A young friend of mine is in one of life’s worst situations through no fault of her own. She must make a heart wrenching decision, and it is her’s to make. If you’ve lived long enough, you know that people scurry out of the woodwork to tell you what to do. Often well-meaning, but not always, these ‘it’s the best thing’ advice givers serve only to wreak havoc unnecessarily. This is no ones business and no one else can or should help her. The words “butt out” come to mind.
While I was in grad school, we had a professor who ranted against this same mind-set in writing, only it is in our heads, set in place by a society full of rules and judgments. I can’t write this or say that because it might offend this group or that group. What if it lands my book on a banned book list? By the way, have you seen those lists? Some impressive books are on it. We would be hard pressed to find our books in better company.
The problem is we allow societal standards and norms to dictate to us as we write. This is what I call writing under the influence. It’s the worst for a writer. Beyond hindering creativity, it skews reality. If you want your fiction to reflect our daily lives, then it better be messy and chaotic and yes, offensive to others. Because that’s what life in a free country is all about.
This guy smokes and it offends me, I can cuss like a sailor and it offends this lady, a woman over here prays and it offends the atheist, who offends the Muslim, who offends the…you get the point. Life here is not pretty and dainty. If your writing is, no one will buy it except maybe someone who lives in a bubble. Our fiction must have some basis in reality. Therefore, you must write with all your flaws exposed, unfettered by that judging muse on the shoulder telling you to stop.
It’s important never to fall victim to the ‘what if this offends’ question. This is where your writer friends come in. Friends, don’t let friends write under the influence. Ever. If that nasty judgmental muse is sitting on your shoulder telling you that you can’t have a gay character because the Bible Belt won’t read your book, call your friends for an intervention. And let me know when your book comes out. I live in the Bible Belt. I’ll help you promote it.
That professor? Pope Brock. If you haven’t read his books, you should.
Have you ever written under the influence? How do you handle it?