Do You Write Like a Girl?

Recently, a writer-friend, Robyn Bradley, shared an article titled, The 10 Grumpiest Living Writers. Being not much of a grumpy writer myself (if anything, I veer the other way), I was compelled to take a look.

It was an interesting list (headed by Jonathan Franzen), but what I found most intriguing was a comment made by V.S. Naipaul, who apparently didn’t consider any female writer his equal: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”

My first thought was not utter shock and disgust, as one might think (or maybe it was). Instead, it was,  I think I know what he’s talking about.

Not about women writers being unequal to men, of course. Let’s not get crazy. But I understand the idea of reading a piece of writing and being able to tell, just by the language used, whether it was written by a man or woman. This happens particularly with thrillers, where I’ll start to read and think to myself, “This was SO written by a man.” What’s the tip off? Usually, something feels inauthentic or contrived about the presentation of a woman’s thoughts or motivations. I don’t sense it all the time. Just now and then. It might be one sentence in an entire novel that gives it away.

And I do think that can be problematic, mostly because writing, if it’s done right, should be invisible to the reader. I’m not saying we shouldn’t know if a book was written by a man or woman — we know that going in unless the author uses a pen name. But I guess I feel like I shouldn’t be REMINDED of that fact while I read.

Actually, part of the reason I wanted to become a thriller writer was so that I could try to produce a novel where the reader is, as Naipaul suggests, unable to tell if the author is male or female. It was important for me that Baby Grand appeal to the sensibilities of both men and women and that I create objective (perhaps it’s the journalist in me…) portraits for characters of both sexes. Having read Naipaul’s comment, now I’ll wonder if those reading Baby Grand will exclaim after just a few paragraphs: “This was SO written by a woman.”

But my hope is that they’ll be unsure and have to recheck the book cover.

What do you think? Do you write like a girl? Or a guy? And does it matter?

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9 thoughts on “Do You Write Like a Girl?

  1. I think you can tell and I think it’s a challenge to push ourselves as writers outside the gender box. Men and women have very different upbringings that don’t make them unequal in ability, only unequal in ignorance.

  2. I think there are amazing female writers with very male voices. Take P.D. James. It is an opinion and one by a man who obviously has an inflated idea od male powers.

  3. This is something I’ve thought about before – the first time it really struck me was when I was reading She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Every so often, I’d flip to the book’s jacket to confirm that it really was written by a man. Since women and men look at everything from very different perspectives, it’s hard to cross gender lines without it being noticeable. I’m always impressed when an author manages to pull it off.

  4. This is such an interesting blog post and question… because I’ve always tested on the online as writing like a man when I run “do you write like a man or a woman?” site (have you seen that?)! And recently I ran some of my work through a program to see what author I write most like and the analysis said Chuck Palahniuk! So I’d have to say I write like a man…. and I write women’s fiction, so, hmmm…. interesting, huh? But all in all, my preference would be to say it doesn’t matter at all — unless of course I’m not a salable author to publishers!! :)

  5. It’s funny, because I noticed that “male” voice bleeding through when I read Heinlein’s “Friday” in high school. I enjoyed the book & his writing, but he could not write an authentic woman. And I’ve held that against many a male author ever since.
    ;)

  6. Such a good question, Dina. My biggest challenge when I was writing THE FINAL SALUTE was to think and feel like a man. Since my protagonist is a male fighter pilot, I gave myself permission to become a male fighter pilot in my head and my heart. Writing in the male viewpoint helped me understand men better. (At least I hope.)

    Half my readers are men so maybe I got it right.

    Looking forward to reading “Baby Grand.”

  7. Great post Dina. I never ‘thought ‘ I gave this much thought until a man came up to me at a book signing and told me he loved my book. I had no idea why I was a bit stunned. I just never pictured men reading the book. For some reason, I tend to only read female authors. This is not intentional [ unless subcontiously.] This weekend I am reading the Desk, Nat Fuller. I could tell it was written by a man on the first page.

  8. What an intriguing post, Dina! I’d like to think I could tell, but if you took away the covers and put mystery author A and B on them and read the first paragraph – would I then? I’m not sure, but I think in some way you may have invented a cool party game over a glass of red and a fine cheeseboard. ;)

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