Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Self-Censor; Enemy of the Tale

I'm interrupting the regularly scheduled blog to bring you the following walk down memory lane. In cleaning out my old blog, I've decided to repost some of my more favorite entries. This one was posted in January of 2006 on the subject of self-censorship in writing - hopefully it can spawn a good discussion here, as well.

Self-Censorship in Writing

We've all heard of censorship, been incensed by it, and devoured a number of those devilish books to see what all the fuss was over... Most often when the word, 'censorship' gets bandied about in conversation, it illicets visions of small minded people building bon fires to burn hard written work that they have never bothered to read or understand... It is a thing of ignorance more often than anything.

Though that form of censorship is a far reaching topic, and one I may expound on at a later date, what I'm thinking of here is far more ominous... the writer's worst enemy: Self Censorship!!!!

There is a wonderful thing that happens to most writers during the course of creating their vision, the muse takes over and words you didn't have to try for just pour forth as if something greater than meager little you is moving your pen (or fingers across the keyboard, as the case may be). But so many times, what is true in your writing, what is most heartfelt and honest, is squelched by the person who should be championing these words the most; you, the writer.

There are numerous reasons for this type of censorship, but it never fails to weaken the truth of the telling. If it is fiction, there is an underlying worry that friends, family, enemies, etc... will detect some bit of themselves in the characters and balk, or be offended. Worse still, they will fail to understand the difference between fact and fiction and will assume that the main character's feelings, thoughts, and actions are the author's. What if your main character is an ass, racist, bum, drunken circus performer.... it may make for excellent fiction, but do you want your mother in law eyeing you over the Thanksgiving Turkey, waiting with bated breath for you to break out your unicyle and juggle, while yelling racial epitaphs?

This is a large and ever reaching topic, and I would like to expound on it in future blogs... Any input would be great. Let me know what you guys think...


Sun Singer said...

Good thoughts, Merry. Thanks for re-posting this classic. --Malcolm

Jerseygirl89 said...

I'm sorry I missed this the first time and appreciate you reposting. It makes me think of Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, one of my writing favorites. I definitely think I am much more, um, careful when I write things that my family will see.

Merry Jelinek said...

Thanks for stopping, trick and jersey girl!

You know, I haven't read 'Writing Down to the Bones' though I've heard of it and it does sound like a good one... It's funny with the self censorship thing, because it doesn't matter how much your writing reflects your life, people who don't write or understand will assume it's all you... sometimes writers will do the same.

In my first fiction writing course we would sit in a circle and read our short stories aloud. Then everyone in the circle would say the thing that struck them most - it's a good way to tell which phrases and descriptions are most evocative... anyway, I wrote a piece from the pov of a male character who was absolutely nothing like me - more than half the comments referred to the character as female - and that from fiction writing students.