Let the Peasants Have Their Pitchforks

No one can write with another person looking over their shoulder, especially one that isn’t really there. If you constantly ask yourself what other people are going to think, your writing is going to be crap.

Art is about letting go and not worrying about anything, even your own judgement. Conscience? Morality? Leave that baggage at the door. That isn’t to say that every passage should read like a Dear Abby column out of Soddom and Gomorrah, but if it heads there, for the love of salt pillars, don’t stop it.

There will be plenty of people willing to censor you. Don’t do it to yourself. Not during that first draft. What if your mom reads it? So what if she does? Your boss? Let him. Your friends? They aren’t friends if they don’t.

I don’t worry much about my mother. I’ve caught her reading Dean Koontz, but what about my dad, the guy that called Stephen King a “weirdo?” What about the church I grew up in? Those people saw my baptism and confirmation. What about family? Friends? Co-workers? Are they going to worry that I’ve laced the coffee with arsenic?

Worst of all, what about the people who don’t know me at all? They will make horrible judgments about me as a person. They might think I lack any redeemable human qualities.

Don’t sweat it. Let them boycott you. Let them ban you. Let them burn your books in the town square and proclaim you to be Satan’s prodigal son. You should be so lucky. You’ll sell books faster than your publisher can print them.

You bleed stories out of your eyeballs for hour upon hour for the purpose of people reading them. They are supposed to invoke emotion. They are supposed to inspire love, fear, hate, jealousy, anger, disgust and a mosaic of a million other emotions. If they don’t, you have failed.

I’m not downplaying your deep-seated self-consciousness. I get it. I’m primarily a horror writer, but my blog is read by a lot of people who started following me after I wrote a piece for my grandfather’s death. My most recent published story involves the dismembering of women. A lot of people who love reading my blogs about life would not be caught dead with most of my fiction.

You can’t worry about that sort of thing. Write strong fiction. Write interesting stories that affect people. Write everything that happens, and no matter what happens, don’t look away. You owe it to yourself as a writer to suffer with your characters. You did these things to them. Witness the fallout. No matter how guilty you feel, do not leave them.

You will have a million drafts to think about toning things down. You will have editors who say it is too much. But what would you rather hear: This is too disturbing or this made me feel nothing? I’ll take disturbing any day of the week. I can tone down disturbing. If the reader feels nothing, I will never get another chance.

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at www.jackcampbelljr.com.

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