On Validation

0849772fdfc614ba5b0fd66d5b9ef808_400x400I co-lead a monthly writers group as part of the Center for Faith and Work, and before we break off into small groups to workshop our pieces, one of the members leads us in a discussion on a topic centered around the writing life. Last month, Brooke Obie, author of Book of Addis: Cradled Embers (Vol 1), led a talk on validation, a subject that has been coming up for me from a few different directions as I wait for word from my agent on a new manuscript, my birthday approaches, and I take a procrastination break from a new piece I’m working on to write this post.

A few weeks ago, during a Saturday cable watching marathon I stumbled on the movie 5 to 7. The film, about a young writer’s affair with a married French woman nine years his senior, ended with a comment I’ve been pondering since: “Your favorite story, whatever it might be, was written for one reader.” The writer’s reader was his now former lover, and the point he was making was that whoever the writer’s reader is, it is her or his validation that matters most.

As I noted in a previous post about this quote, my reader often changes. Sometimes it’s a client, a boss, an editor, an agent, social media followers. Sometimes my reader is me. And for the purposes of the piece I am pushing out into the world for this reader, their validation is everything.

Brooke directed us to unpack validation itself and how it shapes what and why we write. Here are the questions she invited us to ask ourselves:

  • What role does validation play in your writing?
  • Who are you seeking validation from?
  • How has/does rejection impact(ed) your feelings of validity as a writer?
  • How do you determine which criticism is valid?
  • What are your goals as a writer? (What and who shaped these goals?)
  • When do you feel most validated as a writer?
  • Have you ever felt the presence of God when you’re writing, or felt that you’re “in the zone” when you’re writing? Does this feeling validate your writing/make you feel valid as a writer?
  • What fears do you have that undermine your feelings of validation? How do you deal with these fears?
  • What are your intentions for your writing? What do you hope to achieve? If you achieved it would you feel validated as a writer?

Is it possible to ever feel validated as a writer? Is validation-seeking in and of itself a trap–an indication of a hole that can’t be filled with the expected markers?

Both J.K. Rowling and Elizabeth Gilbert have remarked that validation in the form of bestselling status doesn’t quell the desire to write, or the hope for validation that’s stripped from the expectations, jealousy, and effusive praise that can come with success. And recently, the author of In Her Shoes and other bestselling books Jennifer Weiner bared her heart and admitted her jealousy in a now deleted Facebook post when another writer’s book  was chosen over hers for Oprah’s Book Club–a validation that has eluded her for now.

Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, also a bestselling author, has written about finding validation in the work itself. In a poignant post on her blog, she expressed the importance of maintaining perspective on the accomplishment that completing a piece of writing is: “…I’d internalized so much shame about how my books had performed, that I’d completely forgotten to be proud of the fact that I’d written and published two books in the first place.”

Validation is such a personal quest, determined by ever-shifting internal and external factors, that even trying to unpack it feels bottomless. I think that’s why I appreciate having the above-noted questions handy–a way to spot-check when the insecurities rise, and a reminder to focus on why I write in the first place. I hope the questions are helpful to you too.

Sci/Fi Writer Calls Colleagues & Readers Out for Sexist Attitudes

Ann Aguirre calls out science-fiction community on sexism, sexist attitudes - peoplewhowrite

Ann Aguirre

“I am a woman. I write SF. And it’s not acceptable to treat me as anything less than an equal. I won’t stand for it. And I won’t get your fucking coffee,” sci-fi author Ann Aguirre writes in an impassioned blog post detailing sexism she has endured from fellow writers and fans of the genre. Recounting episodes of being asked to get coffee by a writer she was sitting on a panel with, and being called “the token female” by the (female) moderator of another panel she was on at Comic Con, Aguirre says many male sci-fi fans also dismissed her work.

“The one bright spot,” Aguirre writes, “was my experience at KeyCon in Canada, where I was not only made to feel welcome but valued. Not a single soul at the con questioned my credentials or my quality of fiction, due to what I don’t have in my pants.” But overall, she says it got so bad she stopped attending science fiction conferences for a time.

Publishers Weekly contacted Aguirre to ask her how the sci-fi community and the industry at large has responded to her blog post.  In addition to receiving hate comments and mails, Aguirre says writers like Neil Gaiman and David Brin have publicly expressed their support.

Unfortunately, sexism is not limited to sci-fi. Bestselling author Jodi Picoult tweeted “Would love to see the NYT rave about authors who aren’t white male literary darlings.” Author Jennifer Weiner concurred: “I think it’s a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feelings, it’s literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it’s romance, or a beach book—in short, it’s something unworthy of a serious critic’s attention.” Weiner’s bestselling books are often patronizingly categorized as “chick lit.”

New Republic cites a 2010 study by Slate.com’s DoubleX blog that found:

Of the 545 books reviewed [in the New York Times] between June 29, 2008 and Aug. 27, 2010:
—338 were written by men (62 percent of the total)
—207 were written by women (38 percent of the total)

Of the 101 books that received two reviews [in the New York Times and the Sunday New York Times Book Review] in that period:
—72 were written by men (71 percent)
—29 were written by women (29 percent)

A repot on VidaWeb.org shows that reviewers disproportionately reviewed books by male authors in 2012 too.  Ironically, New Republic was the worst culprit. Less than 17% of the books reviewed by New Republic were authored by women.

Aguirre told Publishers Weekly, “The positive I see coming from this is that we’ve broken through the wall of silence, where it’s better to swallow our shame and outrage. If we’re united in our determination to demand equality and respect, the situation must improve.”