how important it is to use it with intention. (For more, don't miss Gloria's 9 Ways blog
.) But a year ago, when Gloria and I began working together on the manuscript (I had the privilege of editing parts of the book), I found myself thinking, again and again, that the tools and tactics Gloria described for helping women know their own power -- in addition to the internal barriers women place between themselves and the power they have -- are absolutely critical to any woman daring to call herself an author, to write in public, to say, "listen to me," and "give me your time" and "this is what I believe" without fear or self-sabotage. What Gloria calls her nine "Power Tools" were not written with writing in mind, but they are, every one of them, tools women who write should employ.
Power Tool #1: Know Your History And You Can Create The Future of Your Choice
This is Gloria's call to arms. Women too often forget that in the not-so-distant-past, the very notion of their equality was blasphemous, and the battle to attain the right to vote, work and even read (still denied
to women all over the world) was hard-fought, and hard-won. When you feel discouraged about your writing, remember that you are not only doing it for yourself, but as a way of giving thanks to the women who earned you the right to write. When we remember how precious that right is, we are less likely to ever let it go to waste.
Power Tool #2: Define Your Own Terms -- First, Before Anyone Else Does
In her chapter about defining your own terms, Gloria defines the term "power" in a way that helped me enormously in my own quest to unlock and un-complicate my complicated relationship with power. (Namely my discomfort with saying: "I want it!") Don't think in terms of "power-over," she enjoins; think in terms of "power-to." Writing is one of the most powerful "power-to's" there is, giving women the power-to call attention to issues they care about, tell stories that others need to hear, and express their experience of life as they know it. If you can identify the "power-to" that drives your desire to create, and think in terms of mission rather than ego, it may liberate you to embrace the power you have when you write, and write well.
Power Tool #3: What You Need Is There If You See It And Have The Courage To Use It
Gloria tells a wonderful story in the book. At a moment of crisis in her life, a young wife and mother who felt trapped by her choices with no way out, Gloria had a dream. In it, she was in a car that was out of control, careening along at a breakneck speed, with no way to stop. To her horror, she suddenly saw that the key, which she desperately wanted to use to turn the car off, was not in the ignition. She couldn't stop the car. She was going to die. And suddenly (in the dream): a vision. The key was in her hand. It had been all along.
How many moments, as writers, do we feel that the thing we need, the word we want, the skill we lack, is beyond our reach? As women, we are conditioned to react to these moments with self-flagellation or feelings of personal inadequacy. But at these moments, we need to remember: the key is in our hands. And it has been all along.
Power Tool #4: Embrace Controversy
How many women writers do you know who need to embrace controversy? To how many women have you wanted to say: don't back away from a fight! Don't fill your writing with apologies or qualifiers! Don't be afraid of making people mad! As Gloria says, "Controversy can be a highly potent and strategic power tool in two different kinds of situations: whether it's the controversy we take because of circumstances or the controversy we make because it's the best way to shed light on an issue."
Power Tool #5: Carpe the Chaos
In chaos, there is opportunity. "Whoever is more comfortable with the ambiguity [change] creates is most likely going to not just survive but thrive." When you realize that hundreds of pages of your book-in-progress are all wrong (something that has happened to me), when you see your screenplay is a mess, when you realize that your memoir should have ended at the beginning, remember -- this is a moment you can seize. Don't retreat in the face of the disaster -- meet the challenge with courage, and remember that the order you impose once the "old" order has collapsed may be a new order you never would have stumbled upon otherwise.
Power Tool #6: Wear the Shirt
I love this one. I will let Gloria explain. "Next to defining your own terms, wearing the shirt is perhaps the next most effective power tool. I don't mean just any shirt, of course. I mean either literally or figuratively sharing your intention with others. I'm referring to standing up for what you believe, what the source of your passion is." It's one thing to talk about the things you care about. It's another thing to PUBLISH them. Talk about wearing the shirt! What does living fearlessly mean to you? What does writing
fearlessly mean? I, for one, hope to always push myself to find out. And to always wear my
chosen "shirt" with pride.
Power Tool #7: Create A Movement
. Not because it is something publishers want, but because a platform--well-constructed, meaningfully envisioned, and thoughtfully maintained--is something we all need. Literally, a place to stand with others who care about what you care about, a place where others can stand with you, and stand together. "When a movement grows by leaps and bounds," Gloria writes, "it can feel electric. As networks light up, more and more people are inspired to act and partnerships develop both across great distances and within close communities."(Hello, She Writes!
Power Tool #8: Employ Every Medium
This one is best, perhaps, for women writers faced with the dreaded task of "self-promotion." Rather than seeing it as a burden, or something you have to feel endlessly embarrassed about doing, think instead of your "power-to." The myriad forms of media authors now face as they attempt to reach their audiences can be overwhelming and dizzying, to say the least, they also represent enormous opportunity. And if you want to take a page from a woman who truly knows how to do this -- check out Gloria's awesome author website
Power Tool #9: Tell Your Story
"Your story is your truth and your power. It defines you as much as you define it. Other women and men need to hear your story, too, and you need to hear theirs. It's how we learn best, and how we connect best to other people. Because no one can tell your story but you."