You’re Not the Boss of Me

No woman can expect to be regarded as a lady after she has written a book –Lydia Maria Francis Child (paraphrase) 1802-1880

Don’t air your dirty laundry in public — Mom

Yes, that’s right. Another blog post from me. Nothing for months and then two posts in one week. I am neither moderate nor consistent, nor do I strive to be.
Recent events have set me to thinking about censorship, and before your heart sets to racing and you start forming rebuttals in your mind, let me assure you that I am NOT speaking of censorship in the word’s legal definition. I’m talking about personal, internal censorship.
Artists of all stripes – and writers in particular – hate censorship. It’s our C word.
To write anything, and I do mean anything , from a sweet story of a mother loving her child, to the chilling mother/child relationship in Mike Miller’s Murderous – to write at all – requires exposing our innermost selves to strangers. To reveal ourselves day after day requires that we guard against any and all who seek to shut our mouths, close our minds, dictate what is and is not acceptable.
I’m talking about censorship as a mental state.
Let me give you an example.
A few months ago I posted a blog about my grandmother, one of the most important people in my life as a child. Grandma was a smart, funny, nurturing woman. She valued me, listened to me, encouraged me. She was also an alcoholic. The point of the post was that people are never all good or all bad. That we love people for who they are, not what we want them to be. That perfection is not a prerequisite for love.
A week or so after that blog post, I received a letter from my mother in which she said, among other things, “Your grandmother would be so disappointed in you. Thank God she died or she’d be crying right now. Never write about me or anyone in our family again.”
That is censorship.
Is it legal for my mother to make the request? Of course.
Is it understandable that she did so? Absolutely.
Is it possible to accept this edict and still write? No.
No, no, no, a thousand times no.
Because to write anything at all, from a love scene, to a fight scene, to a tender story of mother and child, we must draw upon personal experience. There is no way to write except to expose ourselves to the reader, dig deep and re-experience that first kiss, first love, first lust. Allow ourselves to fall, once again, into grief or rise up into joy.
And the second we allow that internal voice of censorship to whisper in our ear or shout in our face, we stop growing as writers, I suspect we stunt our growth as humans. The creative process cannot survive worry about the reaction of others to our words. Internal censorship kills the ability to tell the truth, demands that we twist and mutilate the past in order to avoid offending the reader.
Many of the skills required to be a writer can be learned. We can be taught to rattle off our opinion on the Oxford comma, to rail against passive voice, or falling out of point of view. The ability to reject censorship – that is a personal journey, one on which we must embark if we are to become tellers of tall tales and revealers of truth.

About Author and Speaker Pamela Foster

Pamela Foster is a speaker and author. Her first book, Redneck Goddess, is available at local bookstores and on Amazon. Her second book, Bigfoot Blues, will be available in August 2012.
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9 Responses to You’re Not the Boss of Me

  1. gilmiller says:

    This is a tough one. As someone who writes crime fiction, I’m often portraying some unsavory characters. And to be true to the reality of that world, I have to write dialogue and attitudes that I don’t agree with. One example that comes to mind is racial slurs. The people inhabiting the criminal underworld aren’t exactly enlightened, so when I have a character who is racist or misogynic in some way, it makes me hesitate to write these things. But if I’m to be true to the story, I have to. My mother, being a devout Christian, doesn’t care for the profanity in my stories, but I put it there anyway because it’s what the characters would do were they real. And since they ARE real in my mind, they act according to their character (no pun intended). The inner censor can be one of the hardest to get past.

  2. Duke Pennell says:

    Truly told, Pam. It’s one of the main reasons you’re such a fine author.

  3. Had a very similar response when I wrote a short story last year about my Granny, and made the mistake of thinking my Mum would find the sweet memory as comforting as I did. “Don’t show it to anyone, and don’t write anything else about the family”…
    Not really the right thing to say to a writer, now is it? 😉
    I think we should be as truthful as we can. By all means lace it with fiction, or visa versa, but truth has to be present for the fiction to become more believable, in my opinion. And yes, we have to stay true to our characters, or remembered beloved ones, that we write about 🙂

  4. Reblogged this on Alice White Author and commented:
    Another fantastic blog from my friend and fellow author, Pamela Foster 🙂

  5. Pingback: You’re Not the Boss of Me | Alice White Author

  6. Ruthie says:

    Pam, you know in your heart your grandmother is smiling from ear-to-ear and is so proud of you she could bust. The comment by your mom is her crap, not yours. You know this. So. Write on! Charge ahead! Grandma is right beside you whispering in your ear, “You go, girl. I love you.”

  7. I would find it difficult to believe anyone could censor you, Pam. You tell it like it is and that is just one of many things that make you a great writer of stories. I would not be surprised to learn one of your books made a best-seller list. I keep hoping we’ll see that happen.

  8. Natine says:

    Although self-censoring in fear of hurting/embarrassing/angering others is only one of the reasons I am an inconsistent writer, it definitely makes authentic writing harder. Some of the best stories inside me involve people close to me and I worry about that, so I just don’t write them. I tell myself that one day when they are no longer here, I’ll go ahead and write them.

    One of the things I’ve loved about your books is that you seem so candid about how you feel and how you may look to others, and it’s like talking with a friend. I’m sorry your mom took offense. That must be very hard.

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