How to write for women

During a conversation with a group of writers, artists and other creative types one of the participants asked if I could handle a specific assignment. Can you write for women?” she asked.

I answered with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

The one other guy in the group literally harrumphed. “There’s no writing for women!” he said. “You write for people. It doesn’t matter whether they’re men or women.”

Many women have told me they like my columns. It has convinced me that I am successful in communicating (in writing) with women, perhaps more successfully than other writers. The exchange with my grumpy friend prompted me to think about what goes into an essay or column that might speak particularly to women.

Or perhaps the question is: How do you write an article that doesn’t turn off female readers?

There are plenty of writers who appeal to men. One of my favorites is Dave Barry. He regularly includes booger jokes in his writing. I laugh out loud almost every time I read Dave Barry. I love booger jokes! But most women I know don’t like that kind of slapstick, in-your-face type of writing quite as much.

I write as a man, with the weird, hairy viewpoint that testosterone bestows. However, my background may give me an advantage over other guys when it comes to communicating with women. I grew up with three sisters (no brothers) and a mom with a strong personality, by which I mean she was angry. My self-protective reaction to her outbursts was to run and hide, and then peek around the corner at what was going on. I learned to observe people and grew up more comfortable (than many other males) with women of all dispositions. And by comfortable I don’t mean suave or able to look them in the eye during conversation.

I developed a teasing sense of humor (reference the three sisters). And I try to make others laugh with self-deprecating humor, which I learned from my modest-acting dad. He worked in the construction industry but he was always the only one on the site wearing a tie. Other guys called him “Professor” because he was not as rough-hewn as the others.

I’m not saying other men are not sensitive. Recently, one of my male friends, a Green Bay Packers fan, wept as he watched a highlight reel of quarterback Brett Favre’s career. And then there are other male writers, such as Sherman Alexie, an American Indian who writes about that culture. When I heard him speak he noted that white women make up most of his audience. They buy his books and attend his lectures, and he is grateful. He engages us by writing with passion about subjects that make us uncomfortable, but leaves us feeling like we understand something about it, and want to know more. He writes with humor, too. When he was a baby he faced an operation that might leave him a vegetable. When the doctors broke the news to his mom, who had lived on an Indian reservation her entire life, she asked, “What kind of vegetable?”

So here is what I should have told my friend who doesn’t believe there is writing for women: Make sure you notice the sweet things in life, the optimism and the hope. Own your flaws and misunderstandings (the things people don’t expect you to express at work, for example). Be willing to show some of your true self. There is crossover; many male readers will like this, too. Just as some women laugh at booger jokes, some men aren’t knuckle-dragging jerks. They are moved by subtle beauty and mystery. Readers will appreciate you.

About Paul

I grew up in Marin County, California, and moved to Connecticut to join The News-Times, a community newspaper in Danbury where I eventually served as editor for 10 years. I joined Western Connecticut State University and ran the PR and development offices. I now serve as director of community relations and public affairs. I have four kids, all with the same wife, and now run Writing Associates, a consulting service that makes writing easier for my clients.