Growing up, my dad used to tell me, “You’re mouth is going to get you into a lot of trouble.” Apparently, I suffered from an ailment a lot of kids share: the inability to think before I speak. And every child’s worst fear came true for me…my dad was right. Over the years, I’ve said my fair share of silly, obnoxious and hurtful things, though I’m glad to say that as time has passed and I’ve matured, those unabashed words come fewer and further between and I continue to strive to stay out of trouble.
Now I think too much before I speak.
As a proper and polite woman, I censor myself ten times more often than I speak my mind. I grit my teeth and smile when someone says something out of line, I keep my mouth shut when someone says something to hurt me and no matter how funny I think my joke might be, I don’t share it in fear of offending someone. I no longer let my heart guide my words and in result, I’ve lost that raw truth I used to have when I was a kid.
I’m certain that discretion is imperative in social situations, as hard as it may sometimes be but I wonder, as I struggle to find the words, what effect it’s having on my writing.
This week on Rachelle Gardner’s blog, guest blogger, Mary DeMuth wrote about “a risky gift”. She said that when writing, we should make ourselves vulnerable, share those things people are afraid to share, write the things others dare not write. She said, “It’s time we step out of the shadows of fear as writers. It’s time we view our art not only as art, but as a risky gift. Something that costs us. Something that worries us at night, makes us tremble in the day. Breaking the mold and innovating involves that kind of sacrifice.” Only then can our writing be great. Only then can it touch readers the way every writer hopes to do. She left me with: “The question is, are you willing?”
I want to say yes. Absolutely. I want to yell, “To hell with it!” and throw caution to the wind. I wish I didn’t pause for ten minutes, struggling to find the way to word a sentence and I wish I didn’t read every blog post fifteen times just to make sure I haven’t written something silly, obnoxious or hurtful. I’m certain that if I did, my writing would improve immeasurably.
I know Ms DeMuth’s words ring true with me because my favorite book, the best literary gift I’ve ever received, is The Time Traveler’s Wife and it’s for that exact reason. Audrey Niffenegger censors nothing, no matter how vulgar or “inappropriate”. She writes our deepest, darkest secrets that we refuse to admit even to ourselves and I love her for that. But despite my admiration for her nakedness, my writing and my characters continue fall flat. To protect the privacy of my family and friends, I make sure there isn’t the slightest resemblance in any of my characters, despite endless advice to the contrary. To avoid the pain I wish I could stop from haunting me, I lock it away where not even I can find it. I write in a way that reveals nothing about me, nothing about my experiences and nothing about my knowledge.
After everything I’ve been taught and after all my experiences, fear has stifled my writing voice, in my novels, in my stories…even in my blog and it leaves me wondering, as I’m sure it does my readers, who’s writing this, anyway?