The Women Who Write panel took place on Sunday at Summer in the City 2017 on the Main Stage. It was moderated by Hannah Witton and featured creators Connie Glynn, Savannah Brown, Hazel Hayes, and Dodie Clark.
The panel, which was suggested by Connie, was the first of its kind and a complete success. The panel kicked off with everyone explaining what they specifically write and how their identity plays a role in that. “It was really cool yesterday to be on the Filmmaking panel and just be a woman on that panel and not have it make a difference,” explained Hazel, “yet I am still aware that there is that inequality, and so it’s really cool to have panels like this that raise up [those] who maybe wouldn’t have been noticed because they aren’t a man.”
She continued on to explain why, aside from just the inequality aspect, there needs to be more volume to women’s voices. For one, most women can have experiences that most men just can’t have, like producing life and being a mother. Though she added that it does work both ways: “Of course, there are experiences that I’ll never understand about being a man, like growing up as a teenage boy or having to live in that very alpha male environment.”
“That being said,” Dodie interjected, “I think it does make a difference to everyone discovering female writers. I think it’s so important for young women to look up to women writers.”
“As a woman, do you feel like there’s more pressure to be better than all the men – that you can’t get away with being average like the some of the guys can occasionally?” Connie asked, jumping into the conversation.
“If I’m assertive, or bossy, or demanding, or want to get what I want to get, I’m going to come across as a cunt,” explained Hazel, who is a screenwriter and director, about her experience working in an industry which is pretty much male-dominated, “whereas a man would never be described that way. A man will get on set and he’ll be assertive and demanding and everyone will be like, ‘That guy knows what he wants! He’s a cool guy!’, whereas a woman would be a bitch. So yeah, I have to be aware of my attitude and sadly, yes, I think you have to be bit better than your male counterparts.”
This led to an interesting discussion about various professional fields that the panellists have been involved in because of their writing, and how the gender divide played a role. For example, Dodie explained that when she is working in the music industry, she has noticed that many of the executives she interacts with are male – but, as the rest of the panel agreed, the publishing industry is predominantly female.
Though the title of the panel was “Women Who Write”, Hazel expressed that she felt a bit uncomfortable focusing so sharply on the “women” part of it, and urged the panel to move towards speaking more about love for and experience of writing – regardless of gender.
Taking that cue, Hannah asked about everyone’s creative process. As each panellist has experience with a different style of writing, from screenwriting to songwriting to poetry, it was interesting to see how mechanics were similar and different. “Poetry specifically is just kind of like ‘blerg’ and then it happens and then it exists,” explained Savannah. “I don’t really edit much. It’s very emotion-based for me.”
“I get it from people’s words,” said Dodie. “I’ve had a lot of deep chats with my friends, and I’ll be crying or whatever, and they’ll say something and I’ll just be like, ‘Wait!’ I’ll write it down and then I’ll come back to it later on, and now I have this notebook of sweet little phrases, and I think once you have that, you can just take ideas off of it.”
“I won’t write a single word of a book until I have the entire thing plotted out,” said Connie about her narrative fiction. She bullets out the whole plot and then goes into intricate detail, book by book, chapter by chapter, until everything is laid out in front of her. “I need to know exactly what is going to lead to what and know where I should be planting certain things, and I can’t do that if I wasn’t planning it out like that.”
“I don’t really have a process, to be honest,” admitted Hazel. “It depends on who I’m writing with or what I’m doing. But I agree, you do need to know how you’re getting from A to B. But I do love just putting these characters into a scene and letting the whole thing unfold. It just kind of happens in front of me on the screen, it’s weird. It just comes out.”
This was a point that seemed to resonate both with the other panellists and with many of the audience members; writing is almost a compulsion and something you just have to do, and the process can sometimes be an out-of-body experience in the way that the words and stories just pour out.
Like the actual writing, each panellist’s editing process was also vastly different. Dodie, for example, edits as she goes. She likes to perfect the piece or section she is working on and then move on forever. Hannah, on the other hand, just gets it all out on the page like word vomit and then goes back to edit and refine. As was said throughout the entirety of the hour, everyone is different in how they write or why they write, and this is just another aspect of how unique the experience of writing is from person to person.
The dual identity of being a YouTuber and a professional writer was a fascinating facet of this panel. For some on the panel, their newly- or soon-to-be-published work came from a pre-agreed book deal where a publisher approached them and commissioned the piece. That is an unusual position to be in, and one that introduced different challenges such as deadlines and expected word count.
Hazel (who announced she is currently writing a book) and Savannah, on the other hand, are working on unsolicited pieces and are therefore going through the more traditional route of pitching their work out to agents and publishers. Still, though, both admitted that they are in unique positions in that, with their large audiences behind them, people – and probably lots of them – will read it, and there really isn’t that fear of all their hard work just falling off into obscurity.
That supportive following may seem amazing, but according to Hazel there is a danger to it. “You see people put stuff out there and every comment is, ‘That’s amazing! This is so great, keep doing this!’” she said. “You probably should have a healthy level of criticism, because [otherwise] you’re never going to get better, you will never push yourself.”
The hour went quickly and the panellists wrapped it up with some simple advice for aspiring writers. The consensus was that if you read a lot, engage with written word, and just write and write and write and write, you’ll find your craft and something good will eventually happen with it – woman or not.
Photos by George Yonge.
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