Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Self Censorship

So the other day I was reading the recent deals on Publisher’s Marketplace. This is not something one really needs to do as a writer but I’m afraid I am nosy (::ahem:: just like a certain young heroine I could name). Anyway, I apparently also like to torture myself

I was shocked and dismayed to find a deal announced with a blurb that—I swear—could have been lifted right off my computer, it was that similar to an idea I’ve been toying with for a while. Now, I know that there are few original ideas, yadda, yadda, yadda, but this one felt fresh and different and I was looking forward to working on it—someday. Someday when I got up the nerve that is. You see, I hadn’t let myself start that book because I was afraid of it; afraid of what the subject matter said about me, afraid it would be too shocking or too dark or too—some damn thing. I don’t know. The thing is, I don't mind being scooped, but I do mind being scooped because of fear. Argh!

Which brings me to self-censorship, one of the deadliest cancers creativity has ever known and one of my personal bugaboos. Public attempts at censorship and book banning have nothing on the insidious creep of self-censorship. With public censorship and book banning, you can fight back, write letters, protest, raise consciousness, buy the book in question to reverse the tide. But with self-censorship, it's much more subtle and can creep up on you so that you don't even know you're doing it.

I know some writers are much better than I am at throwing it off, but I really do have a very rigid, disapproving, repressed editor sitting on my shoulder as I write (and no, it’s not you Mom--I swear!) and I can’t tell you the number of ideas she nixes or waters down, for fear of upsetting people.

The thing is, though, that writing is meant to explore dark paces, often so we won’t have to, or to shine a light on our own psychic hidey holes. I know that. And I love it when an author does it, and does it well. The emotional journey and complete catharsis that those kinds of books provide are some of the most profound reading experiences I've ever had. And yet I shy away.

The thing is, the possibility of upsetting a group of concerned parents in Kansas really does upset me. I like involved parents. And teachers. And librarians. I don’t want to tick them off.

But being nice has nothing to do with being a writer. We owe our readers the truth as we see it, even if that truth is dark sometimes, or cloaked in fantasy worlds or needs to explore issues that some prefer weren’t explored.

Clearly, this is something I need to face. (And soon! Before all my best, edgy ideas get consumed by other feeders at the cosmic cauldron of Story.) In fact, I’ve already begun. I’m designing (in my mind) a set of new people to sit on my shoulder as I write. I normally write for myself, to tell the sorts of stories I love but can't find or find enough of. But now I’m working on visualizing the one reader who really needs this dark, edgy, shocking story I want to tell. Then, once that person is fully realized in my mind, they are going to go over and bitch slap the censuring editor.


Cherry Red said...

Picture me, over here, just waiting for you to finish that book. Because I'm non-judgemental. And because you can do no wrong in my eyes, Robin. And I know I'm not alone. Write that story you need to write. I will read it, love it, and tell you so. :) Those other people don't exist. They just don't.

dixie said...

I know your mother would never never NEVER edit even one pixel of your incredible imagination.