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Posts Tagged ‘freedom of expression’

Writers are arrogant pretenders.

We freely usurp identities, characteristics, ideas, thoughts, voices of people we imagine as characters in our books and stories. These are all part of our craft—our toolbox—of storytelling.

We step over the boundary between reality and fiction when we decide we also have the right, indeed the obligation, to speak for others. Two recent articles in the RWA’s Romance Writers Review December issue are cases in point.

Both articles address a “social” issue and make it a “creative” issue by assuming the right to tell us—their colleagues—what we should be writing.

I personally experienced this “presumption of right” while writing an American historical romance set in post-Civil War New England. I was told by another writer, “You had better be on the right side of history.”

This response shocked me and was meant to silence any disperate interpretation of history that clashed with her “accepted” impressions.

I had thoroughly researched my historical setting and was aware of both sides of the Constitutional as well as the moral arguments. I chose the path that best represented my understanding of events 150 years before my time.

A writer must always be free to express ideas, regardless of the perceived “right side” of any matter. Any attempt to silence a writer’s voice is dangerous. Attempts to place filters and constraints on writers goes entirely against our hard-won freedoms, the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights and has the odor of censorship, which we all must resist.

These writers may have had the best of good intentions in mind, but unfortunately, they both chose to suggest (dictate is perhaps too strong a word but comes readily to mind in the case of one of these articles) that we, their colleagues, follow an essentially censored path to “diversity” and “inclusion.” What they both failed to realize was that they were leading the way along the path to restriction of freedom of expression in order to placate the thought-police of “social justice.”

They also did not/do not understand that their “suggestions” assume a superiority and usurption of freedom of expression over the very voices they are claiming to enfranchise.

My case in point is a novel which became a best-selling book and critically acclaimed film written by a New York writer in which the writer, through the female protagonist, assumed the voices of domestic servants, spoke for them, recreated their lives in the writer’s imagination and had them act according to the writer’s own expectations for them in their situation. In doing so, the New Yorker took their voices, capitalized upon them, without regard for their personal reality, all in the name of “giving the disenfranchised a voice”—the writer’s voice, the writer’s reality.

Writers do that. We speak for men, for women. We speak for children. We speak for ourselves, our neighbors, our enemies and our siblings.

Where we cross the line is when we take the truths of others, altering them to our own version of reality and claim the moral high ground. By doing so, we assume the gratitude of the “disenfranchised.” We assume only we are capable of speaking for them—a particularly arrogant point of view.

We do not need to make our writing “inclusive” or change our truths to the alternative reality of what anyone else thinks or believes. If we have any responsibility as we write, it is to be always and completely true to ourselves, to speak our reality, our truth, thoughts and ideas—never to bow to the dictates of “accepted” speech, “accepted” truths, “accepted” history and never to allow anyone to determine what is acceptable content.

Once we bow, we betray all the writers, artists, journalists, dramatists, philosophers, scientists and women & men who have fought and sacrificed more than we will ever be asked to sacrifice, in the name of these freedoms. Protecting our creative freedom is crucial, regardless of our subject or genre.

Only we can accomplish that—for ourselves.

We do, indeed, live in “the land of the free because of the brave.”

Freedom is not without cost or sacrifice. Giving even a fraction away for the sake of expediency or personal comfort, results in expedited erosion of the whole, as the tide erodes the shore.

 

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yellodaisyMany of us experience trepidations when we offer something of ourselves to others.

The classic and often humorous question, “Suppose I give a Party and nobody comes?” is all the more poignant for actors, dancers, artists and writers who are always at the mercy of “invited” guests when they exhibit, perform or publish a work of their own creation.

A saying in the performing arts goes, “As long as there are more people in the audience than on stage…” but imagine what you feel when that is not the case.

A writer is always a singularity—in no danger of being in the majority—as long as you have more than one reader.

As one of my colleagues once commented, “If one person reads your book and loves it, you are a best-selling author.”

There is no monetary security in the Arts, probably least of all in the written word. Here are the statistics one author presented to a workshop a few years ago (regarding fiction authors):

  • Only 3% of authors/writers are ever published.
  • Only 3% of those authors who are published get their name of the cover of the book.
  • Only 3% of published authors with their name on the cover of the book make a living from writing.

That works out to .00027% or roughly 8100 authors out of an estimated 30,000,000 writers.

1384050607361Do not quit your day job until you get that movie deal.

Many more of us in this century can tick off the first two of the statistics largely due to the advent of independent/entrepreneurial publishing. Some of us were among the fortunate .009% who ticked off the first two in traditional/legacy publishing but are still far from being among the 8100 who can make a living from writing alone.

Like most creative people, writers find other ways to bring in the payola, bread, dough, green, bacon. Some of us find employment in a field related to our vocation such as writing copy, journalism, grant-writing, advertising, web content—hoping that such activity won’t kill our creative impulses. Others make our daily bread from sideshows such as teaching, talks, workshops.

1384050603906And many choose to work in jobs and professions that have nothing to do with writing and everything to do with keeping a roof over our heads and food in our children’s mouths.

Fortunately for all of us, we live in a culture and society that gives us the freedom and tools we need to create and dream and speak our minds.

Imagine if we didn’t.

What kind of party would that be?

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Book Cover: Salsa Dancing with PterodactylsFrom the time we begin the socialization process of leaving the cosseted safety of our family home (sometimes as early as a few weeks old), we are encouraged – even coerced – into wanting to be popular.

Popular means that we fit in, follow the crowd, don’t stand out; stay in line, do as you are told, be backward about coming forward; don’t speak unless you are spoken to — clear directions to create an automaton, assembly line worker bee – a drone.

Although we are born to use all our resources and talents to advance and achieve, we are socialized to suppress our abilities in order to get along. We are born to do and make, to conquer and succeed but if we do, we are ostracized for showing off and being different.

Each of us has the capacity, regardless of our birth circumstances, to change our lives and achieve our goals and yet, we risk our place in our community and the comfort of friendships if we make the effort to change.

We all have strengths and limitations. How we use these is our choice. If we choose not to make the most of our strengths and dwell on our limitations, we have no complaint against anyone by ourselves.

But we have tremendous opposition and obstacles to overcome. We have a natural and insatiable desire to learn but many of the efforts to channel this desire in strict directions serve only to suppress our curiosity. Seeing the value of information to ourselves before we engage is natural. We see the worth of acquiring knowledge, especially when we know the benefits.NB5#2-300Where this socialization process veers into the realm of sacrificing individuality for the sake of conformity, we are faced with momentous decisions. Do we, as Shakespeare enjoined, ‘to our own selves be true,’ or do we opt for being like ‘everyone else’ — do as everyone does?

All of us come to the point of taking a road less travelled, marching to a different drummer. Whether we do so is a personal choice and never easy. The advantages of being popular often seem tantalizing and exactly what we are looking for in our professions.

Those often faced with this decision are artists of all forms of expression. If we choose popularity, we sometimes do so at the expense of originality. Ironically, if we choose originality, we may instigate a trend that grows in popularity to the point it is no longer original or “cutting edge.”

The patronage of the reader, listener, audience is entirely subjective and fickle.

Are we artists if no one has heard of us? Of course we are.

The advent of independent recording, publishing, film-making, among many other paths to reaching an audience for our work, has opened the portals of creativity to everyone who has the will and the energy to commit thoughts and ideas to form. And there are no restrictions on our originality, except those we place on our work, to achieve whatever our purpose is for expressing ourselves.

Every time we choose to follow the popular rather than our own conscience, we lose a part of what makes us individuals and gives us a sense of pride in who we are. These ideas appear in everything we create and form the core of our creativity, the reason for our self-expression. We do not want to be part of the crowd. We risk everything to follow our artistic vision, whatever it is.

Congratulations! Being different is the coolest cool.

_______________

I write about the people who stand alone, for what’s right, and dance to the beat of their own hearts.

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