Our thanks to our subscribers for supporting The Lifted Brow.
“Short stories should be lean and clean. Taut and muscular. That’s the whole point of them.” My first year creative writing tutor chopped the air with his hand as he emphasised each adjective. I wrote his comment down in my notebook. It wouldn’t be the last time I heard that old creative writing maxim.
Three years later, I find that my creative writing classes have indoctrinated me. I am suspicious of adjectives and adverbs and think of them as “flab” and “excess,” thinking better of nouns and verbs, which I describe using words like “muscle” and “control.”
Recently, I have started to realise that this way of teaching and thinking about creative writing implicitly genders “good” and “bad” writing. We describe “bad” writing in language which recalls the monstrous excesses of the classical female form and “good” writing in terms of the controlled tautness of the ideal male figure. Somewhere in my mind I know that whenever my writing is economical, I can congratulate myself on having successfully imitated a “male” voice, masqueraded as a male body for a moment. And whenever it is wasteful, I am afraid that I have in some way flaunted my own femaleness, failed to safeguard my writing from the spillages of my own body. I wonder, too, what this surreptitiously gendered language has to say about the way we read, interpret and market female writers and their work.