By Janet Riehl
There you are, writing along, when you get the jitters. Oh-oh, this is scary and out of bounds. You flinch, stop, and pour a slug of good bourbon. What’s going on here? You’re in the grip of censorship: yours.
When friends shared censorship rules and regulations with me, they fell into three categories: craft; content; and the dangerous World Out There.
1) Schmaltz Censor (Craft)
“Precious,” is what some call work that is just too-too. It makes me want to hurl and I abhor it. If my work were ever judged to be “schmaltzy,” well, I’d just never be able to show my face in polite society again! Fret! Fret! Somebody please get me an emesis basin.
Creative Catalyst: This writing about what the author abhors is good, strong writing.
2) “Don’t take offense” Censor (Content and the World Out There)
Sex? Violence? Secrets? Swear words? What will people think? Will my friends and family desert me?
Creative Catalyst: Ah! Here the crux of a memoirist internal sensor. Be careful of delicate sensibilities—including yours. Maybe there’s truth in those over-the-line moments. You can scale it back later or delete it.
3) “So, sue me!” (Content and The World Out There)
If we were to clock the hours memoirists consider and discuss this bombshell, we’d see that years of our writing life are nibbled away. Law suits? Sure, it could happen–but, not at your writing desk. A must read essay “People Who Want to Sue Me,” by the brilliant novelist Evelyn Waugh (a guy) sheds light and humor on this fear of ours.
Censorship is one arm of the Inner Critic Octopus. What to do?
1) Banned Writing List. We rail against Banned Books. But, if the book never gets written it can’t have the honor of being banned. List the topics, phrases, and words on your Banned Writing Lists. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.” Right?
2) Who cares? What segments of your audience most scare you?
3) Write Backwards. Put it in code. Write the word, sentence, scene, scenario in opposite order. Who’s offended now? Only a code breaker.
Bottom line? Write the darn thing. Flinch, cringe, hurl, and keep that pen and keyboard moving.