Doubtful About Doulas?
The Matera Women’s Fiction Festival in Italy includes an international writers conference. The conference was on hiatus last year. A lot of us were glad when the event’s longtime (tireless) driver Elizabeth Jennings and her fine associates including Rebecca Riches and Mariateresa Cascino were able to get it back onto the calendar this year, in late September.
The conference’s programming was even better filled out than in the past and included its traditional one-on-one sessions with speakers. I enjoy those because they give me a chance to meet attendees. Jennings and her administration provide simultaneous translation in English and Italian (and a translator at the table when I meet with an Italian speaker in a one-on-one).
And while it’s set in the context of the Women’s Fiction Festival, this is a good event for guys to attend, too. Nothing being offered at the conference won’t help male writers as well as women, don’t let that scare you off if you’re a man and thinking about going in the future.
In walking into the Fondazione Le Monacelle with Jennings just before I spoke, she mentioned to me that a topic of interest this year at the event was the concept of the “book doula.”
Part of the interest had been sparked by Olga Mecking’s writeup in London at The Guardian about doulas earlier last month.
And if you’re feeling hesitant about all this, doula Ariane Conrad’s site won’t do a lot to make you feel better. She’s all in. Although she’s doing this for nonfiction, it could just as easily be fiction, and she’s talking “bookbirthing” (one word).
Some of her descriptive copy will put off anyone but your Kumbaya-singing aunt. Such as:
“You will probably make me cry…in a good way. We will probably crack each other up. I will tell you when there is spinach in your teeth. We will probably become lifelong friends.”
“We might plan a week-long retreat to refine the concept, draft an outline, or power through some writing. We might schedule weekly Skype meetings to keep you buoyant and productive. If cajoling doesn’t work, I will be stern about deadlines.”
And here’s a ghostly line:
“You might ask me to write a draft that you can make your own. I might interview you and shape a strong, consistent narrative from the material. I will probably do background research, editing, proofing.”
As much as I do to encourage and promote professionalism in writing–because I want the industry to have to respond with its most professional service and support for its authors–I’m skeptical of this.
For one thing, I worry that there’s an unintended sexism in this metaphoric conflation of childbirth and writing, a suggestion that women might need special help from a literary midwife. Perhaps that’s too strong a reaction. But I can’t see a guy heading out for a retreat with his doula, can you? Am I knee-jerking? Okay, a lot of us are super-sensitized to the sexism ingrained in our culture right now.
But if we put aside the gender question (how about a “book mechanic” for the guys?–shoot me now) what sort of need is being answered here, even ostensibly?
Dialing for Doulas
My provocation for you today is to offer some potential contexts–rationales, reactions–in which this “book doula” concept has arrived, and I’d be interested to hear from you with reactions of your own. So here are some to start the discussion.
Let’s say you’re Dialing for Doulas. Maybe this is because:
- You’re totally new to writing and are overwhelmed with what you don’t know. (At least you recognize you don’t know something, right?)
- You’re trying to get ready for an agent and you’d like to really tighten up your approach from someone who thinks like an agent. (This assumes a doula knows what agents need and how they work. Once you’ve got an agent, would you still want a doula?)
- You’re self-publishing and you’d rather have somebody guide you than spend the time it takes to cast around for guidance. One stop.
- You’re wanting to keep your project quiet. Having to dive into chat rooms and forums and expose yourself and your work is too social, too public for you, and you like the privacy–like a good therapist–of this doula approach. (As you may know, I wish more writers felt they could keep their process quiet. I’m aligned with our Heather Webb’s concern that the mystique of the author’s art is blown up by all this social airing of one’s linen. Heather, correct me if I’ve misstated this.)
- You’re not really writing but you like the hobbyist trappings of the idea. Forgive me, but there are folks who are in that category and here’s yet another way you can keep dabbling. (This time like a bad therapist: many of them do keep you coming and dabbling, you know, and my apologies to the more responsible therapists of the world who are good enough to kick patients out when it’s time.)
- You’re serious, you’re functioning like a pro, you’re doing everything Porter tells you to, but you think you need a co-conspirator, of sorts, who knows the ropes because insecurity happens.
- You’d like connections. (Well, is a doula connected? Can she introduce you to that agent? That editor? That cover designer? That venture capitalist?)
Or is this just another “author services” costume for someone to wear while collecting money from aspiring writers?
The UK has a tradition of a “literary consultancy” at which you get edits, design assists, mentoring, and so forth. The best known is called, cleverly enough, The Literary Consultancy (TLC) and you can see that it’s a very knees-up effort with everything from retreats in the Andalucian mountains to conferences, editing of all kinds, manuscript assessment, a lot about mentoring–and maybe that’s what a doula does. TLC will even get to a stage of recommending your work to an agent–their Quality Liaison Officer, mon dieu, handles this–if its personnel decide you’re publishable. So it may be that the UK market is more receptive to the idea of a book doula than the US or other markets might be, based on years of operation by literary consultancies there.
What do you think about this doula concept? Are you more welcoming to the idea? Can you see other rationales for a writer going for this kind of service? Should I open up a matchmaker service that helps writers find the perfect book doula?
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!