Not Just “Shelling Peas and Pain”: Standing Up for Women’s Writing

July 30, 2019 § 6 Comments

HanscombeBy Elisabeth Hanscombe

People in relationships can at times feel stifled and the burden of responsibility they have towards their partner can feel onerous. From time to time they might wish they were free again and single like their friends who live alone, or at least outside the bonds of relationship. They imagine the single people are having a much better time.

Single people, on the other hand, can at times long for the marriages and committed partnerships they see around them, envy the state of always having companionship on tap, knowing there’s someone whose voice will lighten when you call and they first hear your voice.

It seems that the single among us long for the constraints of relationship and the ones in relationships long to be free.

So, it is for fiction writers whose imaginations imply a freedom that non-fiction writers are never fully allowed, as we must stay close to the facts, at least to the essence of those so-called facts. We cannot stray too far into the imaginary.

For years I’ve attended fiction workshops with prompts and exercises along the lines of ‘Imagine your character to be doing such and such’.  My imaginary character invariably turns out to be me, or to be someone of my close acquaintance, and I must wriggle my mind into position as if I’m writing about some imaginary creature, my ‘I’ character as a fiction, even though I know I am not fictional.

Whenever I write, even as I seek to be as authentic and honest about my experience as possible, I find myself taking a line in my writing that is open to interpretation. When I read back over this image of me, this latest self-portrait as it were, I can see a stranger, a person I don’t fully recognise as me. Bits of me, but not all of me.

I see myself as so many disparate bits. So many different characters trot through my head depending on the time of day, depending on whatever preoccupation assails me at any given moment. When I try to write from that perspective, I find it shifts my perspective on myself.

A woman much older than me when I was still young enough to think of myself as young, still of childbearing age, during our journal writing class, talked of women’s writing of the nonfiction variety as “shelling peas and pain.”

Why do we women debase our best writing efforts, as if our words are not worth reading?

From now on, I reckon, it’s time to stand up for those words and shout them into the Cosmos.

Let’s be heard.

Elisabeth Hanscombe is a psychologist and writer who lives in Melbourne, Australia and has published widely in magazines such as Meanjin, Griffith Review, Island and Bluestem, among others. Her memoir, The Art of Disappearing, came out in 2017. When she’s not working therapeutically, Elisabeth strives to balance the competing demands of family and work with a desire to ‘circle her wounds’ on the page. She blogs at


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