Women Creative Writers

Women Creative Writers



Women Creative Writers

Themes in the Lives of Successful Contemporary U.S.
Women Creative Writers

Published in (1998) Roeper Review, 21(1), 60-70.
Jane Piirto, Ph. D.
Trustees’ Distinguished Professor

The present study looked at the lifespan development of 80 women who are contemporary U.S. creative writers. Themes from surveys, autobiographical and biographical essays, published interviews, and reference books were analyzed. Themes in the women writers' lives were characterized by Developmental Events: (1) unconventional families and family traumas; (2) nurturing of talents by both male and female teachers and mentors; (3) extensive early reading sometimes resulting in early publication; (4) viewing words as special— keeping journals, writing to make sense of things, using writing as communication and as auto-therapy; (5) residence in New York City at some point, especially among the most prominent; (6) attendance at prestigious colleges, majoring in English literature; (7) continued high achievement, many publications many writing awards: Professional situations: (8) being in an occupation different from their parents; (9). Conflict combining motherhood and careers in writing.
(10) history of divorce: Personality/Personal attributes: (11) certain core personality attributes; (12) incidence of depression and/or self-destructive acts; (13) feeling of being an outsider, of marginalization and a resulting need to have their group's story told (e.g. minorities, lesbians, regional writers, writers from lower socioeconomic class, writers of different immigration groups); (14) possession of tacit knowledge; (15) a personal and individual creative process often with spiritual overtones ; (16) societal expectations of "femininity" incongruent with their essential personalities.

Creative writers are defined as those who write poetry, fiction, plays, song lyrics, and creative nonfiction essays and books as differentiated from writers who write scholarly pieces, or journalists who write for newspapers and magazines, or write nonfiction books. Creative writers make up what they write. They use the imagination.
Previous research has shown that creative writers were often early readers (Piirto, 1978). They used early reading and writing to escape (Piirto, 1992). They have often experienced childhood trauma, and depression (Jamison, 1993; Piirto & Battison, 1994). They have high conceptual intelligence and high verbal intelligence (Barron, 1968, 1994). They are independent, nonconforming, and not interested in joining groups (Barron, 1968, 1969). They value self-expression and are productive (Barron, 1968, 1972; Simonton, 1994). They are often driven, able to take rejection, and like to work alone for long periods of time (Goertzel and Goertzel, 1962; Miller, 1987; Piirto, 1992). They often have difficulty with alcohol or substances (Goertzel, Goertzel, and Goertzel, 1978; Simpson, 1982). They prefer writing as their mode of expression of emotions and feelings (Berg, 1983). They often have advanced senses of humor (Plimpton, 1995) and they prefer writing as their mode of expression of emotions and feelings (Berg, 1983).

The research question was, What are the themes in the lives of successful contemporary female creative writers?        
The subjects were 80 female creative writers, ages 35 to 65. They were classified as successful based on their listing or eligibility for listing in the 1993-1994 Directory of American Poets and Writers. In order to qualify, a writer must have 12 points of accumulated credit, with the following as means of qualification: one published poem counts as one point; a novel counts as 12 points, a book of published poetry counts as 12 points, and an established literary award counts as 4 points. In 1993-1994 there were 4,113 poets, 1,806 fiction writers, and 1,041 combination poets and fiction writers listed in the Directory of American Poets and Writers.
Poets and Writers 
The author conducted this study from the participant observer stance using the analytic induction method of constant comparison (LeCompte and Preissle, 1993). She is within the age range of women writers studied and is also listed in the 1993-94 Directory of American Poets and Writers. On the one hand, perhaps her membership in this group of women writers can provide insight that cannot be gained by researchers who are not long-time creative writers. On the other hand, the participant observer does not stand apart from the data but immerses herself in it. Problems of bias arise as the participant observer may not be able to objectively sort through the stream of data in order to arrive at a theory.
In analytic induction, the researcher scans the data for units of phenomena and for connections among these units, “developing working typologies and hypotheses on an examination of initial cases, and then modifying them and refining them on the basis of subsequent cases” (LeCompte & Preissle, p. 254). Constant comparison is an inductive strategy that looks at data, beginning with the analysis of first observations, and then undergoing “continuous refinement throughout the data collection and analysis process, and continuously feeds back into the process of category coding” (p. 256). This method helps in generating social theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), and is usually constructive rather than enumerative.
Previous Sample Structure and Procedure
A preliminary study was done with an initial group of 28 women writers (Piirto & Battison, 1994). Battison was not a participant observer writer. The specific criteria for selection of the 28 were the following: the women writers qualified for listing in Directory of Poets and Writers; there was significant print material available on them— autobiographical and biographical essays and published interviews; they were between the ages of 30 and 65 at that time; and they represented a reasonable cross section of geographical and ethnic backgrounds in the U.S.
Surveys were sent to the initial women writers which contained follow-up questions that explored themes in their lives as indicated from an analysis of their essays. The survey had a low rate of return (about 55%), and the answers seemed hurried. Instead of renewing survey efforts with this group of busy women, the researchers undertook a content analysis of each woman’s work and of the articles written about them. Nine patterns or themes of artistic development emerged from this analysis.


Present Sample Selection and Procedure
A year after the preliminary study, the author added 52 more contemporary women writers to the database of the initial 28 to make a total of 80, using the identical selection criteria. Biographical, autobiographical, and interview material of all 80 women were read over many times until no new themes emerged. Materials were read and reread and then coded, often with difficulty, as it is perhaps an abstract and futile exercise to categorize and classify the thoughts and opinions of human subjects. Data were triangulated through multiple sources of information, including encyclopedias, directories, published interviews, published autobiographical and biographical essays and the initial questionnaires. At minimum, two sources were consulted about each writer, and at least one of their creative publications (novels, stories, poems, etc.) were read. The emergent themes were rechecked with 15 of the writers, to confirm the conclusions drawn. Additionally, IPAR researcher and psychologist/writer, Frank Barron, responded to the themes and their validity.

Place Table 1 Emergent Themes in the Lives of Contemporary Women Writers about here

In the present, second study of 80 women writers, 16 themes common to female creative writers emerged from the survey questionnaires, essays, published interviews, and reference books. The themes were organized into three categories: Developmental Events; Professional Situations; and Personality/Personal Attributes. Each category contained from 3 to 7 themes (see Table 1). Table 2 summarizes basic data for each writer that related to these 16 themes.




Table 1: Emergent Themes in the Lives of Contemporary Women Writers


Theme No.


Developmental events




Unconventional families, family traumas
Nurturing of talents by teachers, mentors
Extensive early reading, early publication
Viewing words as special, journal writing, writing to make sense of things, auto-therapy
Residence in New York City at some point
Attendance a prestigious colleges, English literature major
Continuous high achievement, multiple publications, awards

Professional Situations



Different occupation than parents
Conflict in combining motherhood and writing career
Divorce history

Personality/Personal Attributes




Core personality attributes
Depression and/or self-destructive acts
Feeling of being an outsider, of marginalization with resulting need to tell a group’s story
Tacit knowledge
Personal, individual creative process, often with spiritual overtones
Societal expectations of “femininity” incongruent with essential personality

 Developmental Events
1. Unconventional Families and Family Traumas
Family life was not an idyllic, carefree time in these women's lives. Life-changing events were often shapers of the women writers' choice of writing as a career. They often came from unconventional families which were often artistically oriented, using storytelling as a means of communicating, with books and reading as a presence. The families were often laissez-faire in the approach to discipline, though some had parents who were authoritarian. Several writers experienced orphanhood, parental disability, neglect, frequent moving, parental alcoholism, suicide of family members, and other extraordinary childhood trauma. (See Table 2)
The 1997 National Book Award winner, short story writer Gina Berriault (Berriault, 1991) watched her mother go blind, and although a surgeon might have saved her sight, her mother chose to put her sight in God's hands. "And so for the rest of her life, growing skinny and gray without seeing the change, she sat before her little mound-shaped radio listening to those false dramas and waving her hand before her eyes, expecting it to take shape out of the dark." Berriault said that her writing was an attempt to make the ephemeral take shape. Growing up in the Depression, when her father never had a secure job and after they lost their home, "we went from pillar to post, and in one of those California bungalows we hung newspapers for curtains." Berriault said "I must have tried to save lives from vanishing by ensnaring them in stories" (Berriault, 1991, p. 130). It seems that for many of the writers, writing was a way, even later on in life, of coming to terms with and even surviving these traumas.
The poet, Colette Inez's (Inez, 1991) harrowing childhood (she was the child of an American Roman Catholic monsignor and a French medieval scholar) included life in a French orphanage and alcoholic and neglectful foster parents:


A new siege of abuse began. One night in mid-sleep, I woke to a rain of body blows as Dee cursed me for failing to empty the trash pail. I was yanked from bed, pushed downstairs, and locked out of the house in my nightclothes. Even though I later slept in Nana's room, I learned to sleep lightly, prepared for eviction at any time and to seek shelter in our garage or in neighboring parked cars. Thankfully there were books, always books, and I strongly believed in the power of language to change my reality. (Inez, 1991, p. 293

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It is not known whether writers had more unconventional families than other people in the arts, though Simonton (1986; 1994) and the Goertzels (1962; 1978) also noticed this fact. The limitations of the methodology (relying on printed interviews and personal surveys precludes being able to evaluate precisely how many of the writers had unconventional families and family trauma, as these may not be readily admitted to interviewers or on surveys.)
2. Nurturing of talents by both male and female teachers and mentors;
Teachers who discovered their talent as writers often encouraged the women writers. These teachers often became mentors. The genders of the mentors were as often male as female. Louise Glück described her relationship with the poets Leonie Adams and Stanley Kunitz thus: "I was working, of course, with extraordinary minds. And I was being exposed to images of dedication, not of the kind I knew, which I was not wholly prepared to comprehend." She spoke of the polite scrutiny of her teachers: "One of the rare, irreplaceable gift of such apprenticeships is this scrutiny; seldom, afterward, is any poem taken with such high seriousness" (p. 144).
The writer Eve Shelnutt said that studying with Fred Chappell made her writing life justifiable: "The writer's life is justifiable — considering the world's ills begging amelioration — only by the possibility that a thing of beauty can be created for the celebration and healing of others in the humility of the human condition" (Shelnutt, 1991, p. 278). Again, a precise count of teachers and mentors is not available with the data at hand, but evidence of it was explicitly found for at least one-quarter of the writers studied.


 (3) Extensive early reading sometimes resulting in early publication;
Almost all of the writers spoke with fondness of their engagement with the written word from an early age. I have called such early evidence predictive behaviors (Piirto, 1994). The reading was often indiscriminate and compulsive, and reading was used to both escape from the world and to learn about the world. Their verbal interests were noticeable, and many of them were honor students and received scholarships. Their parents may or may not have nurtured this early reading but the women writers discovered books at an early age and have not yet lost their interest (Piirto, 1996).    
Although the writers were avid readers as children, it is a fact that not all avid readers become writers. Many become professors and teachers. Why do some early avid readers choose to try their hand at creative writing and others at criticism and evaluation necessary in the academic world? After all, both groups are mostly employed in academia. Women’s studies literary critic and college professor of English Katherine Payant (Payant, 1994) speculated that the element of risk-taking and the presence of resilience is a deciding factor (personal communication, May 1995). "I would never have done what many of these women did in their early twenties — go off to New York City alone to seek my fortune as a poet or novelist — or continue writing after being cruelly rejected time after time."
Adrienne Rich won the coveted Yale Younger Poets Award at the age of 21, just as she graduated from Radcliffe. Her early training had paid off: “I started writing verses the way I suppose a lot of literary children do,” she said. “My father was tremendously interested in literature.” He would teach her by having her copy Blake and Keats every day. “And then when I was still writing children’s verse, he used to criticize me and try to get me into more regular meters and rhymes” (Bennett, 1986, p. 174). Though she rebelled against her professor father’s prescriptive ways in much of her later poetry in such books as Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” Rich continued publishing poetry and criticism, and is considered one of the nation’s most important poets.
Many were first published in local poetry and fiction magazines, and in children's magazines. They won contests and teachers who couldn’t believe they could write so well accused some of plagiarism. This early validation of their writing talent by others served to spur them to further efforts in writing. Biographical and autobiographical accounts of the childhoods of writers (McCullough, 1987), and published juvenilia (Braybrooke, 1989) confirm that early publication is a salient predictive behavior for later writing success.
(4) Viewing words as special: Keeping journals, writing to make sense of things, writing as auto-therapy
The writers had a history of using writing as their form of communication. Writing helped them make sense of things, and they felt an urge to tell others, even from an early age. Writing may not be not solely done for the purpose of seeing a completed manuscript for which one might be published and paid; that is, writing is not solely done for extrinsic reasons. The women wrote because they wanted to; they were driven from within, whether for reasons of literary form or of literary substance, even if it took some of them many false career starts to eventually come to terms with what was really driving them. Writing is a vocation, or call, to them.
The inner drive to create has been called the daimon by depth psychologist James Hillman (1996). Carl Gustav Jung, in Memories, Dreams and Reflections (1965) also noted: “ There was a daimon in me, and in the end its presence proved decisive. It overpowered me, and if I was at times ruthless it was because I was in the grip of the daimon . . . . A creative person has little power over his own life. He is not free. He is captive and drive by his daimon” (pp. 356-357). Current psychologists who talk blandly of intrinsic motivation have not adequately addressed the passion engendered by this inner drive to create. The daimon is more than multisyllabic intrinsic motivation. It is passion, emotion, and drive to make new. Without answering the call of the daimon the person is ill, unfulfilled, resentful, and angry.
Many of the women talked about keeping journals from an early age. Their journals are often catalogued and annotated, as Gail Godwin mentioned (Pearlman and Henderson, 1990). It was as if, even before they realized they had this compulsion, writing was a driving force in their lives. For some, the journal-keeping provides material for their work; for others it is an outlet for their emotions; for many the journals serve both needs.       
Emotion is often the motivator for expression through writing, or through any art. The writers were motivated by emotion and often used reading and later, writing, as autotherapy. Barron (1968) described a study comparing student writers, eminent writers, and popular writers at the Institute for Personality Assessment and Research (IPAR). He noted that the student writers were often motivated to write by a need for self-therapy. These adult women who had reached a level of recognized success as creative writers also spoke of their need to write. Gabrielle Rico (1992), a professor of English and inventor of a writing system called clustering, emphasized in her second book that writing as self-therapy is quite often healing.
Some of the women wrote because they were angry. Lynn Freed (1991) viewed writing as an act of self-realization and revenge for the anger she felt. In fact, undirected anger was mentioned by most, and directed anger by many. Joanna Russ (Perry, 1993, p. 291) said, "Once the anger comes out, what you have is gay liberation."
Ultimately, the women writers all seemed to have had a sustaining dream. The women creative writers were able to imagine themselves as writers and to persist in their attempts to write, to be published, and to continue in the face of many rejections of their work. They wrote with discipline and regularity. These women were like others who have written about their commitment to writing.
5. Residence in New York City
An odd fact surfaced in the tallying and evaluation of the themes in these lives; many of the writers had lived for a time in New York City. While they had grown up all over the nation (and the world), for some reason, New York City figured as a domicile for at least awhile. Whether this was to put themselves into proximity with the publishing world or for other reasons, is not known. When asked by interviewers Pearlman and Henderson (1990) whether she felt away from things in her residence in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, the poet and novelist Marge Piercy said that even when she meets her editors and agents in New York they have a rocky relationship:


Why? Do you imagine that you deal with them? Go out to dinner with them? When I've met them, we insult each other. There's no old boys' network that includes me. In the seven years I lived in New York I managed to insult most powerful people I met. Here I don't have to deal with them. (p. 78)


When the researcher telephoned Natalie Petesch to confirm that Petesch had lived for a time in New York City, Petesch evidenced surprise that the researcher had found out from an old interview, as Petesch said she barely mentions that time in her life as it was quite traumatic: “I never tell anyone I lived there.”
On the other hand, other writers loved New York. Professor of creative writing at Michigan State University Diane Wakoski said:


The very first day I was in New York City, in spite of having just come from a terrible experience personally, in spite of being in a totally new and different (and to many, intimidating) place, in spite of not having any money at all, or any idea of what the future held, I felt as if I were in the most wonderful place in the world. I loved walking the streets of New York . . . the possibilities of poetry readings, concerts, so many free things . . . I was never to feel otherwise in New York, in spite of having to deal with scams . . . or the poverty I lived with. (CAAS, 1, p. 361)


            Two-thirds, or 65 percent, of the writers had or have a time of residence in New York City. One could argue that the writers who did not have this period have not as yet achieved the eminence and prominence that writers with a significant New York City experience have. Perhaps this is because New York City publishers and agents have a preference for publishing works with scenes, settings, and situations having to do with the East and West Coasts. However, even writers such as Jane Smiley (A Thousand Acres; Moo U) and E. Annie Proulx (Shipping News) who have published works that feature out-of-the-mainstream settings have, when their lives are scrutinized, had a period of living in or near New York City.

6. Attendance at prestigious colleges.
Another theme in these successful writers' lives indicates that perhaps the college one has attended as an undergraduate or graduate student has some relationship to future success. Most (65%) have graduate degrees, although the degrees are Master’s of Arts degrees and Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) degrees and not Ph.D.s. While a number of the writers seem to have begun studies for their Ph.D.s, only fourteen (17.5%) completed them. This indicates a salient difference in requirements for different domains. Talented scientists and mathematicians, for example, must have the Ph.D. in order to do viable and respected research. For writers this is not the case. For example, renowned novelist and memoirist Isabel Allende attended a Catholic girl’s school in Chile, but did not attend college. Her eminence is based on her publications of magical realist novels and heart-wrenching memoirs, and not on her educational background. The fact that so few completed the doctorate degree may indicate that their nonconformity overtook their persistence. Simonton (1994) has indicated that many creative people quit college so their creativity won’t be stifled.
In looking at the institutions these women writers have attended, it seems that at least some case could be made for attendance at a prominent eastern or western university. Institutions in the Midwest seem to not be as numerous in the educational lives of contemporary women writers, except for the prestigious Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, attendance at which virtually guarantees notice to most of its graduates.
7. High academic achievement and many writing awards
In looking at biographical and autobiographical essays and reference works, it became apparent that these women were bright. Many graduated with honors from prestigious colleges and were given scholarships and fellowships to pursue their academic careers. Many had qualified to attend highly competitive schools by virtue of their high school achievements. Many had risen from humble backgrounds by way of their academic talents. It is evident that the “sun” of school was upon them, and that teachers had a place in their talent development (Piirto, 1994).
For example, the African-American writer Gloria Naylor had already published stories and a novel when she went from Brooklyn College to graduate school at Yale. The science fiction writer Joanna Russ was a Westinghouse Science Award Winner in high school. The poet Diane Wakoski was given a scholarship to attend the University of California at Berkeley. The poet and fiction writer Marge Piercy was the first in her family to attend college, receiving a full scholarship to attend the University of Michigan, and then later, Northwestern University. Jane Smiley received a Fulbright grant during graduate school at Iowa that led to her writing of a novel about Iceland. Erica Jong received a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship while at Barnard, which enabled her to write her novel Fear of Flying, which shocked the world and heralded the beginning of the 1960s sexual revolution. Maxine Kumin casually described being a “Cliffie” and going over to Harvard to take Russian because she wanted to be able to read Dostoevsky in the original (Kumin, 1990).
The predictive behavior of high academic achievement in the lives of the women writers continued into adulthood as the women writers received awards for their literary accomplishments. Table 2 indicates that almost all have received awards. The recent furor over the funding of the National Endowment for the Arts seems unjustified when one looks at how many of these writers, during their years of struggle, had their work supported with NEA creative writing fellowships, which are given on the basis of literary merit and not on the basis of need. They continue to receive Guggenheim fellowships, state arts council fellowships, and writing awards for every genre known to the world.
They have been nominated for Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards (NBA), American Book Awards (ABA), and National Book Critic Circle Awards (NBCCA), and many have won these, as well as the Nobel Prize for Literature, won by Toni Morrison in 1994. Several have been awarded MacArthur fellowships, the so-called “genius” awards. School counselors advising young verbally talented girls who want to be writers should note their accomplishments in studying hard, young, and attending competitive undergraduate institutions.

Professional Situations
8. Being in an occupation different from their parents
While some occupations seem to have the characteristic of passing from parent to child [e.g. the family business; athletics; teaching, acting (Feldman & Piirto, 1995)], writing does not seem to be such an occupation, as only nine of the writers had parents who were writers. However, several parents were teachers or professors, and writing seems to be a natural outgrowth of being in such a home where the presence of books and encouragement of reading would be present. Nora Ephron is a screenwriter as were her parents; Susan Cheever is a writer as was her father; Eve Shelnutt's father was a writer and so was Anne Rice's father. Writers who had famous writers as parents spoke of the burden of trying to establish their own voice, while still having benefited from learning the nuts and bolts of the writing profession. Novelist Tama Janowitz said, of her poet mother Phyllis Janowitz's influence, that her mother set a valuable example. "I saw that my mother's poems would get rejected and they they'd get accepted and if they got rejected it wasn't the end of the world . . . she'd put them in an envelope and send them right back out" (Mernit, 1987, p. 11). One of the motivations that novelist Meg Wolitzer, daughter of novelist Hilma Wolitzer, cited for becoming a writer was "pleasing mom. My mother encouraged my awareness of the pleasure of the act of writing. That was something that had nothing to do with pleasing her and yet I wonder if I would have written if my mother hadn't" (Mernit, 1987, p. 12).
However, these were in the minority. Most of the writers had parents in other occupations, including business or sales, agriculture, including sharecropper, science, law, blue collar and skilled labor, psychiatry and medicine, the clergy, government, and even the pornography industry.
9. Conflict combining motherhood and careers in writing
Like most women creators and women who have careers, they experienced overlapping interferences in their attempts to combine family life with their creative work (Bateson, 1991; Foley, 1986; Olsen, 1978; Piirto, 1991, 1995).  Some of the writers who were mothers viewed themselves as abstracted, distant mothers because of their conflict between wanting to write and their family duties. Pam Durban (1991) stated:


Anger must be one of motherhood's best-kept secrets. Everyone talked about the intensity of the love I'd feel for my child, and that is certainly real, but no one said something like this: listen, when you have a child and you want to keep writing, you will be so angry sometimes you will not know which way to turn when what you need collides with what he needs . . . and everything around you and much of what's inside you is screaming that what your child needs is more important than what you need because you're a MOTHER now and MOTHERS give up things for their children, up to and including everything, even their own lives . . . If I did not write, I would be a terrible vengeful mother . . . (p. 23)


            Natalie Petesch (1991) stated that this conflict between the two types of unconditional love is the crux of the dilemma women writers experience: “Because if love of your Work continues at its present level of intensity, will there not be civil war? And will you not be eventually split asunder by these two equally powerful creative forces?” She continued, saying that women often say that they’re going to temporarily give up their writing, “You decide, therefore, that your Art is to be held "temporarily" in abeyance. You are now at your moment of greatest peril” (p. 314). Petesch seems to indicate that many women may never return to the writing with the intensity they had before they had children.
10. History of divorce
These women writers got married, got divorced, and many remarried. Others had two marriages and a divorce, and some had been married three (Piercy, Smiley, Raz, Wakoski) or even four times (Jong). At least 65 percent of the women writers who married had at least one divorce. This is higher than the figure given for the population at large, which has been estimated at 40-50 percent, according to the Family Research Council (Washington Post, 1997). However, those who were remarried, or in primary relationships without benefit of the legal ceremony, wrote and spoke about having supportive mates who encouraged their work. Others were single by choice after having divorced, or had never married. Several


were single in law but committed to lesbian relationships. Almost all who married had children, with most having one, but two having five (Erdrich and Shields). Several who came to lesbianism later in life started out in heterosexual marriages with children (Hacker, Rich).


Personality/Personal Attributes    
11. Certain core personality attributes
Personality attributes seem to be essential to the development of talent (Piirto, 1994). For example, in all the writers' lives, the overwhelming motivation to write stands out. In addition, the first group of 28 writers was asked to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and 15 did. They preferred Intuition (N) and Perception (P). Other personality attributes such as the presence of overexcitabilities, risk-taking, resilience, and creativity were also present.
The creative writer seems to have certain core personality attributes. The following seem to be key: (1) independence/nonconformity; (2) drive and resiliency (3) courage/ risk-taking (4) ambition /envy; (5) concern with philosophical matters; (6) frankness often expressed in political or social activism; (7) androgyny; (8) introversion; (9) psychopathology; (10) depression; (11) empathy; (12) intensity; (13) sense of humor; (14) trust in intuition and perceptiveness that comes out in an attitude of naiveté, and (15) energy transmitted into productivity. Illustrations of each of these are not possible here, but for example, Tama Janowitz wrote five novels and two plays, all rejected many times, before her first collection of short stories, Slaves of New York, was published in 1986. Her drive and resiliency was evident. She took to the streets of Manhattan with her friends, wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the title, handing out excerpts of the book to publicize it.

12. Incidence of self-destructive acts and depression
Some of the creative women writers had developed destructive personal problems with which they had to wrestle. Substances were used. Pam Durban, for instance, stated that after the break-up of her second marriage, "I drank too much and did all kinds of undignified and destructive things and started to write poetry" (Durban, 1991, p. 15). Novelist Gail Godwin said, "I've had a lot to do with depression. The more I read about madness the madder I get . . . People go mad because of things which happened in their histories, their own configurations" (Pearlman & Henderson, 1990, p. 39).
National Book Award winner, poet Louise Glück's self-destructive behavior included anorexia. She wrote:


By the time I was sixteen, a number of things were clear to me. It was clear that what I had thought of as an act of will, an act I was perfectly capable of controlling, of terminating, was not that; I realized that I had no control over this behavior at all. And I realized, logically, that to be eighty-five, then eighty, then seventy-five pounds was to be thin; I understood that at some point I was going to die. (Glück, 1991, p. 141)


She also suffered from mental illness and underwent 7 years of psychoanalysis. Glück was afraid that the analysis would silence her poetry and she accused her doctor of trying to make her well so that she would "never write again." Instead, the treatment "taught me to think. Taught me to use my tendency to object to articulated ideas on my own ideas, taught me to use doubt, to examine my own speech for its evasions and excisions" (p. 142). Glück was, at18, so rigid and dependent on ritual that she could not enroll in college: "for many years every form of social interaction seemed impossible, so acute was my shame," but her need to write poetry was greater than the shame, and she enrolled in a poetry seminar. Glück went on to win many awards.
Dorothy Allison also experienced a desire for self-destruction. Graff (1995) said Allison's life elements "churned inside as a dangerous rage and shame." She quoted Allison as saying, "I spent quite a few years trying to orchestrate my death" (Graff, 1995, p. 42). Gloria Naylor said that finishing her first novel


  . . .pulled me out of a year of horrendous depression, a time when I had had so many failures on many, many levels. Not with school or any of that, but in my personal life. It kept me sane. It was an affirmation of what I could do, my God-given gift. Nothing can surpass that, you see. The writing did something for me that kept me going because I can be suicidal. That's why, in my work, I'm always looking at ways that people do these odd forms of suicide. (Perry, 1993, p. 223-224)


            Of course, such behavior is immensely personal and many of the writers in their published interviews and autobiographical essays did not comment on such. They are, after all, alive, and such confession is risky. One writer in responding to the researcher's E-mailed question about the themes in this study responded affirmatively to this theme, saying, "Yes. I've suffered deep depressions." This had never been spoken of in any of the other material submitted by that writer. Recent research seems to indicate that indeed, this theme may have resonance. Recent research has indicated that many writers and poets have suffered from manic depression and have attempted suicide (Andreason, 1987; Andreason, & Canter, 1974; Jamison, 1993, 1995). Speculation as to whether this tendency is genetic is in vogue now as the researchers have charted the suicidal and depressive natures of parents and grandparents of writers as well.

13. Feeling of being an outsider: marginalization and the need to be heard
One difference between African American, Hispanic, American Indian, and white women writers seemed to emerge. The need to have one's group's stories heard and recognized is a theme in many of the interviews and essays. The black writers interviewed in Jordan (1993) almost unanimously expressed that they were writing in order to be able to portray the real lives of African-Americans, not those lives filtered through white writers' sensibilities, which were often formed by association with their servants. For example, the novelist Ellen Perry was quoted as saying, "I think I'm more interested in how black women survive and even flourish in a world where there is so much against them . . . I am interested in cultural and racial clashes among people of differing backgrounds, differing ideas, and world selves”(p. 177). On the other hand, the writer Rosellen Brown, interviewed in 1995, said,


I write to write; I don't write to say a particular something. I do find it necessary to say things along the way, obviously. I've been plenty socially engaged. But I am not a black woman . . . nor have I been poor or abused or whatever seems sensational these days to an audience eager to be instructed in other people's pain. Of course, I'm a woman, which determines certain preoccupations, and I have found that a sufficient subject . . . . Many of us write because we are readers and have grown up in a long tradition, and we want to be able to add to that extraordinary flow of interpretations from the world. (p. 35)


Yet Brown herself expressed deep alienation in an essay about her home, citing her parents’ immigration as Jews from Eastern Europe, her family’s many moves wandering about the country following her father’s employment, and a constant feeling of being an outsider, an observer, an exile, in both her life and her work (Pearlman, 1996).
An expression of marginalization was sounded in many of the published interviews with women writers of all ethnicities. A large number of the successful women writers listed their religion as Jewish, in the Contemporary Writers reference series, and while not often spoken out loud, the theme of anti-Semitism sounds in their written works. In terms of religious preference, few expressed conventional Christian religious preferences, and were more likely to say they were "vehemently anti-theistic" (the American Indian writer Louise Erdrich) or "pantheistic" (the novelist Barbara Kingsolver). The search for meaning through words continues throughout: Adrienne Rich said, “I need to understand how a place on a map is also a place in history within which as a woman, a Jew, a lesbian, a feminist I am created and trying to create” (1986, p. 34).
The feeling of being a misfit, an outsider, occurred in many of the writers' lives. Whether the feeling of not fitting in is more true for writers than for the general population is not known. The writer Dorothy Allison felt alone in being the only member of her family to graduate from high school and to attend college; from getting a library card when her sister was more interested in curling her hair; from being a working-class young woman at a middle-class college; from being a lesbian in a straight world; from being abused by both her father and her stepfather (Graff, 1995). The "outsider" feeling described above was mentioned by many of the writers.
The Mexican-American novelist Gloria Anzaldúaú talked about how her culture silenced its women: "The silencing from the outside came from my family and my culture, where you were supposed to be seen but not heard. This was especially true for the girl children." She said, "My brothers could say bad words and I couldn't. They could go out at night, but I wasn't allowed" (Perry, 1993, p. 27). Anzaldúa also spoke about how perceived discrimination from other white women writers prompted her to edit an anthology which solicited writing by women of color: "The impulse behind the anthology was to expose the racism in the women's movement. . . . women of color were outraged but did not have a vehicle for their voices" (Perry, 1993, p. 35). The feelings of marginalization among the women writers did not stop with gender, but also went to class, sexual preference, ethnicity, and color.
14. Possession of tacit knowledge and the constant struggle to publish
Tacit knowledge is knowledge of how to get along in the profession. It is knowledge not generally disseminated in classes or in books, but those within the profession informally know that. One aspect of tacit knowledge for writers is that they must keep their work circulating, despite many rejection letters. The prize-winning short story writer Lucia Nevai told about submitting her stories through her agent, and then without her agent, sometimes 25 or 30 times each before she found a home for them. In the main, these writers had knowledge of how the writing profession works, gleaned from their mentors, other writers, or from the school of hard knocks.
Attainment of representation by an agent is by and large necessary for publication of fiction by a mainstream house, though the mythical stories of "over the transom" acceptances continue to be told. Short story writers must write novels in order to get attention (except for such New Yorker authors as Alice Munro). The difficulty of obtaining an agent is a theme in many of the writers' lives. An agent picked others such as Amy Tan up after a few sample chapters were shown; the agent sold the novel (Joy-Luck Club) based on the chapters, and Tan's career was launched (Pearlman and Henderson, 1990). This is unusual. Tan's writing talent, her proximity to an agent looking to represent such work as Tan was writing, and the market's readiness to accept such work were all operational.

15. Personal and individual creative process often with spirituality overtones
All the writers have a certain creative process in which they participate. The word participate is used consciously, for some of the writers feel they are merely vehicles for what could be called the "visitation of the Muse" (see Piirto, 1992/1998, Chapter 2 and Piirto 2002). The writer Ai had the actor Willem Dafoe as her muse for several years (See Table 1). Naylor said (Perry, 1993), "I'm like a filter for these stories" (p. 225). She continued, "The process starts with images that I am haunted by and I will not know why . . .. You just feel a dis-ease until somehow you go into the whole, complicated, painful process of writing and find out what the image means." Naylor called these images "waking, psychic revelations."
Silko said (Perry, 1993), "But when you go into the room alone to write, you're swimming in the sea of all that language and a huge and collective sense of the past. It's real spooky" (p. 323). Silko continued:


I believe that stories are alive. . . . I believe that there's a kind of living spirit in stories that can't be seen — it's there when the story is all together, but if you break the words apart and say, "Where is the spirit? Is it in this word or this word or this word?" it's like pulling a human apart and saying, "Does this make you alive, does this make you alive?" . . . At some point when you're writing a novel, the characters are really more interesting and exciting than living people . . . once the stories got started I didn't really control them. . . I had to do what the writing wanted it to do. (Perry, 1993, pp. 324-325)


A poet surveyed said, "I often write prose first, to get myself started. I keep a journal of sorts. Then when I think I have something worth starting a poem on, I do that. I use a paper and pencil, transfer to a computer after the first draft." Toni Morrison drinks a cup of coffee before dawn as a ritual of dark before light. Their creative processes are individual, and each woman knows how to access that space and time where she will create worlds on paper. Writers seem to prefer more organic processes, such as meditation, solitude, reading poetry, listening to music, rather than linear, step-by-step processes such as the creative problem-solving process (CPS) used in the field of talent development.
16. Societal expectations of femininity incongruent with essential personality
Ambivalence about the role they play in society did not start with motherhood for many of these writers. They had been equivocal about being female and then female writers long before they became mothers in a culture that still defined that function within rather narrow boundaries. Some of them did manage to rise above their earliest negative feelings about their gender and writing, and some even found a great advantage in being a female writer, but most struggled with this identity. It could be said that they possess the personality attribute of androgyny (Piirto & Fraas, 1995). The dilemma of being both a woman and a writer seems to be that women writers are different from men writers in their self-expectation to do all things well. The conflict as a need in women to be all things to all people, partly as a societal expectation for women to be thoughtful and nice, and partly as a compulsive drive for perfection. Alison Lurie noted that “there is a tradition that women create nests for men and for children and that a woman is judged on the quality of her nest, whereas a man isn’t” (Pearlman and Henderson, 1990, p. 14). If she can reach that balance, she is taking off into terra incognita, as Kelly Cherry noted:


I want, that is, to be a writer. In this respect, I sometimes think, I may actually be more fortunate than men writers today. The ground of female being is a territory less literarily charted than the ground of male being. A woman writer, if she has an adventurous spirit, can go anywhere, and almost everywhere she goes will be a new and subtle place, rich in unexplored implications, epiphanous, unexhausted. She can translate herself, as it were, to places the reader has never been, or does not yet realize he has been. She can say what it is like to have been there. (Cherry, p. 41)

In summary, this study showed that successful women writers are similar to writers in earlier studies, and to women creators in general, in that they exhibit the same personality characteristics and drive as men writers, but they also experience the conflict of being women and reconciling family duties with their creative work.
Those who educate talented young writers may want to note some implications from this study. Many of these writers sometimes came from families which may not have had the wherewithal to recommend or send them to the prestigious colleges for which the writers qualified by dint of their academic talent. In this case, it is incumbent on the school to recommend that these young women attend challenging institutions and to find them the scholarships to do so. Another recommendation is that while these young women may come from families with trauma or unconventionality, they still may show the obsessive and constant reading and writing behaviors at a young age. These behaviors seem to be almost universal in the lives of the 80 women studied, and may even be called “predictive” for their later writing careers. Challenging reading and opportunities to practice and showcase their writing and their knowledge should be provided.
While some of the women searched for role models who were women, their supportive teachers were both men and women. The quality of the instruction seems to have more importance than the gender of the teacher. Young women will almost certainly become mothers. The difficulties of combining a career in writing with their nurturing role in the family should not be underplayed. However, as these award-winning women writers demonstrate, it can be done, even without the support of a husband.
Some informal knowledge of how to get along in the profession and what the profession entails may be incumbent, as many of those who wish to become writers have no idea of the struggle to get published, to get an agent, and to win awards that seems to come along with the profession of writer. Perhaps a stint in New York City might be recommended. As portrayed by these women, the career of writer is neither glamorous nor lucrative. Depression seems to be present more often than in the general population. In fact, their very difference from the general population seems to spur them on to write about their challenges, from the position of outsiders and critics of society. Despite their challenges, the writers do it, struggling on, writing, writing, writing, motivated by love of words and not by love of money, fame, or influence. Young would-be writers may feel comforted by these findings, or the findings of this study may lead them to reject the profession of writer for a more secure, safer profession.

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.  These personality attributes are discussed in depth in a chapter in the author’s book, My Teeming Brain: Understanding  Creative Writers (Hampton Press).


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