Thursday, November 16, 2006

Self-censorship, or Cowardice?

A friend of mine recently blogged about writers exercising self-censorship (see Charles's Razored Zen in the links). Until he provoked me into thinking about it, I hadn’t realized how much I do in fact censor what I write. Perhaps there are some writers who boldly charge ahead with no thought as to how the people they know and love will react to what they’re putting down on paper, but I’m not one of them. The shadows of good friends and close family members hover there, in the background, every time I sit down to write. And no one’s shadow looms larger than my mother’s. What can I say? I’m a dutiful daughter, and I know she takes everything I do as a personal reflection on her. Because I love her, there is a line I won’t cross, for her sake.

But what disturbed me the most was the realization of how much our “free” society also constrains me. As a writer, I am careful not to go too far in criticizing another author, partially because I don’t want to hurt that writer’s feelings, but also because I don’t want to alienate that writer’s fans. I am careful in the political opinions I air, lest I alienate a reader of a different political stripe. And I will always be very careful in what I say about my publishers, because it would seem an obvious truism that only an idiot bites the hand that feeds her. All wise moves, one might say. Yet it’s also cowardly and shallow. I care more about preserving my readership and my publishing contracts than being true to what I think or believe.

A year or so ago, I wrote an article about the romance industry that caused a huge stir. That’s a big no-no, daring to criticize the romance industry or romance novels in any way. A lot of romance writers and readers who read that piece agreed with what I had said and cheered; many others were furious. Was it a mistake? Yes and no. The controversy certainly got my name out there, and under the old adage there’s no such thing as bad publicity, a lot of people learned about my new Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery series through it. But I can tell you, I’ll think long and hard before I ever do something similar again.

I was watching BOOK NOTES last Sunday, and Richard Dawkins, author of THE GOD DELUSION, was talking about how most atheists in America are in the closet, just as gays were a generation ago. This is something at the core of who they are, their most fundamental belief, and yet while American Christians and Jews feel free to broadcast their faith without thought or hindrance every day, American atheists sit silently in the closet (with most American Moslems, I suspect). More self-censorship, imposed by our free society.


Anonymous said...

I suppose if it's cowardice, then most all of us have a pretty big yellow streak down our backs. I know that American pagans often complain too that they have to keep quiet about their beliefs or risk censure. One time when I was meeting with a discussion group at Audobon Park we were approached by a Christian lady who gave us "get out of Hell free" cards because she assumed by the fact that we were sitting in a circle around some candles that we were either wiccans or trying to raise the dead. I didn't bother to explain; I'm quite sure an explanation wouldn't have made any difference anyway.

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