Tag Archives: writer’s life

What’s In A Pronoun?

The other day I scribbled this hastily worded poem onto twitter

She ties the night sky
loosely at her throat
a cape of stars trails behind
curls it around the boy
with the cape of sunshine
a gentle kiss

So far, so good.

However, it started differently.

The original line was “He ties the night sky/loosely at his throat”. To me it was reminiscent of children playing superheroes, tying an old towel or something similar around their throats as an impromptu cape (even if Edna Mole says, “No capes!”).

I was halfway through writing the poem, had an ending in sight, and I stopped myself and asked why I had used the masculine pronoun. On Twitter space is a premium and the inclusion of an extra letter could mean tighter editing in other places.

If I am writing poetry I will use pronouns in place of names for the sake of brevity and to give the persona a general facade for the reader to ascribe her/his own interpretation.

However, the masculine pronoun is not my default position; the content of the poem generally dictates my choice of gendered pronoun. Many of my stories focus on the feminine.

In this case, the use of the masculine pronoun was predicated by the content. Boys and capes are familiar tropes. The masculine is the dominant voice in our culture, to the exclusion of the feminine.

Therefore to change the pronoun is to change the emphasis of the narrative. 

There is nothing deep or meaningful on this poem but to change the pronoun order from masculine to feminine is to give agency and power, something our society needs to do more of.

Even in looking over the word choices in the poem as it currently stands, changes would affect meaning. If I used “man” instead of “boy” I alter the emphasis, the perception of the reading. Similarly, replace “boy” with “girl.” How would you read it now?

The written language is the best way we have to communicate, as inadequate as it some times. 

Are you conscious of the gender you ascribe to your work? How do you apply it?

What If I Don’t “Make It?”

What if I don’t make it?

This is a question that confronts every new and emerging writer. 

I am a new and emerging writer and I have confronted it.

Armed with a new pen, a Moleskine notebook and a dream, you set out to become a writer. But at some point the blind ambition comes face to face with the reality of the publishing industry.

It’s like having an experience with a face hugger from the movie Alien; you know at some point a xenomorph will burst out of your chest, killing you and then feed on the remnants of your dream of being a writer.

Despite every scrap of determination, every skerrick of aptitude, every committed moment of diligence, every hour of writing spent honing your craft, every fortune cookie predicting an ambiguous uncertainty of guaranteed success, there is no guarantee of you “making it” as a writer.

Alan Baxter recently hosted a blog series, The Ongoing Angst of Successful Writers, with six authors, all of whom still carry the fear of “What if I’m not good enough?”

Even though they have “made it,” based on their own standards, there is still a fear. Go and read the conclusions then work your way through the different authors. You will cheer and weep and know you’re not alone.

So what chances do I have as a new and emerging writer to “make it?”

The same chance they did.

How will I define if I have “made it?”

I see on social media reports of authors who carved out a successful blogging career and turned it into fiction or non-fiction book deal and have gone on to financially successful careers.

And they make it sound SO EASY! “I wrote a book, it was picked up by an agent and sold to the highest bidder. And I’ve sold 1,000,000 copies and now have a three book advance deal.”

I have had two short stories published in anthologies, had a vignette published, and have three stories offered for free on Ether Books app (see the Publications page). Nothing to rock the world, but it’s a start.

“Making it” implies financial success, selling stories, novellas and/or novels, whatever literary form you care to think of.

“Making it” implies critical acclaim and public praise.

And, yes, I want these things. I want to be financially successful and have critical acclaim and public praise.

But…

  • I have never made a sale for a short story.
  • I have not won a respected or prestigious competition (or even a disreputable one).
  • I have not finished writing my first novel.

Not a great start. Yet there are more fears lurking.

  • What if I never finish a novel? And assuming I finish a novel, what if I never sell it?
  • Will I write a second novel? A third? A fourth? What if they don’t sell either?
  • What if I NEVER sell a short story, a novella or a novel?
  • What if I never *fill in the blank here*?

Trying to answer the question of “Have I ‘made it’?” is akin to trying to catch a fart in a cyclone.

I want to make it. I want to sell short stories, and just like known authors, experience rejection.

I am committed to improving my craft, developing my art and telling good stories. I will have tried my hardest. I will have written to the best of my aptitude and skill; learned what I can from whomever and wherever to ensure my work is the best it can be to have every chance to be considered.

I’m going to make damn sure I give it everything I am to have a crack at “making it.”

But if I don’t make it, I don’t mind.

Because…

Despite everything looking like a failure, I will continue to write.

This is how I know I will have ‘made it.’ I will have continued despite the “failure.”

When I’ve “made it” financially or critically, I’ll let you know.

If I don’t make it, I’m ok with that.

I won’t be ok if I have failed to continue writing.