Indie Author Weekly

158: On writing "selfish" women

August 01, 2023 Sagan Morrow Episode 159
Indie Author Weekly
158: On writing "selfish" women
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, I’m addressing a particular complaint that some readers have had in their reviews about my latest romance novel, Small Town Stilettos — some of the reviews dislike the main character, Margaret, because she is perceived as “selfish.”

In this episode, we explore this idea a little further: What makes a person selfish? How do we determine whether a person is selfish or not? Why are we put off by a character who puts their own self-interest first? Why is there a double-standard for women vs men when it comes to how “selfish” we are allowed to be?

I want more readers to give themselves permission, in their own lives, to put themselves first, and to recognize that putting themselves first doesn’t make them a bad person, it doesn't make them selfish, and it doesn’t even necessarily need to mean that other people won’t get what they want or that putting yourself first is at the detriment or cost of other things. 

You can get what you want, and do good things in the world. These aren’t mutually exclusive! 

You are allowed to know what you want, to express what you want, to put yourself first. Especially if you are constantly putting others before you. Especially if you feel guilty about expressing your wants and needs. Especially if you are not ALLOWING yourself to have and be what you want in life.

So every time a reviewer mentions something about my characters being selfish, to be honest, it just makes me want to write MORE " selfish" women. To normalize women asking for what they want and need; to normalize women speaking up for themselves and asserting themselves; to normalize women being unapologetic about their drives and desires.

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Hello & welcome to the Indie Author Weekly podcast, where I take you on the behind-the-scenes journey of my adventures as an indie author. I’m your host, Sagan Morrow, and I’m an 8-time polyamorous romcom author plus I’ve also written several business books for solopreneurs.

Last week was book release day for my latest romance novel, Small Town Stilettos: a modern marriage of convenience — so in my previous episode here on the Indie Author Weekly podcast, I shared with you a few of the glowing reviews that this novel has received so far from readers.

Now, of course, not all the reviews have been positive! And that’s okay — not every book is going to be enjoyed by every person. But there’s been an interesting comment that multiple reviewers have made about Small Town Stilettos, which is that they don’t like how selfish Margaret, the main character, is. 

I am FASCINATED by this comment and I kind of love it because it really begs the question: What makes a person selfish? How do we determine whether a person is selfish or not? Why are we put off by a character who puts their own self-interest first?

Here’s the thing that I find about writing selfish women: They're actually not THAT selfish… they are simply clear and upfront about what they want. And I love and admire that about them. They aren't bad people. 

And there is often REASON for their "selfishness," For example, in Small Town Stilettos: Margaret lost the only two parental figures — the only FAMILY — she's ever had. She's an only child without family. She appreciates her independence and she's had to look out for other people. She's had to grieve alone.

Let’s do a quick recap about Margaret’s situation: 

  • She was the only child of a single parent, and her mom was bullied so badly that they moved cities when Margaret was a pre-teen. In the novel, she mentions how she tried really hard to prove to her mom that they could have a great life for themselves, just the two of them.
  • Then her mom dies when Margaret is in her late 20s. 
  • When the novel starts, her only other family, her only other parental figure, Great Aunt Eleanor, has recently passed away — and Margaret is returning to the small town she and her mom escaped from so that Margaret can deal with her aunt’s estate. 
  • Then she finds out she needs to marry her childhood sweetheart in order to access her inheritance, and Margaret does NOT want to get married! 
  • She wants to use the money to create an accessible and sustainable fashion line. 
  • Margaret is also very clear about how she’s polyamorous and childfree, and explains exactly what she wants. 

…and she is perceived by some readers as selfish, BECAUSE she doesn’t want to be monogamous, because she’s so upfront and frank about what she wants. 

(By the way, if you want to read Margaret’s story, you can grab your copy of Small Town Stilettos: a modern marriage of convenience on Amazon, or visit SaganMorrow.com/books — links are in the show notes).

There’s an interesting double-standard, that happens ehre, because Logan, the man she needs to marry is basically trying to convince her that she should have kids with him. But no readers have made ANY comment about him being selfish. So we have here a double-standard for what men vs women are “allowed” to do. He is still getting what he wants/needs, just as much as Margaret, but NO ONE has said anything about him being selfish… when he’s basically said outright that he hoped Margaret would change her mind about kids, just to fulfill his white picket fence fantasy!

This is the double-standard that women face every day.

Margaret is grieving, she’s lost her only family, she is used to being independent and doing things her own way, and she’s now being forced to be around this town that only has bad memories for her. That’s a lot to deal with! 

Why shouldn't she put herself and her needs first? Women should probably do that much more often! 

Margaret is a woman who was prepared to give up her entire inheritance to charitable organizations. This is a woman who convinced her mom they could have a new life together as a pre-teen, because her mom was being ostracized in her small town. This is a woman who cares about inclusive sizing and sustainable fashion. 

This is a compassionate woman… and she is viewed as selfish. Why? Because she wants to create a fashion empire for inclusive sizing. Because she doesn’t want to have kids. Because she knows what she wants in relationships, and she’s upfront with the men in her life about exactly what she wants.

Expressing your wants & needs, and putting yourself first, doesn’t mean you’re a bad person… and it doesn’t even necessarily make you selfish. 

Putting yourself first doesn’t need to be at the detriment of others wants and needs, and this is where people often get things mixed up. 

This is a huge part of the reason for why I really love writing “selfish” women. The world needs more selfish women! And we also need to redefine what we mean by the word “selfish.”

My spouse is a real-life cinnamon roll hero, and I’m a youngest sibling. I am used to being “allowed” to put myself first. And I want more people to give themselves permission to do that. As with many aspects of the things I write, there’s a reason for it! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I want to change the world with the stories I write — and sometimes, perhaps even most often, changing the world begins with changing our perspectives. 

I want more readers to give themselves permission, in their own lives, to put themselves first, and to recognize that putting themselves first doesn’t make them a bad person, it doesn't make them selfish, and it doesn’t even necessarily need to mean that other people won’t get what they want or that putting yourself first is at the detriment or cost of other things. 

You can get what you want, and do good things in the world. These aren’t mutually exclusive! 

This is really important to me, because not only do I see this in everyday life, and not only is this being reflected in these reader comments, but I also see this as a Life Coach. When I’m not writing romance novels, I do coaching for clients — often with solopreneurs, but also people in all aspects of life. And this is the type of thing I see again and again, where I’m coaching my clients through this idea that they don’t want to ask for help, they don’t want to put themselves first, they are always putting other people before themselves… and I see this again and again with my coaching clients.

I’m in these sessions and we’re able to coach them through it, but sometimes it can take a while. It can take a few sessions, because it is so deeply ingrained in them to always put other people before them, to not express their own wants and needs, to not even give themselves permission to identify what they truly want. 

You are allowed to know what you want, to express what you want, to put yourself first. Especially if you are constantly putting others before you. Especially if you feel guilty about expressing your wants and needs. Especially if you are not ALLOWING yourself to have and be what you want in life.

So every time a reviewer mentions something about my characters being selfish, to be honest, it just makes me want to write MORE " selfish" women. To normalize women asking for what they want and need; to normalize women speaking up for themselves and asserting themselves; to normalize women being unapologetic about their drives and desires.

There you have it — my take on writing “selfish” women. If you have additional questions about this topic, or any other topic you’d like me to address here on Indie Author Weekly, I would love to hear it. Please submit your topic ideas at SaganMorrow.com/question

That, my friend, is a wrap for today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly. Access the show notes for this episode, including all links and additional resources, at SaganMorrow.com/podcast, and share your thoughts on this episode on Twitter or Instagram — my handle is @Saganlives. 

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