Home » General » Lose the Writing Filter

Lose the Writing Filter

(c) JD Hancock (CC BY 2.0)

(c) JD Hancock (CC BY 2.0)

Humans worry too much about how they are viewed by others. This leads many writers to censor the genuine thoughts that run through their minds. The world is so wrapped up in political correctness (a.k.a. “PC”) that it is strangling the realm of creatives. Far too many of creative types hold back from exposing their true selves because they worry about how their ideas will be taken, who they are offending, or who will actually like them. Our “writer’s mind” is sometimes so focused on how our work will be received that we allow this detraction to take away from the actual art of writing, leading us to produce a lower quality product than what we would have liked. In the end, we publish a product that we think the world wants see instead of what we think the world should see.

And so we censor ourselves and hold back. Burying our inner spark in the sand because we do not believe that the world will accept our real and honest ‘self’. In our minds, our truest thoughts and ideas are not perfectly aligned with the world.

Hate to break it to you, Cupcake, but perfection does not exist. And there is no true alignment in the world. The haphazardness that makes up our existence is what makes it all so beautiful and unique. It is what makes you so beautiful and unique.

Turn off your filter. Stop censoring yourself.

Free your mind — free your stories — free your words

Face it, you are not going to make every single reader and critic on this planet happy. And not everyone is going to like you and your writing. That is just the hard fact of the writing life. We are not all the same nor do we all like the same things.

Stop thinking about how to phrase a sentence because you don’t want to offend someone. That is one person. While behind that single person, there are 100 others who are in line for your autograph and can’t wait to tell you how your book is just so incredibly awesome.

If that has not convinced you to stop self-sabotaging censoring your work because you are afraid that someone won’t read your stories, I’ll let you in on the big secret about readers… people are adult enough to choose what they want and don’t want to read. They are free to pick and choose. Write what you want to write about and let the reader choose if they want to read your work or not. Stop sweating bullets over making sure everything “PC” so that everyone is going to like it and no one will be offended. You are wasting precious writing time on needless worry.

Still not convinced to turn off your filter? Take author Tucker Max as an example. He has become a best selling author just from being an asshole (his words, not mine). His stories are as dirty as a frat house floor and will leave you blushing for months, if not years. He is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea (or whisky). The guy has absolutely no filter and just lets his chaotic, thrilling, and sometimes “WTF” life fall out onto the pages of his books, leading him to be an incredibly successful author with a large readership. Question: Do you know how he got his dedicated audience? Answer: The guy is genuine. He pours his real-life stories across the pages and people are reading despite the content being excessively risqué and him coming off sometimes as a jerk.

Being genuine will always win readers over being servant to the masses.

Stop worrying about how you will be viewed. Anyways, You are supposed to be writing for yourself. You come first. Write from the heart and don’t spend another second thinking about what everyone out there is thinking about you or your writing. Critics are always going to be around to tear you and your work apart. Unless their complaints deal with syntax, grammar, or any other parts of story structure, take their words with a grain of salt. Don’t shape your story for the ones who don’t see your work as being standard and aligned with society, culture, or religion.

Turn off your filter and write what you want the world to see.
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19 thoughts on “Lose the Writing Filter

  1. Great post – you hit all the key worries we tell ourselves about trying to please a widely diverse readership when almost any topic is a trigger for vitriolic feedback. We need to write for ourselves and grow thicker skins. And be grownup cupcakes 😉

  2. Oh boy. I debated whether to respond to this post, in part because I have such respect for Amanda and in part because I guessed that many would agree with the criticism of “political correctness.” But I decided to go ahead, not to make a case for telling every writer how to write but to present the flipside of the “intimidated by pc” narrative. That flipside boils down to one word: erasure. I’m 54, and for the vast majority of my life, I and the people like me have been invisible in much of writing that’s been held up as great, universal, important, portraying the human condition. If I were a better writer, I might be able to convey how that erasure has felt and feels. To be invisible in one’s own culture. Invisible not only in the literature that shows the past but even invisible in the future. Writers have imagined universes that include aliens of every kind, galaxies far away, and stories that break the rules of physics and time and space. Yet their imaginations cannot stretch far enough to include the multiple variations of humanity existing on equal terms, as full bodied, complex, engaging characters. As a person of color, to experience that erasure again and again and again is dispiriting. It is exhausting. It is being told you are a non-entity, but it’s nothing personal. I don’t exaggerate when I say it is psychologically painful.

    Writers are, of course, free to choose their subject matter, their style, they characters. Free to make whatever decisions they want about every aspect of their writing. I don’t quarrel with that freedom for one second. I’m only asking that the desire of readers have some sense that they exist, that their experiences and the experiences of their culture matter, not be dismissed and diminished by a phrase like “political correctness.” No writer can or should try to write for every reader; I know I don’t. But it’s worth considering how literature of all genres is diminished by the gaping absence of whole categories of human experience.

    I’ll just watch the blowback now from the sidelines, if you all don’t mind.

    • You make a number of valid points but I think Amanda has hit the nail on the head here. If writers were a little braver and weren’t as concerned about whether their writing will cause offence or not, more of us would write from view points not our own. It’s an unfortunate fact that there is inequality in all forms of life, so much so that a truly utopian world were we all coexist in peace is about as believable as a political party that are only in it for the “common man” (see inequality right there. I should have said “common person”).

      I have written a number of “minority” (hate that word) characters into my fiction but every time I do, I worry about whether I’m stereotyping, worry if I write that bit do I sound like I’m being offensive, and is that bit in keeping with the character’s culture, is that even in the character’s culture or is that in itself a stereotype…the list is endless.

      What I should do, and what Amanda is alluding to, is say “f*$k that” and just explore some great cultures and some truly amazing people through my writing.

      If we all did that, the spectrum of society depicted in books would increase tenfold and everyone’s culture would be better for it.

      • If I wanted to write about a lawyer, I’d talk to lawyers, research them, have them look at my stuff to get their feedback. Mystery and science and other writers do this all the time. The options are just “come up with whatever” or “ignore it altogether,” “fuck everyone” or “cower in fear.” If I include a Jewish character, or one of British descent, I’ll talk to them to get a sense of whether they think the character is stereotypical or fully fleshed out. That’s not political correctness; that’s attempting to create a well-rounded character. Agatha Christie researched like crazy to understand poisons, crime, etc. This isn’t reinventing the wheel, or am I missing something? Ag

        • As an aside, I, like virtually all writers of color, have to write from other perspectives all the time. Since much of the audience is going to be white, I’m always creating and presenting characters who are nothing like me. I’ve never found political correctness an obstacle. It just takes work and awareness and research. But none of that has prevented me from creating a range of characters, genders, backgrounds.

        • You’re right research is key but even that will only take you so far. Once the research is over, you still need to be confident enough to put it down on paper. Not everyone has firsthand access to the people we wish to write about and, when we do, language barriers often get in the way. Cultural differences will also have a part to play even amongst a single cultural group. What offends my mother may not offend my father, likewise whatever offends my brother may not offend me. We’re all of the same race, of the same culture, and (debatable in the case of my brother) of the same species. So what happens here? What happens if one of the group deems it offensive? Worse still, what if I only have firsthand access to one person? Do I censor the offending part based on that one person’s outlook even if research tells me what I’ve written about is the status quo? Do I scrap the whole project or get rid of that character so as not to risk causing offence? I could, but if I do I’m confining another unrepresented (at least in literature) group to a footnote which is what you were concerned of in the first instance. I think the key point Amanda was making is that you can’t please everyone but you can hopefully please the majority. For every one person that takes offence, there are a hundred others that realise offence wasn’t intended and are pleased that someone is exploring their culture in modern literature. Likewise, there are hopefully many more who identify with what you’ve written and will think “if that middle-aged, white-Irish guy on that Sarcastic Muse page has the stones to speak about my culture, isn’t it time I did so too?”

          The real tragedy here would be that by not testing the limits of what is “acceptable”, the world is deprived of great fiction. If the Brontes hadn’t thought “Who do you think you are, society, to tell us that women can’t write?” all of their work would have gone passed when their souls did. This shouldn’t be confined to fiction either. Think of the brave Rosa Parks who just plain wanted to sit down on the damned bus.

          • Just a few final comments from me here, and then I’ll take my leave, because we’ve arrived at the heart of what bothers me about laying these problems at the foot of “political correctness.” We’ve gotten to the comparison between writers who are free to write and say and express whatever they want are being compared to people who were genuinely oppressed. Let me say it straight out. Writers are not oppressed by political correctness. Rosa Parks was oppressed. There were long-standing, legal limits on her ability to go where she wanted, do what she wanted, participate fully and freely in the rights of citizenship. And these restrictions were further backed by racist violence. That’s oppression. To be scared that I will be criticized is not oppression. It’s discomfort. It’s anxiety. But it’s not institutional, state-backed oppression. So let’s be clear that that isn’t what we’re talking about here when we complain about “political correctness.” And it’s the equating of criticism with oppression that bothers me most about these discussions. It’s putting fear of violence and denials of rights and citizenship on the same level with being nervous about someone not liking my work. And those things are not on the same level. They just aren’t.

            I think that writers should write about the subjects and people they want to write about. In this I am in 100 percent in agreement with both Amanda and with you. I *also* think writers should take responsibility for the social consequences of their writing. Freedom comes with responsibility, and being free never has and never should mean that others shouldn’t also be free to rip me a new one if they don’t like my writing. As a male, I write female characters all the time. Obviously I have never experienced life as a woman. But I don’t consider a burden to think about the accuracy and humanity of my portrayal of female characters. I want to include women because they are significant part of the population. And I want to portray them well because I want all of my characters to have depth and I want to truly present a range of human experience to the extent that I can. That’s not a chore or an obligation but a *gift* precisely because it stretches me and forces me out of my narrow experience and into the wider world of humanity. And most importantly to me, *if I do it badly, I hope and expect that readers will tell me.* Because I want to get better; I want to learn and grow. So from my perspective, “political correctness” is not and has never been my enemy. It challenges me to ask myself whether I’ve done all I could to stretch my imagination and my humanity. The real tragedy is writers who choose to use political correctness as an excuse to hide from challenge. But that is the choice of individual writers, not a limit placed on them by any political correctness.

            • I’m sorry but I have to disagree with your view that writers are not oppressed by political correctness. We’re both approaching this from the point of view of writers who ARE free to write what we choose because of the historical sacrifices people have made to give us that freedom. Let’s not forget that there are still some countries where to write what isn’t “politically correct” can land you with a prison sentence or even execution and isn’t that the same oppression experienced by Rosa Parks?

              • Do you mean to say that up to this point you’ve been talking about writers in oppressive regimes? But everything in the context of this discussion so far has indicated that we’re talking about writers in countries, like the US, who are free to write about what they want to. All the references in Amanda’s post and in your replies have referenced a situation in which the *only* limit has been the writer’s own fear of being criticized, and that’s the literary landscape I’ve been talking about. In fact, if that isn’t how we’ve limited this discussion, then half of what we’ve both said makes no sense. Because all of the consequences you and Amanda spoke of up until now have been about “causing offense” or “offending someone.” I *would* say that the situation of a writer in a repressive regime is the same as that of Rosa Parks. I would *not* say that my situation or the situation Amanda and you and i have been discussing (or I thought we were discussing) is the same as the situation of the writer in the repressive regime or the situation of Rosa Parks. I don’t consider Parks’ or the writer in say Iran as dealing with “political correctness.” They are dealing with out-and-out repression. And I’ve never heard the term “political correctness” used in the way you’re now using it. That seems like a totally different discussion to me. I would never tell a writer in Iran or Tibet that they should write whatever they want, because that would be presumptuous of me to tell them they invite imprisonment or a death sentence. I assume that Amanda and you wouldn’t either.

                • Apologies for not responding sooner. I was traveling and had limited access to the Internet.

                  My reasons for this post is to deliver a simple message to support writers who want to write a controversial piece, but are afraid of how it will be received.

                  Three weeks ago I had someone viciously rip me apart because my novel-in-progress deals with the topic of cannibalism. That person, over a course of an hour, threw it in my face this topic was so taboo that modern society would instantly reject me and my writing career would be over. That I had some nerve even thinking about writing a novel that dealt with such a disgusting act of “unspeakable” evil. She condemned me without knowing the true premise of my story. Without understanding the core value of my message.

                  It was in the midst of that verbal tirade that I realized that I do not need to accept the opinions of this one critic. I allowed her to make her voice known and, yes, listened to what she said, understanding her opinion. However, I was not going to allow her words to derail my book. The opinion of this one person does not make up the 50 or so others who are in line behind her anxiously awaiting their own print copy.

                  This situation reminded me of how ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood was received and had been reviewed and continues to be viewed. Granted, our topics are on completely different ends of the spectrum, but she had several very sharp critics tear apart her book apart in the same way. They all told her to stop. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, in the critics’ eyes did not align with current social, cultural, and religious norms as it took place in an anti-feminist, fascist world. Atwood’s book went up against these norms, and in many cases, was deemed not “PC” because it was sexually explicit and seen as “offensive” to Christians (just to clarify, some Christian groups stated this, not all Christians).

                  I am not about to dissect her book here, however, the point I am trying to make is that if she had listened to those critics, she would not have written this book that was a major game changer for women’s liberation.

                  Anyone can write the story that they want to write. The writer knows how far they can take a story and how far they can’t. It is up to that writer to decide how much they want to risk. I NEVER EVER want to see an author write something that they may be killed for one day. And I would never tell someone “hey, you should really write that story” knowing full well that there is a high chance that they will face deadly consequences. However, if it is a story that they feel so passionately about and accept facing that risk head on, how can I tell them no? I can only reiterate to them the risk they are about to take… It is up to the author to decide how far they want to take it.

                  People are going to write what they want to write about — regardless of the risks. I cannot even begin to name all those who were murdered for their art. The lists starts as far back as Socrates and is as recent as David Pearl. Do I think any of them should have been killed for what they believed in? HELL NO! Do I believe that they were right to push their boundaries to get their truths out there? Yes, because that is what they wanted. These authors wanted to make a change. They wanted to be heard.

                  The writer is smart enough to know how far to push the limits, just as the reader is smart enough to know what they want (and don’t want) to read.

                  This post is about not allowing the worry on how a story will be received get in the way of actually writing the story… this post is about supporting authors who want to push back against the critics that say the author’s story and ideas are not in alignment with social / cultural / religious norms and that the author should stop writing.

  3. Aloha Amanda,

    A thought provoking piece. Really it is, I’ve been thinking about it for over an hour now. Do I filter my work? I guess the short answer is YES.

    There are lines that I simply will not cross because that is not what I am writing about. There are topic areas into which I will not venture because they are not the story I am telling. I think this means I am writing what I want to write.

    Is all of this just me rationalizing my position? Of course it is, that is what people and good characters do.

    A Hui Hou,
    Wayne

    • Aloha Wayne!
      In your comment, you pretty much summed up what my response back to you would have been: Do you have to cross one of your “lines” to tell the story that you want to tell? If no, then you are writing the story that you want to write. If yes, then maybe you should reassess how much you are censoring your writing and re-draw your “lines”. However, I don’t think you are filtering/censoring your work at all. Bases on your comment, indicating the awareness you have about your story, it is right where it needs to distribute your message.

      So you are on point! 😉

  4. MA and Chris, I never even considered the post that way. My eyes have been opened.

    The first thing I thought when reading the post was the word “nice.” There is a member of my family that often tells me not to write about a rape victim. It’s not nice (translate: it offends me). Don’t write about serial killers or suicide or mangled minds or other things that are “not nice.” My writing filter is attuned to what is acceptable for reading by someone such as this family member. That’s why I have to ignore it or turn it off and write about what’s in me to write.

    I’ve tried to explain that the rape story is about forgiveness and the serial killers are all mostly representative of how society works today and mangled minds are sometimes the most beautiful, but the topics are “not nice.”

    I guess I’m “not nice” either?

    • This is a wonderfully written piece and thank you for sharing it.

      I do agree with you on this, and I agree with some of the points that you listed in earlier comments. One line that stood out to me from this article was: “We are all inhabitants of an explicitly and implicitly racist, sexist, homophobic, and imperialist system.”

      A sad fact of our world today. However, more and more people are becoming conscience of this and are turning away from that kind of system. I stand with you to write stories against these ways that have become today’s social/cultural/religious norms. We need more stories that bring unity to this world. You and I have every right to write stories such as this. However, with that being said, those who have thoughts opposite of us have a right to write their stories as well. To say that they don’t makes us hypocrites and goes against what we believe in — for everyone to have a right to be themselves and to share their ideas.

      In the world, there is good and bad. We see ourselves as good and those that oppose us as bad. The bad see themselves as good and us (who oppose them) as bad. The old story book adage: the villain is the hero in their own eyes.

      We are writing our stories to speak out against those ideas we disagree with. If those ideas did not exist, we wouldn’t be writing because there would be nothing for us to oppose. We would have no basis on a call to action for change.

      The ideas that we disagree with are always going to have their own stories. These stories are going to be unfiltered and uncensored. We must adapt and do the same with our own stories. We need to be unfiltered and uncensored as well. In order for our stories to be heard over theirs, boundaries must be pushed.

      And we must put our trust in the readers as the readers have the right to read whatever they choose.

      ——-

      There is one thing that I would like to additionally clarify that is a little out of scope from my comment above. In this article, the original problem that the author encountered was an experience where she made a stereotypical error to which a critic called her out on.

      That is one type of criticism that is perfectly acceptable for an author to allow have an immediate impact on her writing. In the case of this article, the author has the correct response and made amends. She made an error on the basis of a ‘figure of speech’ stereotype that is, unfortunately, ingrained in Unites States culture. The author apologized for the oversight, however, she never stopped writing. She became more aware about ‘figure of speech’ and research, but she did not allow this one error that a critic called her out on to affect her writing process.

      Again, the main point of my article is to not allow worry to halt one from writing. One should not allow the thoughts of “who is going to take offense by this” to take away from precious writing time.

  5. Pingback: Writing Dark Stuff | The Sarcastic Muse

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