The Problem of Censorship in Writing Groups
I was listening to an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience where he had the author of Fight Club and Choke, Chuck Palahniuk, as a guest. He spoke at length about how writing groups or workshops are slowly dying out because the authors themselves feel like they cannot tell other authors anything because they are afraid of offending anyone.
This got me thinking and I started to look into the thought behind such practices. What is it about us that makes sharing the stories before you send it for editing so important? Why is the feedback from other authors often more important to us than editors or publicists?
There seems to be a great fear, especially in the publishing world, of living on the edge of what is acceptable. We have become afraid of angering the wrong group, whether it be the staunch conservative who might attack anything that threatens a societal structure they cherish, or the far left activists who might mob you if you trespass an opinion on a topic they do not think you have a right to address.
This has also bled into the groups that might give you honest feedback to what you are writing about. Palahniuk described how he had been thrown out of several groups because of people becoming offended by what he was sharing. This is not a healthy practice. We cannot have an environment among writers that tells others what they can or cannot address in their stories.
I have for a long time been writing on my own and I have always felt like I could have benefited greatly from having a place to go to where I could receive honest critique about what I am working on. A friend of mine who is one of the bestselling authors of Norway has often listened to me ramble on about how I think a group like C.S. Lewis’ and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Inklings would greatly benefit both young and more experienced writers.
The Inklings is probably the most famous one of all the writing groups or workshops. Through it, works like Lord of The Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia books were born. I cannot imagine where I would be as a creative person without those works. Both of those worlds are works of genius, and they probably would not exist in those forms without a group like the Inklings.
If you could have a place where you could meet up with others and without fear of theft or offence could share it with other authors who might help you resolve an issue where you might be stuck or maybe you feel like it just isn’t quite right, wouldn’t you?
The problem is when you feel like you cannot share everything and it feels like this is slowly killing one of the greatest traditions in writing. It is the death of creative work by a thousand cuts. If you cannot discuss or share sensitive issues in a forum where you are with your equals, how will you be able to address it when you write into your next project?
I don’t believe this trend of controlling what other creatives should or should not write about is not something storytellers should join in on. We see what is wrong with society and highlight it in the stories we tell, and sometimes that is shocking. If we cannot at the very least share it amongst other storytellers, what does that mean for the wider world?
I don’t really care what ideas storytellers have so far as politics goes. I just care about what freedom that person might have to create what he or she wants. The critics of my line of thinking might say that you already have editors to alter your vision, but they do not seem to understand either the writing process or the idea of having an editor.
Ideally, editors are not there to tell you what you can or cannot put into your work. They are simply there to help you get your vision across and be a second pair of eyes on your work. When we self-edit our own work we too often lack the perspective to be objective. We’ll miss words, troubled phrases, clunky words, and other mistakes easily spotted by a second set of eyes.
An editor should not be there to tell you what you can’t write about. They should not worry about who might be offended by what you are writing. That should be something that actually should be encouraged from an editor. The more you walk on the edge as an author, the more focus you might get on yourself.
I am concerned for my profession. Limitation on speech in writing groups should concern storytellers, as this could make it harder for great works that provoke or make you think to see the light of day.