Self-Censorship

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI started this post three different times.

I’ve been doing that a lot lately.  Writing the first few words of a post, then deleting it and squinting at a blank page.

I’ve been blogging over at LiveJournal since early 2004.  Originally I planned to stick more or less to writing, but in addition to book angst over the years I’ve discussed two surgeries, one cross-country move, four years of grad school at two different programs and countless amusing anecdotes about my kid, most notably when he dropped trou in the cafeteria and instigated a worker’s rebellion in Language Arts.

And while I’ve always been fairly circumspect about what I post, lately I’ve been redacting before I’ve even written anything.  And it’s not so much the content I’ve been scrutinizing.  It’s the tone.

It’s easy to suss out what not to say on a blog.  Don’t be a jerk is a good rule of thumb if you’re not sure.  Those are the easy decisions to make.  What’s trickier is knowing how to present certain events in a way that keeps you on the right side of the line between heartwarming details that humanize the working writer and dude that’s TMI.

The state of your WIP, for instance.  Once upon a time I might have posted Man, am I feeling crappy about this revision or This whole scene is weak as hell, but ever since The Wicked and the Just sold (such less came out), I’ve been second-guessing things that aren’t glowing and rosy.  On the flipside, if you’re always all upbeat and Pollyanna, aspiring writers struggling with their own work may be offput by what they see as 1) hubris or 2) the effortless crafting of salable prose.  Not to mention the intellectual dishonesty of not presenting writing with all its warts.

And what about some personal disaster?  How much do you post about things like losing your mother-in-law or your basement flooding before you come off as pathetic and whiny?  How much of this do your readers even want to hear about?

I tend to err on the side of authenticity, but the critical thing for me is to be mindful of it.  I was blogging long before I had any potential audience to consider, but it’s still surprising how even the idea of an audience matters.

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About J. Anderson Coats

J. Anderson Coats writes historical fiction for young adults chockful of name-calling and petty violence. THE WICKED AND THE JUST (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) is about teenagers behaving badly in thirteenth-century Wales.

6 thoughts on “Self-Censorship

  1. Laura Golden says:

    Love this post, J. Quite timely for me as well. As a relatively new (though nowhere near consistent) blogger, I often wonder what crosses the invisible line into over-share or offensive. Indeed, it is the self-censorship that keeps me from blogging more often. I am painfully aware of my tendency to feel too comfortable with telling it like I see it, thus I don’t say anything at all for long periods of time, and when I do, I feel it ends up being rather meaningless and blah because I edit out the passion and the point. A conundrum indeed. Thank you for this! ❤

    • J. Anderson Coats says:

      Even with Facebook and Twitter, sometimes I’ll go days without posting or tweeting because all I want to do is unleash a bitter torrent of pure bile into the world. Maybe I need a Tumblr so I can just reblog pictures of kittens on those days.

  2. From the minute I got on Twitter, I realized that I had to be careful what I say because agents and editors will see what you put out there, and what you put out there lasts forever on the internet. Then again, when I do slip and post a mini-rant of anger or despair, no one seems to notice or respond. So who knows?

    Shall we raise this to the level of philosophy and say that none of us ever truly reveal our authentic selves to anyone? Perhaps not even to ourselves?

    • J. Anderson Coats says:

      Maybe because our true, authentic selves change so often, they’re not even really a thing we can share, whether we want to or not.

  3. Just catching up on but this is such a great post! I try to be super open about the ups and downs, but I’m always wondering what’s really of interest to readers!

    • J. Anderson Coats says:

      You know what’s weird? The posts you put a ton of thought into that you think will get lots of comments get almost none, but the random anecdote about your kid telling his lit teacher that “all poetry is just about people’s junk” gets five billion comments. Not that I’m complaining – just means I get to be lazy and mine my boring life for amusing tidbits. 🙂

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