I’m starting grad school on Monday, and today that means rereading part of Virginia Woolf’s essay, “A Room of One’s Own.” Usually, I wouldn’t chronicle my academic forays on this blog, but this particular reading assignment is of particular interest to me as a woman writer.
Woolf’s essay touches on some pivotal issues that I really do face when I’m writing. As a woman–even a 20th or 21st century, or whatever darn century this is, woman–I have to struggle against precedents in the fields of fiction and academic writing. Precedents that, in Woolf’s time, were set by men. The precedents have now been added to by women. In my case, that is a bad thing. For example, women writers in my favorite genre, mystery/thriller, have often written romantic mysteries, cozy mysteries, thrillers in which the protagonist is a female victim and males must save her (read any Iris Johansen novel), and etc. Because of this, if I use my full name as an author, my works may be overlooked or assumed to be inferior as serious mysteries.
I’m not arguing that women’s contributions to genre writing are bad, because they aren’t. I’m just saying that they are typified or categorized differently, marketed differently, portrayed differently, and valued differently. Some of this difference in merited; most of it is not.
When Woolf states that she thinks all women need a room of their own and 500 pounds a year in order to be able to write, she is arguing that they need a place, a precedent, in order gain independence, credibility, a foundation. More than that, though, they need a name. A name that is not decided by the dominant male writers in their field. I agree. I need ground to write on, the ability and the space to create despite the ever-pressing ideologies, duties, and demands of society. I need room to develop my own place and name, I don’t want to be shaped into the mold.
And, speaking of molds, take a look at this mystery writing mold: Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories.