This past weekend, I finally got around to reading the Rebecca Mead’s profile of Jennifer Weiner in The New Yorker. I don’t read The New Yorker cover to cover like I used to, which I’m sure is due to the fact that I go to the gym less these days. Say what you will about my gym routine, I get a lot of reading done while “doing cardio.” But because I’m lazy about working out, I also am lazy about reading the magazines I subscribe to, so now I pick many of the articles I want to sweat on before I go to the gym, mostly because I’ve seen people talking about them on Twitter. In the case of the Weiner profile, not only had I read a lot of tweets about the article, but I’d also read many tweets about her and what she had to say about the state of fiction being written by women.
As an occasional writer and reader of fiction, the profile gave me a lot to think about. Weiner is right about many things. Reviewers and readers don’t treat fiction written by women the same way they treat fiction written by men. And we simply don’t see much coverage of commercial fiction or the fiction that exists in what New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul called “the vast middle.” I’ve been guilty of not reading – and “writing off” – certain female authors precisely because they write commercial fiction or “chick lit.” I even wrote a little bit about this last week when I talked about my relationship with historical fiction over the years and my dismissal of the genre during college as too fluffy for me, though I read Philippa Gregory novels than I had time for.
I think it’s hard to be a female writer and not care about being taken seriously. I didn’t think I could write anything at all until a few years ago because I felt that no one would care about anything I had to say. I don’t mean that I actively though that. Rather, I dismissed the idea of being a writer for a lot of reasons, and when I finally sat down and thought about it in the midst of an extremely frustrating summer as an unpaid intern the summer after I graduated from college, I realized that underneath all of the very rational reasons I had come up with for not being a writer, there was a fear of being unsuccessful. And at that point I’m sure I thought I would only achieve success if I wrote a big, literary novel.
I started writing anyway. I took a few fiction writing classes at NYU. In one of them, I found one of my biggest fans, an older Swedish poet and writer named Gun, who was a little crazy and a lot amusing. She was always positive about my manuscripts – many of which were sloppy and amateurish – and for that, I thank her. But there was one time when she said that my work reminded her of “chick lit” and I almost lost my shit. I brooded over that one for days, thinking that if what she liked about my work was its chick littiness, then maybe her liking it didn’t matter. Maybe I needed to write differently.
That never really happened, though I did start trying not to judge what I write. I’m a 26 year-old woman and what comes naturally to me is to write about things that I’ve experienced and some of those things are dating and struggling with my weight and working on my self-esteem and generally trying not to fuck up at being a person. Though it’s not totally out of the question, I’m probably never going to be a traditional literary writer. So there’s a chance that, if I do eventually write a novel, someone will classify it as “chick lit.” I won’t be mad about it though. I hope I’ll be happy enough to have written something (or to have finished writing something) at all.
Anyway, just read the profile. It’s good and you don’t need to subscribe to The New Yorker to access it, which is nice. Let me know what you think.