The Dangers of Self-Censorship

Do you have this problem as well?

I want to write.  Fiction, particularly.  I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember, ever since I first realized that those biographies and fantasies and children’s books I loved were written by people.  What’s that?  There are people who write as a career?  Where do I sign up?

The problem was that I didn’t know how to get started. At first biographies and histories seemed easiest, because after all people are just asking you to tell the truth about something.  But then I learned how much research was involved!  How much would I actually write?

Journalism, then.  I read the morning paper every day, even at such a young age.  (Well, to be more precise, I read the comics and sports every day.  Even now, that’s still where I start.)  You’re not making anything up — well, not if you’re doing it right — and you get to write every day, about all sorts of things.  I wrote and produced my own four-page newspaper once, on lined paper in marker, tied together by yarn.  (An oddly appropriate choice of binding material?)  It had all sorts of fascinating items about my family, my neighborhood, world leaders, etc.  I meant it to be a weekly concern.  Unfortunately, I was reading the first issue (of which only one copy was ever printed) in the bathtub, and dropped it.  As far as my seven-year-old mind was concerned, that was it for serious aspirations toward journalism.  I wanted something with a little more permanence.

So.  Fiction, then.

But how did one make up a story?  It seemed easy enough to do; there were thousands of them in the library.  I imagined that you just sat down and wrote until you were done.  (Don’t laugh!  I read front-to-back, didn’t I?  So who was to say authors didn’t write that way?  It’s logical!)  And every so often, that’s just what I would do.  I would write a story or a poem, front to back, laboring over each line.  Then I would give it to my mother, who was always amazed.  I preened.  It was just a matter of time before I published.

Periodically at school we would get assignments of the type I liked — writing.  I would put all my effort into them.  But my classmates never seemed as enamored of my work as my mother did.  And thus began my first experience with Critics.  They never seemed to have any good suggestions.  They just tore things down.  Unfortunately they seemed to have several good points mixed in with the cruelty.  Nobody talks like that, they’d say.  Your character would never do that.  And I looked, and saw that they were right.

Eventually I started to do the same.

A little monster has lived inside my brain every day for the last fifteen years.  When I wrote stories in high school, he would mock them.  When I tried writing exercises during my college years, he would sneer and say they weren’t good enough.  He eventually wore me down, stalled me for years, as I flailed about for some other dream.

It wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I finally hit on the idea to fix him — write stories so short he would never have a chance to emerge and criticize them.  So for the past couple of weeks, that’s what I’ve been doing.  My first few efforts are on this blog.  It’s been an exhilarating experience.  I’ve even taken steps toward planning for longer works.

But I still feel him there.  As I was doing a last-minute readthrough of “Frost’s Thaw” before publishing it, I could hear him, up to his same old tricks.  “No one is going to believe that relationship.  Phrenna’s plan is crazy.  All the backstory you have in your head…no one else has it, so when they read the story it won’t make sense.  What makes you think you have the right to steal anyone’s time with this garbage?”

Do you have this problem as well?

And if so, can you give me some advice on how to shut him up?

I no longer expect to be perfect.  I no longer expect people to shower my work with praise.  I just want to be read and occasionally liked.  And I’m afraid he’ll stop that from happening.

Published in: on April 6, 2011 at 6:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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