Taking Responsibility As a Writer

My little brother reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a book about dudes written by a dude.

Recently, several things happened in my life that made me think more seriously about the purpose of writing. First, my wonderful blogger friend Dennis McHale and I got into a heated discussion about evil in this world. We concluded that there’s little we can do to stop the crisis in Syria or the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea. But, as writers, our job is to alleviate pain — even if it’s just one moment for one person out there. Then, a few nights ago, I explained to Phineas why my writing is so important to me and why I feel so much pressure. As a budding novelist, I am still trying to find my niche in the publishing world. I’m asking myself questions such as: do I want to write mainstream or literary? Young Adult or New Adult? Do I care more about entertaining readers or influencing them?

Finally, I came across this poignant article by Mary McMyne, “Kate and the Beanstalk: What We Read to Our Children”. It is written from the perspective of a mother who wonders about the books she reads to her two-year-old daughter. She writes:

Every book my daughter laid out on the living room floor that night a few weeks ago was a book I had chosen carefully for her, because I believe that the stories I read to her at this age will help to construct her understanding of the world, her taste, her foundation for a whole life of reading.

When I read the above sentence, I shouted, “Amen!”. You see, as someone with a bookworm past, I feel that I’ve learned more from books than teachers, friends, and even my parents. They taught me more about love, loss, and humanity than I could have learned from living a lifetime as Rebecca Cao. McMyne recognizes the power of literature, and that is why she is concerned that women have a lesser role than men in the publishing world.

Women are still seriously underrepresented in America’s most prestigious publications. Book reviewers are still mostly men, reading books by men, too.

She notes that the female protagonists are also underrepresented in children’s literature.

But how many parents think to read their sons books with female protagonists? Not traditional tales like Red Riding Hood or Rapunzel in which the title character is passive and/or disobedient, only to be miraculously rescued by a male hero at the end.

In conclusion, she argues that in order to change the antifeminist scene of the publishing industry, it has to start with the books we read to our children. If we read our daughters and sons books that portray empowered, fascinating female characters, they will grow up thinking of women as empowered and fascinating. Going along with that, I believe that the young adult novels preteens and teens read to themselves are just as important as children’s literature. Perhaps even New Adult and Adult can have a significant influence.

After these three events, I took a hard look at my own motivations and decided that I needed to take responsibility as a writer. To me, that means to stand up for myself and my writing even when the industry pushes me aside in favor of a man. That means to keep writing even when I am disillusioned from rejection or I doubt myself. That means to post about my personal life as a passionate, ambitious, and flawed woman, even if my posts only reach the few hundred who regularly read my blog. That means to write novels that feature strong-willed female leads who face many of the real-life struggles of women today. That means I wish to reach out to the greatest audience possible, while maintaining the integrity and depth of my writing. That means that I will be writing entertaining stories with plenty of romance, sex, and drugs (because that is reality), but that also feature deep and genuine characters.

Fortunately, my current novel is just that.

What is your responsibility as a writer? What is the purpose of your writing?




11 thoughts on “Taking Responsibility As a Writer

  1. I think my responsibility of the writer is to tell the truth, even if it’s through fictional characters and scenarios. There is a still a core of truth to any good fiction.

    And I, like you it sounds, write to help people understand things about the world. The great thing about writing is that if someone isn’t ready to hear a lesson, they just get a story. But people who are ready will find what they’re looking for if you’ve fulfilled your responsibility as a writer.

    Thanks for the interesting post!

  2. What a good question! When I first started writing, I mostly just wanted to entertain, but as I started developing my characters I found that responsibility was an important theme to me. I didn’t want my heroine to be too dependent on others and I wanted her to learn to be proactive and take charge of her life. It’s becoming a major part of her character development across the story.

    • That’s awesome that you’re conscious of that as you develop your heroine. I tend to write characters that are somewhat like me — i.e. bitchy and stubborn — so they turn out pretty independent without my realization. 😉 By the way, if you want to swap novels for beta-reading, just let me know!

      • I’d love to! I could certainly use your critical eye in helping me ensure the message I intend is coming across. Funny thing, I just posted asking for beta readers on my blog last night!

        • Haha I’m not quite a mind reader — I strolled over to your blog and noticed you were looking for beta readers. 😉
          You can send it over to rebecca.s.cao@gmail.com whenever! I’ll try to get to it ASAP. My current novel is only at 30,000 words, so I’ll make a note to send it to you when I’m done. 🙂

  3. Bravo, Rebecca! As I mentioned before, you are a truly gifted writer. Today, you may have no idea how many lives your words will touch, but touch they will. I couldn’t think of anyone else today I’d rather have reaching out into the world with her unique and powerful point of view. Again, Bravo!

  4. The purpose of my writing has always been to move my audience. I want to write something that makes tears stream down my readers’ faces while simultaneously smiling like a psychopath. But you said it so much better when you wrote “But, as writers, our job is to alleviate pain — even if it’s just one moment for one person out there.”

    • I’m with you on the making readers feel something part. I also love when they take something I’ve written and go to a whole different place with it than I could have ever imagined.

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