I have been trying to pin down exactly what has contributed to my lack of productivity in the last few months in terms of my WIPs.
While I have been relatively consistent with posting on this blog over the intervening months, I have not been nearly so diligent about making sure I am devoting time to personal projects (short-stories, novels, essays, etc).
In spite of all the opportunities I have had over the course of this year for quiet reflection and outpouring of creativity, there have been far more stops than starts.
During quarantine when my hours were cut, I committed to writing what my fiancé refers to as “Fuck-it Bucket” stories; stories that were only meant to serve as a method of getting the proverbial ball rolling in terms of my artistic output. Even when I felt creatively drained, I would sit down––ass in chair––and write for at least an hour.
However, once my work schedule returned to normal….so did my lack of output.
I did much soul-searching, trying to find a root cause for my reluctance to put all my thoughts and ideas to work. I watched videos on procrastination, I read articles online explaining dopamine addiction and social media’s roles in hindering intellectual endeavors. Yet I still could not come up with a reason as to why––even after I cut out distraction after distraction from my life––I couldn’t make any headway.
Then the answer came to me as I sat with my Word processor open and ready: Fear.
Most creatives experience fear in some way: Fear that their product won’t see the light of day, fear that they aren’t good enough, etc.
But lately my fear has gone beyond the pedestrian aversion of failure.
It has grown into a preoccupying paranoia about my own community.
To say that the literary scene has changed in recent years is an understatement of the highest order. Beyond the budding communities of readers and writers that have come into existence over the years thanks to the growth in social media platforms, there has been a change in how readers engage with authors. Some of that has been a good thing….however, I believe it has been mostly negative.
I’m pretty sure everyone is aware of the concept of “cancel culture” at this point and, while it mainly pertains to celebrities saying the wrong thing (20 years ago), it has seeped into the literary community as well.
Authors are being systematically sacrificed on the proverbial alter for even the most basic of crimes. Not being the right race to write a POC character, being a straight person while writing a homosexual character, or (even more serious of an offense) not including diverse characters at all….even though doing so will get you in just as much trouble.
Simply put, writing isn’t safe anymore.
No matter what you do, or how unassuming your story may be, you will be pissing someone off for some reason and the angry mobs will be released upon you.
I don’t believe anything I have written thus far could be considered all that controversial, nevertheless, there is that fear that someone, somewhere, will take what I have written and decided I meant to say something I did not. And––because evidence isn’t necessary to make egregious accusations anymore––others will take up the battle cry and I will lose everything I care about.
This may seem like a total overreaction to you, but in the current state of affairs it seems like anyone that wants to say or do anything that goes even slightly against the grain is at serious risk of having their livelihood ripped away from them. People aren’t just saying mean things to people online anymore. Their cries of outrage and anger have serious real-world repercussions now. We have reached McCarthy levels of hysteria.
So it would seem all hope is lost, right?
Well…after wallowing in a state of indecision, I have come to the conclusion that if offending people is inevitable, it’s probably better to start now instead of cowering in the corner, waiting to be tarred and feathered.
The only alternative that will make me “safe” is not writing at all…something which I cannot and will not do. I can’t stop being a writer anymore than I can stop being right-handed. I have been writing since I was three years-old, drawing princesses with triangle dresses and watermelon heads, and I am not about to stop now.
It has been a gradual process, but I am trying to retrain my brain to give less consideration to what others looking for an axe to grind might think, and more on what will best serve the stories I want to write.
I will tell the stories I want to tell with the type of characters I wish to write about. They will be of different backgrounds, races, and religions, and––while I will try to be respectful––I’m not going to focus my attention on appeasing people who (honestly) probably aren’t that interested in actually being appeased in the first place.
I will write for my friends.
I will write for my family.
However, most importantly, I will write for myself.
I won’t go out of my way to offend, but I also won’t bend the knee to those who try to dictate what I am allowed to write.
Writing is not safe.
But if it’s a choice between being under the boot of someone else’s expectations or expressing myself–––
10 thoughts on “Writing Isn’t Safe”
Love this post! I couldn’t agree with you more. We all need to decide to say “Fuck it, cancel me then” even though it’s scary.
There just is no winning, no correct way to woke, in the current climate. It’s like you said, don’t write a diverse cast-canceled! Write a character of a different race than you-canceled!
If we want to remain creative and write meaningful works, the only thing we can do is decide we will inevitably be canceled and decide we don’t care.
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Exactly! I wish more people were standing up for themselves. Thank you for reading 🙂
This is so inspiring! Keep going for it, and write for yourself first. If you love it, chances are that your love for the story will show on the page. 💜
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Thank you, Lauryn! I will 🙂
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This is absolutely a problem and I don’t think you are overreacting at all. The atmosphere has truly become that of a witch hunt, in which if you deny the charges, that is proof you are guilty. If you confess, that is proof you are guilty. If you twitch your hand slightly, your “victims” will scream that you are pinching them. You can only sit perfectly still for so long.
I just finished a few years trying to get traditionally published and now I’m moving towards indie. Though cancel culture is a danger for indie authors too, there is a certain sense of freedom in that I don’t have to please a bunch of risk-averse agents, editors, or marketers, and I can market my work directly to people I think will like it and will approach it as a work of art, not as a manifestation of my class or race.
It’s my hope that from among the growing number of authors and artists who can’t please the crowd no matter what they do, will emerge new publishing and media endeavors.
Have you read Stephen King’s On Writing? He says he does his first draft “with the study door closed,” i.e. purely for himself and following the internal logic of the story. He does his revisions “with the door open,” showing it to a few trusted folks for feedback and thinking about how what he has written is going to come off to the reader.
I wish you all the best on your WIPs!
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I have a feeling within the next few years we will see a breaking point. Either people will say “enough is enough” and stomp down those calling for an end to freedom of expression, or we will become completely authoritarian. I hope it’s the former, but in today’s culture who can say? Fortunately, I’ve found several like-minded writers who are in the same boat as me so hopefully….perhaps in the future….we will be able to make enough of a stand to turn the tide.
I have read King’s “On Writing” but it was many years ago in high school. I might want to give it another look. I think “writing with the door closed” is a great idea. It’s difficult to concentrate on getting any work done if you are constantly thinking about what other people will think.
Thank you for the support, Jen! 🙂
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You bet! 😉
Maybe in a few years … when we all have more publishing experience … we will hit critical mass and start our own pub company. Tap me if you are ever in on something like that …
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You will be the first girl I call lol 😉
I think the entire world isn’t safe anymore, with everyone taking offense to what others do, even when the intent to harm isn’t there.
Good on you to push on, and this is a very important subject that I’m glad you wrote about. Love your writing style, Rachael!
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Thanks a lot Stuart 🙂 I appreciate you!