With the publication of TOXIC RELATIONSHIP, a phenomenon has occurred which I suppose I should have expected and yet, I feel surprised. I have written in one form or another for years. Those first short stories I read during “show and tell” in Mrs. Meredeth’s third grade class, my bitingly witty (to a 13 year old) Jr. Hi “radio show” about a drama played out among bathtub toys, countless papers for high school, college, graduate school, sermons from my brief career as a minister, workshops, training materials, professional papers…I could go on and on. In all of those years, while many of the writings had a purpose designed to shift thought, spur emotion, get a laugh, I held something back, something, well, sacred. I protected myself, not revealing my mind in the raw. Instead, I kept several layers above and I think I managed to master sounding like I was at my core without actually revealing that part of myself.
If you’ve read TOXIC RELATIONSHIP, you might be a bit puzzled by this post. I offer the story up as light entertainment, something to read on the plane, at the beach, just before bed. You’re not going to have nightmares or lie awake in bed pondering the meaning of life. However, even in a story intentionally written to be entertainment, bits of my inner life float to the surface, exposing what I’m really thinking. We all have an inner life, that ongoing dialogue in our mind filled with thoughts which our filters of culture, belief, manners and social customs let only a tiny percentage dribble through. A person without those filters in our society is considered either mentally ill or a one off artistic eccentricity. Most of us, most of the time, keep most of the inner dialogue to ourselves. But when a writer fills a world with characters, those characters must come from somewhere. “Somewhere ” is the inner world of the writer.
Publishing a work of fiction then, is a bit like taking your clothes off in public. All those sticky outty bits, rolls of fat, moles, hairs — all of it, exposed for others to see. One of my encounters with this level of exposure occurred on an online critique group a few years ago. My scene involved a character masturbating — trust me, it made sense in the context of the scene. A critique partner could only see pornography and clearly, anyone who would write something like that, a depraved, immoral creep. Yes, really, she pretty much said those words. Initially I felt stung and hurt, then panic. “Am I a depraved, immoral creep? Have I accidentally let the cat out of the bag?” Then after a few deep breaths (maybe more) I realized her reaction was more about herself and less about my words.
As a writer, I have to write what comes into my mind. If I start to filter myself (that’s too violent, too sexual, too weird, too perverse) then I severely limit my creativity. A writer, by nature, must let his or her freak flag fly. Do you then publish all of your craven, crazy, bizarre thoughts? Of course not. The only reason to use something that by whatever current standards might within bounds or seem a step too far (and those standards are a moving target by time and location) is because those words, the line, the scene move your plot effectively within the genre and the audience the book is designed to reach. For example, my aforementioned scene didn’t make the cut. Why? Because a reader thought it perverse? Because I was afraid someone might think I knew a bit too much about masturbation? No. Because it didn’t contribute effectively to my story. It just didn’t work. But I had to write the scene in order to get to the story I did want to tell.
So what about you? What have you found that stops you from putting down in writing what is in your head?