Do you self-censor? Do you suppress your ideas before they ever hit the paper, or revise your work a hundred times so that it’s “safe”? If so, you are not alone. This is a common problem for many new and aspiring fiction writers. Indeed I say problem, because censoring your own work may ultimately deprive the world of the best you have to offer as a writer.
In his book, This Year You Write Your Novel, author Walter Mosely offers some candid advice for fiction writers:
“The story you tell, the characters you present, will all have dark sides to them. If you want to write believable fiction, you will have to cross over the line of your self-restraint and revel in the words and ideas that you would never express in your everyday life.” (p. 11)
If you self-censor when you write fiction, you’ve probably been self-censoring in other areas of your life as well. Why do people self-censor? There are many different reasons. Here are just a few of them:
Moral codes. The average human being has certain moral codes. Moral codes are complex things, but in general they are based on our beliefs about what is right or wrong, and they often influence our behaviors and restraints. For example, a person who believes that sex is a very private act and is moral only within the context of marriage may actually view sex as a taboo topic to talk and write about. And while there are plenty of other things to write about besides sex, adult fiction often does address topics that are “taboo” within the context of religion or certain societal norms.
Inability to separate self from character. Fiction writers are somewhat akin to actors and actresses. They are portraying various characters, not representing themselves in real life. A good fiction writer will not write based on what he or she would do or how he or she would think or speak. That’s why oftentimes people are shocked to learn that the authors of various types of fiction (such as science fiction, murder mysteries and erotica) are very different from the characters they write about in their books.
Fear of what others will think. Perhaps you’ve always been a “good girl” or a “nice guy” in the eyes of those who’ve known you throughout your life. The characters that invade your subconscious may be the complete opposite. You may worry about how Mom, Dad, your third grade teacher, pastor, priest or rabbi might view you once they are introduced to these characters in your juicy novel or short story. If this becomes your focus, you will stifle your creativity as a writer.
If you struggle with one or more of these issues, you are not a hopeless case. As a recovering self censor, I can definitely relate. However, you will probably need to do some significant work on your psyche before you can move forward with your writing career and make your mark on the literary world.
This is not at all to say that one cannot write good fiction without including explicit language and scenes. However, something deep within you may want to stretch beyond the boundaries that some writers intentionally set for themselves for one reason or another. If this is the case, you will need to give yourself permission to open up and let it out. Only when you learn to do this will you be able to write from your soul.