Write(h)ers Writing Program: The Feminist Future is Happening Online

ByDanielle Nelson

This spring, Duke University gave undergraduate feminist writer-activists an introductory course in “#femfuture: Online Revolution” through Write(h)ers, a semester long speaker series featuring feminist women in the fields of journalism, media, and broadcast journalism.

Over the spring semester, Jill FilipovicIrin CarmonRebecca TraisterHeather Havrilesky, Maria Ebrahimji, and LC Coleman visited Duke to “train feminist bloggers” and share both their candid experiences and professional journeys with a small group of feminist writer-activists. Each speaker offered valuable gems for aspiring feminist writers to become part of the ongoing conversation by paying close attention to writing technique, demanding expertise, and encouraging networking in order to make connections within the constantly evolving feminist blogosphere.

1. Writing and Expertise

Who deserves to be heard? Who deserves to publish their opinions? Who deserves to write? Who deserves to call themselves a writer?

Women pen only a fifth to a third of tradition and new media content according to the Oped Project, but perhaps one reason for the lack of women bylines isn’t solely due to a lack of so called ‘expertise.’

LC Coleman, blogger of Colored Girl Confidential, one of Forbes’ top 100 websites for women, identified a lack of confidence in women as an obstacle to reaching more parity in journalism and media: “It is important to open doors for yourself. Having the courage to write something demands confidence more than expertise.”

Any woman has the right to their own opinion, their own voice, and their words. You don’t have to have any prior experience with formal feminist theory in order to become part of the feminist conversation and identify the gender issues lodged in all facets of daily life.

And because feminism harbors a vast array of diverse voices, it is only natural for your feminist stances to shift over time. In one of my earliest pieces, I signed off with the now cringe-worthy phrase “I’m not an angry feminist, but …” Now as a more mature feminist writer and thinker, I’m tempted to edit that piece to reflect my current feminist beliefs. But as Jill Filipovic, a columnist at the Guardian and blogger at Feministe, explained, “Your past writing is like a time capsule. Be kind to that process, because if you’re changing your mind in your writing that’s a good thing.”

But in order to carve out these writing opportunities, it’s important to learn how to best navigate the pitching process.

To begin, the pitch must be timely. While journalism depends on the essentials such as a news peg, strong lede, and solid research, without a successful pitch you may have difficulty standing out among the hundreds of daily emails swarming an editor’s inbox. Irin Carmon, a staff writer at Salon with a strong reporting background, recommended tailoring freelance pitches to match a need that is for the most part “largely driven by the news cycle.”

But even if a pitch is newsworthy, your writing has to be a good fit with the respective publication. Filipovic compared the writer-publication matchmaking aspect of pitching to online dating in order to demonstrate the importance of understanding the distinctive voice and intended audience for each particular media outlet. And depending on where you decide to pitch, she suggested sending multiple angles for each pitch, working with the editor to produce a piece of writing that meets the demand of the readership, and even including a suggested headline with the proposal. “Consider your editor” was the tagline of Filipovic’s pitching mantra.

But after years of experience in the writing world, these writing veterans also warned us to be careful about the shift towards producing speedy content and employing the personal narrative style en route to launching a career in the field.

Carmon explained: “Be fast, but be credible. You can be the first one, but your long term credibility matters. Think about the longevity of your writing career.” Doing thorough research, checking sources, and maintaining “journalist ethics” is always a better long-term strategy in ensuring that editors trust your voice and the quality of your writing. Filipovic captured the ideal writer’s ‘personal brand’ as one that “invokes trust, credibility, and dependability.”

Many aspiring millennial writers see the confessional, memoir-esque essay as a way to shape their "personal brand." But although the trend towards the first person narrative is considered a method of claiming expertise and breaking into the writing world, the Write(h)ers speakers suggested only selectively weaving it into the writing if it was intended to actively pull the reader in at the start or to further support the key theme or central message of the piece. Heather Havrilesky, a prolific freelancer and former Staff Writer at Salon said be tactful about the confessional "I" essay and instead opt for opportunities where personal anecdotes are “written well enough in a literary way where you [the writer] control the flow.”

2. Networking and Making Connections

To sum up in one word how to network and make connections in writing circles- Twitter. In a networking savvy sense, Twitter makes it possible to connect with influential thought leaders across fields and industries by leveling the playing field. But Carmon took it a step further in asserting that Twitter was not only beneficial, but necessary for any aspiring writer, “If you want to be in this world, you have to get on Twitter. People look at their @replies much more than e-mail.”

With a simple tweet mentioning a journalist’s Twitter handle alongside their work or by @replying, anyone can promote another writer’s pieces or interject their opinions, becoming part of the ongoing conversation. Even though it can feel uncomfortable at first Havrilesky encouraged us to “fight the fear” and put ourselves out there, which includes asking other established writers for feedback and mentoring. “Everyone has had one [a mentor] and most people want to pay it forward,” Filipovic reassured us.

And one way to pay it forward is to inspire millennial feminists to become a part of these dynamic online communities and use their voice to transform the feminist blogosphere into an energizing site of progress and activism with a promising potential for future collectivity. Online feminism is the future and millennial feminists will most certainly shape that future by tweeting, writing, and blogging to usher in the new face of feminism.