In this piece, the third installment in a series about the impact of the #MeToo movement on how and what women write, Leigh Anne Jasheway explores how writers can share those stories proactively and be more open about the impacts of sexual harassment and assault.
Read the first two installments here:
- The #MeToo Movement and Its Impact on Women’s Writing
- Comedy Writers and Satirists of the #MeToo Movement
As writers, we understand that whether we write fiction or non-fiction, whether we want our words to jump off the page or the stage, whether we rhyme or rap, pieces of ourselves are the seeds from which every part of our literary garden grows. But trying to put words to our own #MeToo stories can leave us at a loss. We’ve been silent for so long. We may doubt ourselves or fear what others may think of us if we share our truths. For most of us, writing about our own traumas, from sexual harassment to catcalling to abuse and assault, is unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
For those of us who are drawn to—or compelled to—write about our own experiences or how we’ve been affected by the #MeToo movement, where do we start? I don’t pretend to have all or even any of the answers, but here are some steps that helped me and some of the other women (and a few men) I interviewed over the course of this three-part series.
1. Make a list of your experiences with sexual harassment or assault.
You don’t have to use anything from the list in your writing, but simply writing it all down can help you to start a healing process. I know it did for me.
To people. Not just the people in your head. Many writers tend to keep to themselves, but as we’ve learned from everything that has happened since the #MeToo movement took hold last year, there is strength in honesty and in numbers.
3. Become more self-accepting.
Our experiences are much more common than we ever knew. Understanding that millions of others, women and men, have been subjected to the same types of trauma, can help us feel less timid in writing our own stories.
4. Once you feel ready, write something.
Anything. Perhaps explore short form writing such as poetry, a short story, or a song. Start with less traumatic events or even less personal. One of first things I wrote about sexual assault was a song called Mr. Weinstein (to the tune of Mr. Sandman), which is now the centerpiece of my first musical comedy, #MeToo, the Musical. I’ve also found that when writing about my own experiences, it’s been easier to focus on those involving strangers than family members or friends. You don’t have to have a goal for this writing right now. Just explore.
5. As you write, don’t hide your true feelings.
If you’re angry about your experiences, let your words be angry and don’t apologize. If you’re confused or feel like an idiot, don’t shut down those feelings away either. In my writing classes, rules #1 and 2 are always “Write from your own truth” and “Know what you’re feeling and make sure your readers know it too.” There is no better subject matter to apply those rules to.
6. Start reviewing your past writing to see if you have done anything to normalize sexual harassment and abuse without knowing it.
Perhaps a good start is simply asking questions such as: “What is the real purpose of this scene or section? Does it feel gratuitous or does it serve a higher purpose in the overall story? Is there another way to approach it? How might this trigger readers?” As we move forwards as a society, we writers need to be more in tune with how our writing is perceived. (Watch almost any movie from the 80s and see if it doesn’t make you cringe in light of #MeToo).
7. Evaluate how wed you are to gender stereotypes.
For example, does your writing tend to feature men who are macho, insensitive, and sexually aggressive? Do you focus too much on how women look in your writing? For a fun and educational experiment, try the "Describe yourself as a man would" challenge. No matter what you write, people who are fully drawn in all their complicated nuances are the most engaging to readers and the most true to life.
8. Take a step into fantasy, if only for a quick diversion.
Now might be just the time to write the world you’d like to live in. There is a reason characters such as Wonder Woman and Black Panther resonate deeply with so many of us. Not only do their stories distract us from our everyday lives, they create a world that is more just and compassionate. We feel more hopeful and empowered when we spend a few hours in that world. As you write, think about how you can create a better world that challenges the kind of culture that has allowed sexual harassment and assault to become so common.
9. Or leverage your own experiences.
If you are more comfortable with non-fiction, use your experiences to shine a light on how we can all do a better job of interacting with each other in the real world. A good example of this kind of writing is Joe Samalan’s “Why Being a Good Guy Is Not Enough.”
10. Become a mentor.
If you have already achieved some level of writing success, consider mentoring a writer from a marginalized community whose voice has not yet been heard. The power of sharing our stories requires that we lift up those who have not yet had our opportunities.
11. Think about how you can use comedy when writing about difficult subjects.
If you haven’t already, read a few of the articles from the second part of this series to get a taste of how bringing laughter to strong negative emotions can help both the writer and the readers. For some quick tips on enhancing your sense of humor in your writing, this article can help. Or, you can take Writers Digest’s four-week comedy writing class to learn tools that work in any genre. I teach this class and would love to help more people lighten up their writing and their lives.
Writers have more power than we give ourselves credit for. To possess the skills and imagination to release ourselves from past traumas while helping others do the same is truly a super power.