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–––