Occam’s writing course

I want to say that I was in a Twitter discussion this week, except I wasn’t. I was an observer, wanting to contribute, wanting to ask, wanting to be in there. And I could have been, one of the people who was deep in it messaged me, but I could not vocalise what I was thinking.

Some days later, I’m with you and perhaps you could please picture me lying on your couch. Because, as so often before, I want to see if my telling you what I think will help me think it.

Apparently, by the way, this is called the Rubber Duck process. I do not know why. I also don’t know how widespread that term is: I heard it from a programmer on her podcast. But whyever it’s called what it’s called, the idea is that the action of your explaining something to someone else helps you understand it better yourself.

So. The big headline part of this Twitter discussion, the part I fell across first for some reason, was an idea that male writers should not be allowed to teach female writers.

I teach many, many female writers and I don’t think about their gender, I only think about their writing. That’s not completely correct: I have noticed in schools that it’s true how girls mature faster than boys so their writing is more interesting. But it is the writing I’m interested in.

Sudden flashback to a particular school where I’d just asked a question. I can see this little girl – I am appalling with ages, mostly because I don’t care – suggesting that the answer to something was “because we’re children”.

“Not to be rude, but what do I care how old you all are?” I asked her.

“Okay,” she offered, “is it because I’m a girl?”

I wish I could remember what I’d been asking them. But I do remember, as clearly as if she were in front of me now, that my response to that was to give her a funny look –– and make the question the harder.

Anyway. Sorry. How long until your next patient?

Of course I don’t think men shouldn’t be allowed to teach women, but this was one of those statements where without knowing any of the context, you still know the context. Actually, I still don’t know what sparked it off exactly, or even who most of the people involved are, but I know what you already know too.

Some male writer had been teaching a session and put down a female writer. You also know that it wasn’t to do with her writing, you know too that he did it unpleasantly, that he made it personal.

Maybe the question is not whether men should be allowed to teach women. Maybe it should be that since you already know all of this, since it’s common enough that you can picture the entire exchange, then maybe men should not be allowed to teach women.

It’s the unsurprising nature of this discussion and the event that sparked it. It’s the fact that I do not actually know the event that sparked it, nor the people, yet I know the event and I can see the man.

Something that was offered during the discussion was that there is an argument that women write differently to men, that the structures of drama that we’re all familiar with are quite male. I’ve separately heard the same thing said about different cultures, about how all our writing is shaped by all the writing that went before us wherever we are.

I don’t know. I shift about a bit on the couch as I say that to you because, to me, the individual and what she or he writes is more interesting than whether they use a three-act structure or not.

And as I was reading all of this, I was also listening to music. Francisca Valenzuela in my AirPods. She’s an American-born singer/songwriter who lives in Chile and writes and sings in Chilean. I have little idea what her lyrics mean, but this person who is not my gender or age, who sings in a language I do not understand, is born in one culture that’s different to mine and now lives in yet another culture that’s different to mine, I connect with her. Because she makes me connect with her.

If there’s a man who thinks he can’t learn writing from Valenzuela, he is insane.

Maybe that’s the key here. It’s not that men as half of the species are all bad at teaching, it’s that some –– okay, a mortifying number –– are just insane.

But insane people turn out to be very good at puncturing writers.

I think our time is up. See you next week.