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Writers are, by and large, a bold lot.
The women pictured above were inspired by a similarly empowering visual of the musical group, Little Mix. The insults scrawled on their bodies, as with those of the women of Little Mix in a much-discussed body-positive photo posted on their Instagram account (see final image, below), represent a selection of verbal affronts they’ve endured throughout their lives.
Both empowering photos can be considered metaphorical for the art of writing itself: Stripping oneself bare, imperfections and all, for public consumption.
All of the women pictured clearly appreciate that words can be weaponized, that words have power.
Facts that writers in general take for granted...
As writing is my preferred art, I will specifically address writers and writing here, though what follows could be properly applied to any art form.
I ask you, in what other field would a relatively sane individual risk bearing their soul to a world that may well excoriate their most sincere and earnest efforts?
This is personal stuff. If one is writing from the heart, what if your prospective readers criticize your choice of words or the meaning(s) behind them? Let’s go extreme. What if they loathe your work, regardless of fiction, non-fiction, or even a well-intended social media post?
You are passionate about politics, as an easy example. You wear your feelings and biases on your sleeve. I’ve been there (an understated aside targeted to anyone who reads my Facebook posts), and the response isn’t always pretty.
How do I cope? Rhino skin. I sincerely believe we are all equal, and my thoughts, fears, and feelings are no better or worse than anyone’s. We’re all flesh and blood, and, by definition, imperfect. Therefore, penetrating and sharing my truth is not at all difficult.
You know what else is human?
Words slung by those to which many of us take offense: racists, homophobes, misogynists... And yet, as much as we may find those words and those messages not only demeaning but beneath the pale, there will always be those who shock—or attempt to shock—with their social prejudices.
Some who weaponize words as such stand by their commentary. Some others use hatred as a "gimmick" to sell more books.
Regardless, they have the same right to express themselves as do the rest of us. Some will disagree with me. I do not believe these individuals should be censored, as I do not believe in censorship as a rule. I believe that those sharing words of hate should be exposed and responded to. I also believe they should be educated. But, statistically, those who espouse hate will continue to do so.
Those who do not have the obligation to respond.
And, those who make threats or encourage violence through their written word is a whole other ballgame. That becomes a legal issue. But those expressing hateful thoughts and opinions?
It’s a constitutionally protected right and must remain that way, no matter my personal distaste. Or yours.
The pain experienced by one who writes such tripe, their intent aside, is something best left to the psychologists of the world. Still, as a former creative writing teacher for disadvantaged kids, it’s not a stretch for this writer to believe it festers to near-intolerance.
The pain is takes to read such work is at least equal.
My two cents.
A Touch of Madness
A popular theory as it regards the creative being, for our purposes defined as those who "must" create, is that the artist suffers from a touch of madness. After all, emotional risks aside, what of the artist’s financial life, another legitimate consideration since so many are willing to undertake grave risks to earn an income through their passion?
How many well-known writers have been self-destructive? How many do you know personally that seem to be a touch more sensitive than the average Joe or Jane?
How many seem “touched” to begin with?
Own your madness and work though it. We simply have a primal "need" to create. Feeding this beast is not a "want."
Once more, it’s a "must."
Self-expression is key.
Three years ago, I visited the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I traveled with a friend who runs a 501(c)(3) non-profit called “Blazing a Trail,” which is dedicated to funding arts education on impoverished reservations.
Pine Ridge has been decimated with the highest rate of child and young adult suicides of any U.S. city. Alcohol was once their greatest issue; an abundance of readily-available meth has since taken its place as the reservation’s drug scourge.
The geography of Pine Ridge is one of vast open spaces. Residents have to travel miles from city to city or frequently just to shop. Many do not own cars as they cannot afford them.
In this setting are also tribal traditions that consider the creation of any art other than Native art to blaspheme against their culture.
Many residents read books or comic books, or own televisions. Many of the Native children and young adults hunger to learn how to write—stories, movies, comics, and songs.
They are frequently discouraged, and yet those who are not have scant means of learning. Aside from the academic writing taught in nearby schools, most of these young people do not learn writerly self-expression.
During our week-long visit, I spoke to groups and perhaps a couple of hundred individuals. I repeatedly received two responses when I asked those interested in my work why they don’t write: 1) “There’s no one to teach us except for our teachers, and we’re not allowed to learn this in school.” And 2) “We drink or sell drugs instead to stay alive, or we kill ourselves because we have nothing to look forward to.”
I signed copies of one of my books at Pine Ridge. Many were unsure or untrusting of my presence, as if I was interfering somehow. Others were fascinated, and expressed regret that they could not do what I do.
I tried to convince them otherwise, and will continue to make that effort.
Self-expression and survival go hand-in-hand.
Why stop now?
Ask yourself, “Why do I write?” Maybe we’re all freaks. That’s the easy answer. Nonetheless, some of us write for legacy. Some write for expression. Some to make a difference.
Some just because it’s enjoyable, or a stress-reliever.
What about you? Why do you write?
Whatever your answer, follow up with these questions, in order: “Why should I stop? What do I have to lose?”
You have nothing to lose. Nothing. Keep on keepin’ on. If anything, by spending some quality time with your own head now and again, you’ll get to know yourself that much better.
Scary, I know, but stripping down on your terms is really not a bad thing.
A message on repeat: There is no reason to quit writing. There is no reason to stop breathing, and considering a prior section here take that comment as you choose.
I’ll be earnest. I write because I love it. I write fiction as I enjoy creating new worlds, creating puzzles within them and finding solutions. If I feel (it’s an emotion, not a belief) “good enough” about the work, I’ll share it with the world. If not, I won’t. My choice.
I also enjoy writing articles such as this one. I get a buzz from teaching and sharing my experiences. Non-fiction is fun too.
Some of you may keep journals. Great therapy, there.
Writers are a privileged lot who can make a difference by sitting in our underwear, or less, at a computer. We live in an age where our work can be readily available to the masses at the touch of a button.
Maybe we really are freaks. Many of us hope and spend hour upon hour refining our craft and hoping we can actually make a living at this stuff. Some are successful.
Others write as a hobby. It doesn’t matter.
Bare your soul. Bare it all.
You’re real fucking brave, and I applaud you all.