Thursday, February 7, 2013

Self Censorship

When I write, I write as if I have an audience. As if someone else is reading these words other than me. Which, of course, with this being a blog, is the intent.

But I've always done this, long before social media and online interactions made it so easy. I've actually always enjoyed writing more when I knew there was the possibility that someone would read it. That's why journaling never holds my interest for long - what's the point in writing just to myself, if the words are only for me? Isn't the point of writing the attempt at communication? (Clearly this is not true for everyone - but it is for me.)

I have, of course, written diaries and journal entries in the past. Some of them I still have - my memories of my first serious love affair in college, my chronicling of my descent into bulimia and my railings against, well, what it seemed to mean to be a young woman in America in the 1990's and how I could never live up to other people's expectations. Others I've discarded along the way.

But mostly I write as if you're reading it, whoever you are. What an egocentric thought, really, to expect that others want to hear what I have to say. But isn't that part of the human condition? The desire to make contact with, to communicate with, to be connected with others? We are all souls alone in our bodies and our minds, only able to relate to others through effort and intent, and it seems for most of us - extroverted or introverted - that we all need that. In varying degrees, but we all do. Like some famous person said, "No man is an island."

Here's the thing. I read someone else's blog today. I read someone else's poem on their blog. And it was visceral and intense and honest and intimate, so much so that part of me felt uncomfortable reading it, even as the other part marveled over the author's adeptness with words, her amazing ability to express succinctly, in just a few lines, a myriad of emotions and experiences. Why was I uncomfortable? Because it was about sex. Not sex in general, not someone else's sex life, but about hers. And I felt I should run away.

This actually cracked me up, seeing as how I want to write torrid romance novels, true bodice rippers. I don't want to write them because of the sex, but because of the love stories. But in romance novels, those stories are usually quite graphically linked with getting naked and doing stuff. And I'll admit, in a well-written romance novel, the steam adds to the story.

Apparently it's a lot easier for me to read detailed smut than to write it. I discovered that recently while drafting my first novel. Granted, one of the reasons I didn't want a lot of gory details when it came to the main character's interactions with two of the other characters is because they are not the character with whom she is supposed to end up. And I'm enough of a romance junkie to still buy into the idea of there being "the one and only," in romantic fiction and in life (I love you, hubby!). So part of it was a conscious decision, but part of it was...

... Knowing that people who know me would be reading it. They would know I wrote those words. And it makes me embarrassed. Like somehow this 40 year old overweight wife and mother of two kids shouldn't know anything about sex, much less write about it like that (of course the having had two kids part suggests I knew something at one point at least, right?). It's one thing to read romance novels on my own, it's another to have friends and family gawking at the words I've sketched on the page. And I know at least some of them would have issues with it: one friend told me my book got a little too graphic for her (which surprised me, because others complained it was too tame) and my mother-in-law told me she was surprised I swore in the book, because I don't swear in real life. I reminded her *I* wasn't swearing; the character was. But I could tell she was still kind of shocked and probably faintly disapproving.

Granted, those two people are probably not my intended audience, and they read my work, this romance novel draft, only because they know me and want to support me. They probably wouldn't pick it up in the bookstore were it ever on the shelf. And that's fine.  

But here's the rub. When I was in my twenties, I wrote some fairly erotic poems. That felt O.K. It doesn't feel O.K. in my forties. Somewhere along the way I've censored myself. Don't worry, I'm not about to bust out into verbal porn here, but it made me feel... sad... today to realize I've circumscribed myself in that way, that I feel there are things I just can't do, or at least can't write about it, because it won't match my idea of who I think, and who I think everything else thinks, I am as a person.

Isn't that the point of writing fiction? That it, even if influenced and informed by the author's personal life, is FICTION? I am not my characters. And that is a distinction I need to remember. Writing romance novels doesn't reveal anything about me personally when it comes to my sex life, anyway. Nor does it reveal anything about anybody else's. I am not my characters. It's O.K. to have them do things, behave in certain ways, take certain actions, that I would never do in real life. It's O.K.

But that self-censoring runs deep. Why? Is it from my desire to people-please? To have people like me and think of me as a good girl? Because I want to present a certain image? Maybe. People compliment me fairly often on being so honest, so real... whatever that means. And while I get that to some extent, because I AM willing to reveal some of my battles, some of my struggles, there's a whole other side to me that I think I keep hidden and censor - from myself, and from others (and no, I'm not talking sex now - not that I am going to give you deets on that even if you wanted them). Just... stuff I feel might not be acceptable, I guess.

So here's to bravery. Here's to being willing to write in ways and about things that other people may not like. I'm not saying I will. I'm just saying I can if I want to.

Uh, maybe. As soon as I stop blushing.

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