As a fiction writer, have you ever felt that your personal character was judged by others based on the genre or content of what you write?
Have you experienced strange looks, insincere polite comments, or talking behind your back about the content of your novel or short stories when you have shared your writing with others?
Have you gotten the impression that family, friends, or acquaintances believe that, if you write…
- Horror, then you are evil and twisted inside and are suspect for disturbing behavior?
- Crime, then you are a repressed criminal with murderous intent and can’t be trusted?
- Science Fiction, then you are out of touch with reality, a strange geek and antisocial?
- Romance or Erotica, then you are a sex crazed maniac with a dirty mind?
- All the genres, then you are a disturbed, murderous, sex-obsessed nerd?
Well, that sinks my reputation, since I write in many genres.
I can hear some of you laughing right now. You may be laughing because you can relate to receiving these reactions from other people. But, we are all probably cringing because this stereotyping is so unfair. These types of judgments are hurtful and can influence what we decide to write.
My Own Experiences
As fiction writers, we hope that our passion and voice will find an audience of readers. Our readers are a primary concern, just as our own passion and voice are important. But what about the opinions of those who know you personally – friends, family, colleagues, hometown folks and acquaintances?
The opinions of those with whom I come into contact was a big issue for me when I began writing fiction. I am a psychotherapist who writes non-fiction and self-help. I worried that if I wrote anything unusual, twisted, or with an edge, that I would be judged. This fear of mine prevented me from writing for several years. I was so frustrated with the idea of believing I should only write sweet, Midwestern themed, inspiring family stories (not that there is anything wrong with that, and maybe I will in the future) that I didn’t want to write at all.
So, what was my solution? My husband is my primary critic and he enjoys seeing the variety of genres and weird stuff I write. And, I mainly pay attention to feedback from other writers I trust, especially those that write in the same genres. I used a pen name to help keep my lives separate (to some extent) and called my website, Don’t Fence Me In, to remind myself to listen to my own intuition about what I wanted to write. I still wonder how to keep my writing and professional life separate. But, I am committed to write by inspiration, rather than what I think I should write.
How Much of Ourselves Is In What We Write?
As fiction writers, there is something of ourselves, conscious and unconscious, in everything we write. We can use our experiences, feelings and thoughts to inspire stories. Our novel can help us process problems from our past or present. Writing can be therapeutic, an expression of our inner lives or a forum for personal causes. And, fiction can be inspired by our environment, from things we see, read or hear. But, I think there are even more sources of our creativity.
I believe that our intuition and imagination touch energy sources larger than our personal egos. One term used for this is the collective unconscious, described by Carl Jung. He stated that we can tune in to currents of energy, the archetypes and universal stories. And, Rupert Sheldrake is a scientists who took this concept of Jung’s further and has done research on morphogenetic fields. This is a theory that describes morphic fields of resonance that we share and contribute to collectively. These theories are too involved to go into detail, but my point is that these fields have been theorized as sources of our creativity.
I believe that intuition, imagination, collective unconsciousness, morphic fields of resonance, Spirit (God, universal energy) may be some of the mysterious sources of our creativity. If so, then maybe there are sources from which we receive unique ideas that we combine with our own ideas when we write.
If there are external sources from which we receive information and inspiration, are we just a channel? We are a channel for all kinds of energy and information from multiple sources, internal and external, but we are also the mind and body that receives it and filters it through our personality and senses. One way to conceptualize it is to see ourselves as a sensor, censor and organizer. Our sensing capabilities include our body, mind, abilities and environment. How much we censor is our choice. How we cultivate channeling is part of the practice of being a writer. For example, as fiction writers, we often talk about how the characters we are channeling tell us what to write about them. Some of us have a strong censor, some of us have a more open censor. Neither is good or bad, just part of who we are. But, we can never leave ourselves out of the writing process (or any form of art for that matter).
Important Questions About Our Writing Life
Regardless of the percentage of input from our sources of information & inspiration, I think the questions we ask ourselves are most important to contemplate…
- How important are the opinions of friends and family to my writing?
- Do I censor my writing based on what others say or may think of me?
- How much do I censor? What kinds of material do I censor?
- Has the opinions of others discouraged me?
- Where is the line between writing for myself & writing for the readers?
- What kind of image do I put out there through my writing?
- Am I concerned about that image? Does it influence what I write?
- Am I happy with what I am writing? Do I feel like the voice I have is the right one for me?
- If I honestly believed I have complete creative freedom, would I write any differently?
There are as many answers to these questions as there are writers in the world. I do think these questions are worth asking ourselves on a regular basis to become more consciously aware of the decisions we make in our writing.
I’m guessing that most fiction writers that have published or shared their work have encountered strange reactions from people they know personally if they write anything unusual or vastly different from their public persona. There are so many opinions coming into our lives as writers. There is a delicate balancing act that we perform daily between our own passion, our writing voice, our personal opinions, the reactions of those in our personal lives, the response of readers, publishers and trying to maintain our creative freedom as much as possible.
What does creative freedom mean to you? And, do you think you have it?