One of the most interesting parts of Wordstock are the panel sessions and workshops they offer. Sue and I attended one called My Censor, My Self. This is a topic many writers confront- that internal editor who shuts down the flow of words because ‘the punctuation is incorrect’ ‘that word is misspelled’ ‘that doesn’t make sense’ so I was eager to hear what the panel had to say. It was composed of three authors: Lidia Yuknavitch (The Chronology of Water) Lynn Conner (The Stones and the Poet), and Kerry Cohen Hoffman (Dirty Little Secrets) and a moderator. Hoffman and Yuknavitch are memoirists while Conner wrote a creative non-fiction book for children.
I was so busy listening as an aspiring writer that I forgot my reporting skills. What follows are a few of the thoughts that stuck with me and which author said it.
The parts and roads that scare us the most are those we need to follow as the predominate emotion is shame and by writing it we are giving a voice to those who can’t. (Yuknavitch)
More than a sense of ‘I can’t write it’ is one of ‘is there language for it?’ (Yuknavitch)
Writing fiction often makes telling a universal truth easier because there is less to censor (am I going to offend/anger someone?). Non-fiction feels more like explaining. (Hoffman)
One thing I’ve learned from writing memoirs is the plurality of truthes. There is no one truth with a capital ‘T’. (Yuknavitch)
Even when it’s very ugly, like a bad, really bad person there is beauty in the truth of that person. You must use compassion when writing about deeply flawed people. (Hoffman)
The session was an hour long so this may not seem like much but at some point the conversation for all three turned more to external censorship, namely from editors and publishers. Apparently, litigation is the number one concern of these folks and even calling someone bad in a memoir is going to raise questions of “will they sue?” Also, if you plan on having any sensuality in your non-fiction- don’t. Publishers don’t like it at all. Violence is OK but a woman’s sexuality is disturbing. Kind of the same mindset that runs
This portion of the session was interesting but also disappointing because I’m virtually certain the only people in the room who had dealt with publishers were the panel. I had hoped they would pass out the secret censor-removing elixir that allowed words to flow like honey with no interference. Not to be. Still I enjoyed listening to authors who have been through the process start to finish.
It also made me wonder- how does your censor work and what do you do to shut it down and kept the writing going?