5 Tips for Women in the Workplace

After getting an office job almost 3 years ago, I’ve picked up some tips (aka: mistakes and lessons learned) for women in the workplace and for anyone looking to be more confident in their profession. Let’s jump right in:

1. Don’t say sorry when you mean something else. Say excuse me, pardon me, or Hello There.

  • Don’t say sorry when you mean “pardon” or “excuse me.” I caught myself saying “sorry” ALL the time when I would turn a sharp corner and almost bump into someone. And you know what? Other women would say “sorry” as well, but men almost NEVER say it.
  • If you round a corner to fast, try saying “Oh, hey there!” with a smile. Or just say “Pardon” and be on your merry way. There’s this misconception that women always have to be smiles and polite or else they’re being bitchy. Aside from being sexist, that’s just untrue.
  • Don’t say sorry in conversations with coworkers when what you mean to say is “Hey, I want to to say something, but I don’t want to interrupt.” Just say it. Or have a polite-interruption lead in, like “What about…” or “So what if…” Saying sorry isn’t polite. It’s an apology. Be polite, not apologetic. Be strong!

2. Walk in the middle of the hallway.

  • If it’s a long empty stretch of hallway and there’s no one around, take that middle road. Stride down the hall like you own it! Too often, I see women hugging the wall, when oftentimes we’re the faster-paced among the hallway walkers. I’m not saying barge into folks when they’re walking by you or to block the path forward, but this is just a small example of stepping forward and owning your own space.
  • Eye contact: I’ve found that people make eye contact with people they’re walking past you, but very briefly. The eye contact lasts for less than a second and typically occurs when they’re 3-6 steps away. Sometimes they nod and say hello, but most often the eye contact is brief and uneventful.
  • Also, a tip I’ve found (because I’m that weirdo who nods and either smiles or says hello to everyone I pass), is that if you’re going to smile at someone as you make eye-contact, make sure to keep your smile until you pass them. Peripheral vision is powerful, and I can’t tell you how many times out in the real world, I see people do the “polite” smile and then go back to grumpy-face or neutral face immediately afterward. I’m not saying you have to smile at everyone/anyone, but just that I find it to have a more positive impact on my own mood if I let my smile last a bit longer. Then, it’s almost like each of those small interactions are built to improve my mood.

3. In that same spirit, take the lead when walking with a group.

  • Don’t just trail behind (unless you don’t know where you’re going, in which case you should not lead the way haha). Oftentimes, you can kind of walk in an awkward group together, but you’ll find that some circumstances require more single-file movements.
  • If you have to file single file, pick up the pace and drop in line ahead of your coworkers or slip in behind them. Be the person to proactively adjust, because it shows forethought, spatial awareness, and initiative of group dynamic movements. Regain your position when you can.
  • I know it sounds like I’m over-thinking it, but just think about how often you take the lead and how often you just mill forward with the group. Really, you just want to take notice of where you’re reflexive behaviors are. Once you identify them, challenge them!

4. Another reflexive thing I see myself and others doing: folding in on yourself at meetings.

  • Try changing your posture. Sit up straight. Put your elbows on the table. Sit with your legs apart instead of crossed legs. Basically: rethink a thing that you do without thinking: posture.
  • If you’re tall, lower your chair to the proper height for the table. If you’re short, raise it up. Don’t be ashamed or afraid of fumbling around for the hidden level on the chair. Comfort is important. I’ve had many a ice-breaking conversation at meetings that start with “Geez, how do you adjust these seats?”
  • Keeping your elbows on the table is a way to lean forward and stay involved in the conversation. It says “I’m participating and paying attention, and I’m ready to learn and lead.” Plus, it can keep you from rolling away and fidgeting in a rolly chair (not that I do that).
  • I know it can be a comfort or a wardrobe or a body temperature thing, especially for women. But if you’ve ever had a guy sit across from you, wide stance, slouch with their arms spread out wide, and mansplain your job to you, you know there is power in posture. Try mirroring the posture of someone you respect. See how it changes your whole dynamic. It’s just super interesting to change the way you present yourself, because it’s SO automatic and subconscious. Challenge the way your brain works! It’s a fascinating experience!

5. Think first, then ask. But don’t overthink.

  • I can’t tell you how many times I take an immediate question to someone else without really thinking about it first. Then they ask a question I don’t know the answer to, and I realize I’ve basically made a gut reaction of complaining instead of thinking about the issue. Take some time. Think about it. Don’t just react. When I see something dumb, and I *immediately* wheel around and tell someone. Which is cathartic and lets me move on, but it isn’t productive for the unlucky soul I keep distracting (sorry, David). Communication, as with most things, requires balance.
  • I’ve also had the opposite issue, where I reach a problem, come up with a complicated solution, only to have someone say “Oh, we can just do THIS, and it’s all fixed.” Working in a vacuum bubble is never good. Vacuum bubbles are a straight ticket to a world of popped balloons.
  • Basically, there’s a long gray smudgy line between not thinking enough and overthinking. I wish it was clear-cut, but it’s not.

 

If you have any tips you’ve picked up at your office, let me know! I’m a weird nerd who pays too much attention to social dynamics and physical behaviors, so I’m always looking to learn more!

The Concerns of a Someday Author: Coping with Inevitable (Hilarious) Mistakes

Fact: Someday, I will sign my own name wrong in a book that I have written.

Planned Reaction: Hey, yeah. So… I spelled my name wrong in your book here. I’m just gonna… yep. I’m just gonna keep this one and, uh, slide you this shiny new copy. Isn’t that shiny? So shiny. And you know what? I’m not even going to sign it. We’ll just call this a wash–a net zero situation. You walk away with a totally neutral book, not marred by any egregious misspellings, and I’ll just have this pile of reject books over here. That’s okay, right? No? Okay. Well…. No, yeah, that’s totally how I’m spelling my name now. Yep. There are three C’s in Rebecca now. Totally.

 

Fact: Someday, someone will ask me about something in my book, and I’ll have zero recollection of making that decision.

Planned Reaction: Errr… why did that particular plot event happen, you ask? Uhh, I see you’re holding my first book there. That’s, um. That was a tough decision to make. Having the, er, character… do that thing they did. And geez, the tension and conflict? Must’ve been… it was a bold choice, to be sure. There’s… wait, what? Whoa, did that really happen? I wrote that? And there’s that terrible plot hole? Yeesh. Well, I’m sure I had my reasons. Probably. Did you want me to sign it? Because I’ve doubled up on the number of C’s in my name. I’m now signing my name as Rebecccca MccLaughlin to avoid confusion for when I spell it wrong by mistake. I also offer fun variations like RebClawflin for that super authentic scribbling signature vibe.

 

Fact: Someday, my ego will get the better of me in a normal everyday situation.

Planned Reaction: Oh, yes. I’m buying this shiny new laptop. Why yes, I do need the full sized keyboard. You see, I’m an Author. A Proper Author who authors things, and I am in quite desperate need of a keyboard that makes the right kind of sound when you type. I’m sure you’ve seen my book. It’s on the very front shelf at that bookstore across the street. I mean, it was in the back of the store when I was snooping, and I moved it up onto the fancy bookshelf near the front. I also signed it while I was there. You’ll see that the signature matches this new driver’s license I’ve had issued: Rbcccccca Mcccccln. My name is mostly C’s now.

 

Fact: Someday, I will say something inadvertently foolish, insensitive, or dumb online.

Planned Reaction: Yeah, I tweeted about it, for sure. What did I say? Oh, just that all books in the universe should be set on fire. Well, no. I meant it as a metaphor, obviously. Obviously! Sure, that’s fair. I DID light one of my own books on fire as a visual aid for the metaphor. Well, how was I supposed to know that the–what’d you call it? The booklr community? How was I supposed to know they’d get so upset. Come on, it’s not like I threatened to light ALL of the books on fire. Oh. I did? I did say that? Well, obviously I was overdosing on coffee and caffeine, and I shouldn’t be held accountable for–wait, what? There’s a trending hashtag about me? Really? Is it… no, it’s not good. Oh. Definitely not good. It’s #RbccccccaHatesBooks. Hmmm. I can see how that would be bad. At least it’s not being–oh it is. It’s being archived on the internet forever. I see.

 

Fact: Someday, I will accidentally spoil something about an unpublished book.

Planned Reaction: Okay, well I just announced to the world that everyone dies at the end. Yeah, I thought it was a joke too, until I remembered that 98% of the characters actually DO die at the end. So, what should we do about it? Is it too late to pull the books from circulation? It is. Okay. Well. How about we do a sequel where they all come back to life? And then there’s a High School Reunion that they attend even though none of them ever went to high school? And then someone inherits the universe?? No, I know it doesn’t make sense! But I’m panicking! This is what happens when I panic! I have really terrible ideas that I immediately pursue! Yes. YES. I DID just tweet about the sequel. What do you mean, “a sequel isn’t in my contract”??? What if I publish under a pen name?? How do you feel about RccccccMcccccc as a pen name???? Why can’t I stop tweeting?? NO, I KNOW I’M PANICKING. WHY DON’T YOU STOP PANICKING?!

 

So as you can see, I’ve given a lot of thought to what my life might be like as an author. I’m basically 100% prepared for any and all situations that may face me. Except for the complications of changing my name so that it has zero vowels and an excessive number of C’s.

I mean, I’m ready for that journey, but I don’t think my driver’s license will be a helpful tool for the police officer when I’m arrested for a.) signing my own books at a book store, b.) lighting innocent books on fire for an incomprehensible metaphor, or c.) breaking into the Twitter Archives to delete panic-induced tweets.

The Lie of the 1-Step Process

Looking at any process from the outside is simple. I come at this from two perspectives: having explored a hefty portion of the “Writing a Book” process and having made my first real “Process Tree” for my job as a Technical Writer.

The process I’m making at work is how our team handles documents that we are rewriting and remodeling. Outsiders think the process goes like this, a one-step process:

Our team makes stuff more awesome.

And even I was fooled by its outward simplicity. I thought it went like this:

Draft > Layout/Design > Final Proof > Publication

It turns our the process vaguely (and pixelated) looks like this:

pixlmap.png

As you can see, it’s way more complicated than it first seems. It goes more along the lines of:

First Draft > First Proof > Content Consult > Design/Layout > Final Proof > Interactive Test > Storage

So I figured, what other process in my life did I at one time think (oh-so-naively) was simple? Only to then discover, en medias res, that it was anything but?

Writing. A. Book.

I thought it was a one-step process. Like “update documents” was a one-step process, right? Write a book. Easy peasy. Well, easy until I was in the thick of things. Then, of course, it got more complicated. I figured, okay, it’s a FIVE step process:

Write book > Revise book > Get representation > Get published > Write more books

I thought it was straightforward. Let’s explore how wrong I was. Without getting too far into the weeds, let’s see what this process actually looks like.

Into the Weeds

This is what the process looked like after about an hour of process-mapping. And I only made it up to the “querying” stage before it all exploded.

bkprcs2

Here are the basic stages (probably): Drafting Zone (orange) > Revision Hell (blue) > Query Trenches (purple) > Agent Land > On Submission > Editor Land > Pre-Publication Stuff > Publication Destination > Post-Publication Road

And because I love a good terrible-rendition of my process, here’s a brief idea of what my person journey through these stages looked like for the first book I wrote/trunked. Note that this process took me a culminating of 4 years.trip1

 

And here’s the one that actually made it (purple), when I finally got my awesome literary agent. I spent a good deal of time in the Revisions, and you can see a bunch of other trunked or unfinished books along the way. You should always be spending more time in revisions than anywhere else, I think:trip7

I’m thinking maybe I’ll do a flowchart for each major stage (at least the first four, since those are the ones I have managed to get through) and post them separately. Thoughts?

Develop Your Voice

Voice. Finding your authorial voice is difficult and vital. It’s a big step on the “How to Be a Writer” journey.  Mostly, that journey looks like this:
1. Learn the rules.
2. Figure out which rules you want to break.
3. Make it work.

1. Learn the Rules

To write, you have to learn and master your language. The grammar, syntax, punctuation, formatting, etc. For the most part, we learn these rules organically as we grow up. If you want to write, treat language as your job.
Tip: Taking a foreign language class can allow you to re-learn those rules in a different context.

2. Break the Rules

Then you have to learn how to break those rules. Or at the very least know that those rules aren’t all of what makes up a good story. Some people will argue on this point. They’ll argue that perfect grammar/syntax is required for good writing. But good writing and good storytelling are not always the same thing. For example, professional language and legal language are the most “correct” ways to say something. They convey clarity and precision in terms. But they don’t make for easy reading, do they?
This means that even if you can put together a charming soliloquy with all the right formatting and vocabulary, you’re not going to find a big audience outside Shakespeare that will read it. Finding your own style is as much about developing your technical skills with a language as it is knowing how to find all the loopholes. For instance, if you’re writing dialogue, it has to feel real. It can’t be a pages-long soliloquy that comes off as stilted or jarring.
Of course, voice is something far beyond the technical aspect of writing. It’s only one piece of the puzzle, really. You also have to look at tension, pacing, character and plot arcs, balance of dialogue, scene vs. summary. These are things that you can learn in a classroom or on your own, depending on you and how you learn best. For me, it’s a combination of the two. The best advice is to read read read, and try to figure out how authors do it.
To develop your voice, you have to pay close attention to how you’re making the reader feel and how you’re communicating your story. It’s really only something you can learn by practice and observation. Best advice: do as many writing exercises as you can. Then, work with someone (such as a Critique Partner or a classmate) to learn what is and isn’t working.
Tip: For writing dialogue, go to a public place and listen to the conversations of those nearby. Each person speaks with their own voice, both literally and stylistically. Try to replicate those differences and stylistic flares in your own writing.

3. Make it Work

The biggest step is to go back and make sure the rules you break are working. Revision is the biggest part that writers need to address. People who don’t have experience with writing always think “I’ll write a book and get it published.” They don’t think of the middle steps involving revision, more revision, and more revision.
Revision is where we learn. It’s where we find our mistakes, where we find the stilted dialogue and authorial narration and melt, twist, and bend it into shape. This applies to more than just voice. It applies to all aspects of writing.  But voice is one of the trickier things a writer has to develop, but only because you oftentimes have to get out of your own way to figure it out. A lot of authors have a natural “voice” to their writing style—whatever makes a story feel like that author’s story. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require a ton of work to make that voice shine and stand out and interplay with the story in a way that makes it feel whole and vibrant.
So. Best advice: practice practice practice, and read read read. And then write. And then revise.

Designing a Writing Portfolio

wp-01I have to apply for my own job. I know. It sounds weird. It is.

I’m getting hired as a permanent employee instead of a contractor, but they still have to go through the interview process.  Part of that involves updating my resume, which is a whole different beast. But part of it is pretty straightforward:

Have a stellar writing portfolio.

Writers are in the unique position that it doesn’t matter as much what your experience or job history is. What’s important is the writing portfolio. (The same goes for designers and illustrators.) You could have 2 years of experience or 20, but if your writing/art is stellar (or crap), then that’s what counts. It’s what they look at. Beyond that, they look for typical interview stuff: do you fit will into the team, are you clever, a fast learner, organized, filled to the piping brim with initiative?

Putting aside interviews and resumes, I’m going to talk about how to tailor your writing portfolio to the job you’re after, and what really makes it shine. (Grain of salt: if I don’t get my job back, then feel free to ignore this advice and also give me free cookies since I’ll be terrible and despicably jobless. Oatmeal raisin.)

  1. Diversity of writing samples
    • You better believe I’m including an excerpt of THE NAMELESS QUEEN in my portfolio.
  2. Purpose of the writing samples.
    • This is where you want to describe what the goal of the piece is. Developed for a specific client? To display data or communicate a specific message? Charity work or a paying gig?
  3. Demonstrated skills of the writing samples.
    • What does this piece of writing say about you as an employee and worker?
    • Does it demonstrate collaborative skills, translating technical material, long-term project management?

Materials for Your Portfolio

Technical Material

If you can, include material that demonstrates you either have knowledge in the area tey are concerned with or that you are capable of communicating content clearly when you don’t have a background in it.

Example: Chemical Analysis Report

  • Prepared and presented analysis of “science something” for collegiate faculty at Symposium of Science Stuff. [purpose]
  • Demonstrates ability to understand and communicate technical materials to a specific audience. [demonstrated skill]
  • Involves collaboration with other writers and technical personnel. [demonstrated skill]

Here’s what this says to an employer:

  • This employee can understand materials that they don’t necessarily have expertise in.
  • Can work collaboratively with others when necessary and deliver a final product.
  • Can display and interact professionally and present work to authority figures.

There you go! You just took that science presentation from college and made it into a business experience asset! And make sure that if they ask you about your writing samples, you expound on these skills.

Remember, they don’t necessarily care WHAT your writing is about, but what it says about your skills as a writer!

Creative Material

An interview and portfolio is NOT the place to discuss how you’ve written five books, 231 short stories and 23,000 poems but still haven’t gotten published. You might think “look how much I’ve done!” but they’ll think “and you don’t have ANY publication credits, yikes!”

Avoid the bitterness and suppositions that come with the numbers. Focus on the hard work of the process. There’s a method for using creative material to your benefit.

Example: Novel Excerpt

Let’s see that same format again, but this time for creative material.

Novel Excerpt: THE NAMELESS QUEEN

  • Involves long-term time management, dedication, and marketing.
  • Represented by New Leaf Literary & Media.
  • Large scope approach to writing project through various stages: drafting, revision, copy-editing, and proofing.

Mentioning the representation is sort of an ethos thing to prove that my work has the snuff to get represented and published. If you are citing work that isn’t published or represented, make sure to keep it succinct and clear.

Here’s a (not-so-secret) secret about writing: people think it’s easy. They think you write a book as a weekend hobby, and then you’re magically a mythical portmanteau between JK Rowling and Stephen King. They think you’re a Jphen Rowlking. Or something.

So if a potential employer asks about your Work-in-Progress (or even if you’re published), make sure you give them just enough insight to show them the hard work involved, but not enough to seem like a bitter wannabe.

Here’s a good example:

Interviewer: “Oh, I see here you’ve written a book? Are you going to get it published?”

You: “That’s the dream, isn’t it? Writing a book is all about time management and dedication, and it really involves a complex process of drafting, multiple revisions, fielding external feedback, and then marketing the book for representation.”

Did you hear all those buzz words in there? If not, I bolded them for effect. You can turn writing a book (what most people think of as a hobby for old folks and hermits) into a business venture. If they ask for more details, be prepared to discuss your life’s greatest passion as if its a logical business project. In reality, it is. You want to make sure your attitude and tone reflect that. After all, you’re after a job here, not validation for your personal work.

Picking a Good Excerpt

If you’re struggling with what to pick, just do the first 250-300 words. That’s the equivalent of the first page, which should be a stunning example of your writing. After all, that first page has to convince agents, editors, and readers alike to keep reading–so why not convince your future boss? If you’re not feeling confident enough to include it in your portfolio, don’t. It’s better to have a few excellent writing samples than a bunch of crap ones.

Remember When I Mentioned Diversity?

Be prepared to include unique forms of writing and associated work. Especially if you’re lacking a good number of pieces to include, it’s a good way to pad the portfolio and display diversity.

In fact, try not to have more than one of the same type of work. Don’t include three excerpts from your various unpublished books or two essays about similar renaissance literature. You want to display DIVERSITY. Show them your broad range of skills.

  • Did you make a style sheet while copy-editing your book (or at a previous job)?
  • Did you design a landing page for a local business on a school assignment?
  • Did you do any writing-related support work? For instance, I’ll be included some HTML/CSS web page layouts that I created, because I also did the writing for them, ergo: totally acceptable for the writing portfolio.

A lot of what you put in there will depend on what the job description is and if you have anything that can remotely display exposure or expertise in those areas. This is the same as the technical materials section. Use what you have to show how adaptable you are.

The diversity of your portfolio should shine and show that you are capable of tackling different types of projects with different types of content.

In the Interview and On Paper

They’re going to ask you about your writing excerpts. Or at least they should. Or at the VERY least, they’ll be holding onto the portfolio to look it over when you’re gone.

If they DO ask about any of your writing/work samples, make sure you can speak about each of them in an educated, professional, and objective way.

Terminology

If you use fancy English terms, like syntax, copy-editing, proofing, etc.,  know what they mean! And know how to explain what they are or how you do them to an interviewer who may not have writing experience.

For instance, if they ask about your book excerpt, etc., be prepared to discuss (briefly and succinctly, as always) the differences between drafting, revision, and proofing, and the different tactics and timetables for each. Or be able to display that you know that different areas of writing require different focuses.

Know You Aren’t a Secretary

Be prepared for people to think you are a secretary or that a secretary can do your job. Be prepared, but don’t believe it.

Like I mentioned before, people think writing is easy. They think anyone can write.

But not everyone can be a writer. This is something that a lot of people (and maybe even your boss or boss’s boss or coworkers or friends/family) don’t understand. So if you’re being hired by someone who knows a lot about writing and English in general, that’s great. Prove you know your stuff.

If you’re interviewing with people who don’t quite understand what goes into it, be sure to give them the “creative writing as a business venture” impression. Throw in some technical jargon that gives them flashbacks to High School English. Mostly, make sure they have a sense that you know that solid technical, professional, and creative writing are all difficult and challenging pursuits with a myriad of details to know and tackle, but also make sure you convey that you are more than willing to do that hard work.

This goes for any interview, really. Don’t make it seem like your job will be easy, because they’ll think you’re just not trying hard enough or you’re not equipped for it. Make it seem like a challenge you are willing, ready, and motivated to take on.

In the end, that’s the type of employee they want to hire.

How to be a Feminist Writer

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It takes effort to be aware of and counteract prejudices. Here are a few steps you can take toward displaying gender equality in your writing.

  1. MATHMake a list of characters you have named, including characters who don’t appear on screen, etc. If you’ve mentioned a named character, put it on your list!
  2. IMAGINATIONImagine your main characters and secondary characters with the opposite or different gender/sex. How does it change the way you’ve imagined them?
  3. ACTION: Now, make changes based on your observations. Try to get an even keel on male vs. female characters, and changing a character’s gender/sex can add a new flare to your story.

 

1. Math

Tools of the Trade

One of the following: White board, Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet, Microsoft Table, or just a scrap piece of paper and pen

The Process

  1. Basically, make a table. Whether you do it in Excel, Word, or on paper/white board, it’s entirely up to you.
  2. Make two columns (or more if you have additional genders. Most common: Male and Female.
  3. By memory, start listing the characters who have names. You’ll probably start with the main characters and then move on to secondary, tertiary, and random folks. Try to be as comprehensive as possible.
  4. Go through, scanning your manuscript, and try to find all the names you couldn’t remember. I can almost guarantee you will find some.
  5. Look at your columns. Check to see if you have more names in the Male list than the Female. Or vice versa. I think you’ll be surprised to find that you probably have an uneven balance of characters.
  6. Let’s break it down even further. Put a box around the characters that are the main players in the story. Hero, villain, sidekick, etc. Box anyone who has screen time.
  7. Is the balance different? Maybe you have a lot of female characters, but all the major players are male?
  8. Let’s go again: Put a heart next to the names of people who fall in love or are otherwise considered romantically focused. Put a star next to characters who you consider to be strong. Put a sad face next to characters you consider weak or in need of rescuing.
  9. Take a look at how things are balanced. Have you accidentally given the male characters all the power and made the women the damsels? Are your female characters only interested in falling in love? These are traps we can fall into without thinking about it.

2. Imagination

Tools of the Trade

One of the following: If you’ve already made the Character Sheet from the 1. Math section, use it here! If you haven’t, you can just use your brain! No tools needed!

The Process

  1. Think about your main character. Think about your villain.
  2. Why did you decide to place them as their current genders? For example, why is the main character female and the villain a male?
  3. Often, I find that people default to having a cliche villain figure. Tall, dark, brooding male character who is evil for the sake of evil. But we must strive to make our villains as complex and interesting as our heroes, and that means asking questions.
  4. Why is your hero/villain their current gender?
  5. If you swap that character’s gender, what changes?
  6. Does changing the character’s gender fundamentally change that character’s identity or role?
  7. Does their behavior still make sense if they are the other gender?
  8. Go ahead and go through this same process with your secondary characters (especially if you have a lot of one gender from the Math section).

3. Action

Tools of the Trade

One of the following: Something to write with. Anything. That crayon under the couch.

The Process

You’ve probably noticed that a lot of the advice under Imagination comes from cliches in writing. We vilify bad guy and we make him a trope. Or we make a a damsel fall in love and get rescued by Hero.

Cliches come from the same place as prejudice: from not properly or complexly imagining others. To take steps forward, we need to do one thing: spend more time thinking and imagining characters/people.

  1. Instead of thinking about people, imagine a person. What does that person think and feel? Why are they doing what they are doing? Really try to get inside their head. If you give your characters—and others—a fraction of the time you spend in your own mind with your own life, then you’ll be surprised at how quickly they become more real.
  2. Walk through what happens when you change someone’s gender? If you want to change a powerful business executive from a male to a female, how would it change the way you write the character? Do those intense dialogue scenes now feel demanding and uptight instead of commanding and controlled? If so, this is evidence of gender bias that exists in workplaces, where people think powerful women are bossy instead of The Boss. So try to pay attention to how you display a character, and try to take steps to overcome those inherent predispositions. If you want to make a female character as The Boss, think about how you would write her as a male first in order to overcome unintended detrimental tone/content.
  3. Take a look at what you can change in your story. How many of the genders can you swap? Can you maybe add some balancing named characters in the future? Keep these things in mind moving forward!
  4. When you make a gut decision while writing, make sure you revisit it and ask why did I choose that, and could there be a more unexpected and original option?
  5. If the villain is a skeezy and sexist male, does making that villain a female make those traits seem uncomfortable and wrong? That might be gender stereotypes creeping into your writing. Don’t fall into the trap of making your male characters womanizing or creepy for the sake of making them villains. It doesn’t matter if it fits the gender; does it fit the character?
  6. Make sure you are writing and thinking with intention. If you make a decision, make sure you’re actively deciding it and not just letting the current of plot/life move you forward. That might sound like a lot of hard work. It is. It should be. Great writers and good people are empathetic and try their best to understand what makes a person do what they do.

In the end, you want your story to surprise people. You want readers to find your story original and fresh, and part of the way you do that is by making sure you aren’t falling into the easy traps of gender roles, cliches, and tropes.

Join Me!

For me, I almost always accidentally end up with more male characters than female. Most of them are side characters, so I try to even out the scoreboard where possible. While I’m doing that, I also try to make sure that I’m giving women jobs that maybe I typically ascribe to men. Like delivering bodies to a morgue or managing large finances or punching someone.

On the other side of that coin, I try to make sure the men characters aren’t all brutish or emotionless. Sometimes swapping genders is the best way to illuminate the well-worn path we’re walking on and to give us the foresight to jump off and go somewhere surprising.

Meeting Other Writers… IN THE WILD

I was at a coffee shop last weekend with Twister (Twin Sister). Coffee, coffee cake cupcake, more coffee, and basically more coffee.

We were discussing things about writing:

  • jump start productivity
  • start a project you haven’t worked on in a long time (sometimes years)
  • decide how to move forward with a nebulous plot
  • discover what themes you are inadvertently addressing and that you want to address

While we were mid-discussion, a group of people pulled together a few tables beside us. A few people gathered over time, and it ended up being a table with about 7 people.

Because I’m a secret ninja spy with terrible eavesdropping skills, I maintained a super level of coolness with Twister whilst occasionally turning my ear to their table.

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They discussed Divergent books and movie adaptations, character development, the risks and rewards of second person POV, and past experiences they had with critiques. And one of them was drawing something for her book, and it was GORGEOUSLY FANTASTIC. I wanted to snag a picture of that picture, but I felt leaning over and snapping a photo was probably a step too far.

Yes, I was probably listening more than I should have.

(To be fair, they were literally one foot away.)

((To be additionally fair, it wasn’t so much “intentional eavesdropping” as it was “overhearing words someone is speaking one foot away in the natural lulls of conversation”))

Anyway.

Basically, what I had stumbled onto was OTHER WRITERS. Out in the real, proper world! IN THE WILD. Wild Writers, as it were.

Putting aside the narration in my head (a la: here we are in the natural habitat of the elusive Writing Group–the coffee shop. If we’re quiet, we might just see them in their natural social habits), I spent a good chunk of my outing working up the nerve to say HI.

Not just because I wanted to try to encourage Twister to see if she could join, and not just because I wanted to confirm to them that I’m a pseudo lunatic writer who semi-stalked them through their group meeting. But because I wanted to be brave and say hello.

Writers can be an introverted breed.

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So more than anything, I wanted to take a measured brave step toward How To Human.

Just like blogging, writing, public speaking, traveling, taxes, and cooking, it takes practice.

And the conclusion was good, too! I met another writer whose name is Becca. I learned that they were a writer’s group from a (relatively) local library. I got a dash of contact details.

I thought I would be nervous or afraid to speak to them. Granted, as Twister so very helpfully pointed out IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR INTRODUCTIONS, I successfully completed my transformation to a red, red tomato.

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BUT! I found, at the end, that I wished I had spoken up earlier, as opposed to getting last minute details before leaving. Not that they would have appreciated me muscling in on their group, but it would have been nice to do a general info-trade. Like what genres or story forms we write, how long we’d been writing, everyone’s real name and such.

So at the end of it all, I wasn’t regretful of my nerves or fear, I only regretted that I hadn’t been brave sooner.

Which, I think, is something most of us can say about bravery and regret.