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.