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The Most Important Step You Can Take As A Writer

by Jennifer on June 2, 2010

By Jennifer Blanchard

Fear is something that all writers deal with. Some writers deal with it on a daily basis, while others only deal with it sporadically.

Dealing with fears is part of being a writer.

For some writers, fear manifests as procrastination. For others, it manifests as self-sabotage (like allowing the inner editor to force you into rewriting your story a million times). And yet for others it manifests into never showing your writing to anyone except your computer.

But for some writers, that fear actually impacts the writing itself. In this case, fear turns into a form of censorship. And in my opinion, this is the worst way fear can manifest.

Fear of Writing What You Really Want to Write
Do you ever feel like you’re writing, but you’re not really writing what you want to be writing? Do you ever feel like you’re holding back and not really letting your true voice speak through your writing? Do you keep your writing hidden from the world?

Well, then you may be one of those writers I mentioned. The ones who allow fear to censor them.

Still don’t know if you’re one of those writers?

Here are more examples:

  • You would love to write a hard-core crime novel, but think that only men can write books like that.
  • You secretly write romance novels and never show them to anyone. You know your family would go nuts if they found out you were writing “smut.”
  • You’d love to tell the story of your workplace—only really exaggerated and with a twist—but if anyone from work read it, you might have to quit your job.
  • You have a pretty bad potty mouth. In real life. But in your writing, you always speak sweetly and professionally.
  • Your confess-all memoir would definitely be a bestseller. But you can’t publish it ‘til everyone you know is dead.

I think you get the idea…

My Confessions
Allowing fear to censor me is an issue I often face because I write romance stories (more like Nicholas Sparks romance than Harlequin romance, but romance nonetheless).

In my real life I am not romantic in any way. In fact, chocolates and fuzzy teddy bears and cuddling and roses all make me want to vomit. It’s much too much for me.

But in my fiction life, I am a love-aholic. I’m obsessed with love—the way people fall in love, the way they fall out of love, how they beat the odds to make their love work, and everything in between.

And because of this, I often censor myself in my writing.

There are so many reasons why I do this, but some reasons include: a fear that my boyfriend will think I’m cheating on him just because the main character in one of my novels cheats on her boyfriend; not wanting my mom, dad or grandma to have a heart attack when they read a sex scene that I wrote; not wanting the people I work with to read my novel and realize that half the characters are based on them.

I find that on occasion, I even censor myself in my non-fiction writing. Like I’ll be working on a post for this blog and I’ll start changing sentences so they sound more “professional” or “politically correct.”

Inside, I’m a rebel. I like to break rules and push boundaries to see how much I can get away with. But on the outside, I often keep this part of me hidden.

But I’m sick of it. And I’m especially sick of it in my writing.

I’ve had so many great story ideas that I’ve written down, but then discounted as a good idea because it would offend someone or piss someone off or make someone look at me differently. And what’s happening to those stories?

They’re suffering.

They’re suffering because writing—whether fiction or non-fiction—must be truthful. Even a made up story must have truth at the heart of it.

But when you don’t write from your heart and when you don’t speak the truth (as you see it), then you’re holding your writing back and you’re keeping people from truly seeing the real you.

People want to see realness in your writing, otherwise they won’t buy into it. They won’t read what you have to say. They won’t take time out of their days for you.

Wait, Wait…There’s Still Something You Can Do
Before you think that allowing fear to censor you is some disease you’ll never get rid of, I have good news for you: it’s not. There are several ways to stop censoring your writing and allow the truth, the real story, to shine through.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Stop CompletelyStop letting fear keep you from writing what you want to write and what you know needs to be written. If writers allowed fear to censor them, then we’d never have some of the most remarkable works in history—The Jungle, In Cold Blood, Fight Club, Pride and Prejudice, anything by the Brontë Sisters (I could go on forever with this list). The point being, just stop. Stop allowing fear to be your friend and kick it to the curb. It’s not your friend and it never will be.
  • Use A Pen Name—This is one of the easiest ways for a writer to hide her identity. Plenty of writers have taken on pen names: Mark Twain, Sophie Kinsella, James Chartrand, Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, George Orwell (this list could go on forever, too). A pen name is a simple and effective way to conceal your identity and write whatever you want to write.
  • Commit to Writing the Truth, No Matter What—Make it your goal to always write the truth, as you see it. Your truth may be different than someone else’s, but that’s what makes you unique. And that’s what makes your perspective and voice so important. As I mentioned, in fiction, you’re making things up, but there’s always truth built in, otherwise your story won’t be believable.
  • Stop Caring What Anyone Thinks—This is one of the biggest barriers for a writer writing what he/she truly wants to write. Like me and my romance novels, it’s hard for me to write them when I’m always thinking about what other people will think/say afterward. You can’t let this mindset or the stupid things other people say stop you from writing whatever is in your heart. Easier said than done, I know.
  • Believe That You Are Enough—Sometimes fear becomes censorship because the writer is afraid that she isn’t enough. She’s afraid to write what she really wants to write because she doesn’t want people to judge her or make fun of her.Here’s the thing thou: You are enough. You’re enough and you’re perfect exactly how you are. Believe it and write from it.

How have you censored your writing?

Note: This post was inspired by Johnny B. Truant’s confession on Copyblogger.com. Don’t miss Johnny’s post. It’s insanely impactful. It’s had me questioning my writing and my motives in a big way.

About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is founder of Procrastinating Writers. For more great writing tips, articles and information, follow her on Twitter.


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Teri Coyne June 2, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Great post and good advice. As a former stand-up comedian and now fiction writer I have had my share of panic attacks over what people would think about my stories. One thing I discovered is the parts of my writing I worry most about usually don’t get noticed, it’s the thing I thought was harmless that pushes someone’s button.

The best advice I can give from my own experience is that just as we all have a right to write what is in our hearts our readers have a right to their response to it. Once I understood that it made it easier. It’s hard, but I have learned to say, “I understand how you feel,” or “I didn’t mean that but I can see how it might have hurt.”

I also tell myself that any concerns or fears I have can be fixed in rewriting as a way of tricking myself into writing freely. It usually works.

As someone who took over ten years to finish my first novel and see it published (a good deal of that time was spent wrestling with my fears) I can say it is worth it to stick with it — not matter what.

2 jennifer blanchard June 2, 2010 at 12:54 pm

@Teri Coyne Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree with everything you’re saying…thou agreeing doesn’t make action any easier! It’s interesting you point out that people won’t notice the stuff you thought they would, but will notice other things that bug them. I always wondered that myself—if someone would really notice what I’m dreading or if they’d pass right over it.

3 Lisahgolden June 2, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I cut an essential character because I feared what would happen when the person on whom he was based found out about it. I think it helped me to focus the story on what I really want it to be about. But. That character and the story that goes with him will be written. Without fear. And if he finds out and doesn’t like it? Hard cheese. (And lots of denial. What? That’s not you, you silly narcissist!)

Thank you for your help earlier via twitter!

4 jennifer blanchard June 2, 2010 at 1:04 pm

@lisahgolden I am so with you on this one! I’ve been wanting to write a novel for months and months now based on a few of the people I know…but I’m so freaked out that if I write it and they read it that they’ll be upset. I think I may just write it anyhow and take your route: “That’s not you guys! You’re just being narcissistic!”

5 jennifer blanchard June 2, 2010 at 1:06 pm

@lisahgolden And you’re welcome about Twitter…thou I am not the best person to answer a novel-specific question like that. You should also talk to @storyfix.

6 Lisahgolden June 2, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Thank you! I’ll look up @storyfix.

7 LaurenFaith June 2, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Great advice, and great to see I’m not the only one.

So… with all that advice that I”m going to follow, what should my pen name be?

8 Arvael O'Tierney June 2, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Great advice & an inspiring post! I think these are the exact things we, writers go through… No matter if we’ve only started writing or have been published several times. Some things just happen again and again.
And thanks for the suggestions at the end – it was a pep talk I’m grateful for! 🙂 I think my biggest hindering force is that the thought what everybody else will think about my work always pops up. Maybe not during the writing process, but afterwards, when I feel I’m finished and it’s ready. I need to get over it 🙂
Thanks again for sharing this!

9 jennifer blanchard June 2, 2010 at 3:54 pm

@LaurenFaith The pen name you choose is up to you. I picked my pen name by combining my favorite girl’s name with part of my street name.

@Arvael O’Tierney I’m like you…I can write whatever I feel needs to be written. But will anyone get to see it when I’m finished? Especially if it might upset someone? Prolly not. But like you said, I need to get over it! 🙂

10 Taffy June 3, 2010 at 11:10 am

Excellent post!
May I use put some of it on my blog with a link back to you?
My blog: taffyscandy.blogspot.com

Thanks!

11 jennifer blanchard June 3, 2010 at 11:27 am

@Taffy Please do! 🙂

12 Lauren June 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Oh, my god, this came at exactly the right time! I’ve been writing personal and family poetry cards for a long time as well as using poetry as therapy. I recently finished a course in natural confidence and I am ready to plunge into an idea I have for a story. Today I began by writing for five minutes and plan to keep writing like this and increasing it little by little. My story is fantasy and my fears kept me from writing anything of length. And especially the self-censorship kept me from even starting. Thank you so much for taking this topic and wrestling it to the floor and pinning it! Love and Light to everyone!

13 Rin August 4, 2010 at 1:07 am

I censor myself because I’m too nervous to write sex scenes and I try not to use swear words even though I cuss a lot in daily life.

Must…get over that…

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