Yesterday at our local SCBWI chapter meeting, author April Lurie posed this question to a group of children's writers: Who's your personal censor?
A personal censor, the way I'd define it, is that little voice in a writer's brain that tries to control what topics should be avoided. The voice stands patrol, and as a writer begins to put words on paper, it begins to send warnings: You can't write about that. That subject is taboo, off limits. You should feel ashamed of yourself for writing about that. Under certain circumstances, a personal censor may not be a bad thing. Eventually, I had to employ one to watch over this blog, so that I wouldn't put anything out that might damage my career. But when it comes to writing a novel, particularly getting through a first draft, a personal censor can be more harm than good.
During yesterday's meeting, there were many answers to the question: Who's your personal censor. For one guy, it was his teenage daughters. For an elderly woman, it was her critical mother. For someone else, their devoutly religious father.
Me, I have many personal censors. The most influential — and probably most harmful for my writing — is my personal religious beliefs, and those of others important to me — my wife, mother, grandfather, friends or family who know me as a Christian. I mean, what would those people think about me if I wrote a story about a 16-year-old kid who, following some emotionally traumatic event in his life, acted out by using alcohol, participated in risky sexual behavior, used drugs, and shoplifted as a means to boost his self esteem? Not saying that's the story I'm gonna write but, if I did, I'd hear the voices of my personal censors telling me that I shouldn't write such things that might introduce, encourage or romanticize such behaviors. "Is this you?" they'd ask. And I might not want to answer that question.
Of course, I wouldn't paint this picture gratuitously. I'd use these behaviors to illustrate my character at his weakest point. My readers would then witness him overcome his demons; He would grow into a better person, or maybe even self-destruct. Either way, writing a story like this would be a struggle between me — my creativity, my imagination, my personal experiences — vs. my personal censors.
Who are your personal censors?