Nov 08 2018
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Write now, worry later! Avoiding the path of self-censorship

Shawna Ayoub Ainslie offers some critical advice against censoring our work in our early drafts.

“What parts should I leave out?” a student asked regarding the memoir she’d begun.

“Why are you asking?”

“Well,” she said. “There are some things I don’t want my kids to know.”

I nodded in understanding. Self-censorship is a common theme in all writing, not just trauma-based narratives. Moving our stories from our minds to the physical world can leave us feeling overexposed. Couples with the desire to protect those who love us from the knowledge of harm we’ve experienced, that fear of ringing a bell you can’t un-ring can pave the road to self-censorship.

But just because a road is paved does not mean it needs to be traveled.

The page as confidante

When it comes to first drafts, it is better to over-write than under. Still, it is easy to get caught up in the sand trap of thinking ahead. Remember, drafting is not submitting or clicking “publish” on a blog. Writing the words does not guarantee anyone will read them but you. The page is your confidante! You have complete freedom to share or not share any stories with the page without worrying about who else will read it. The time to consider your audience comes when you edit and reshape any pieces of your work to make your story ready for the world.

To my student I said, “Write it all. Worry later.”

She was wary so we took a look at a quote from Glennon Doyle (Melton) on her memoir Love Warrior. The book examines the breakdown of her marriage with ex-husband Craig Melton. The couple have three children. The family already lived a high-profile life, so Doyle, like many memoirists, had to consider how her writing would inevitably impact their lives. Of Love Warrior, Doyle says she chose to ask herself as she rewrote, “How is this not just about me, but about the reader?” What must we consider when we write The Truth?

Blazing a trail

We write for ourselves, but there are always others in and around our stories. When we publish, we are irrevocably putting those stories into the world. It makes sense that we will want to protect others, like my student wanted to protect her children.

But protection happens not by traveling the path of self-censorship; we protect ourselves and others through the process of refining and crafting our work, whether as part of editing or recovery (should we be writing trauma?), and prior to publication. It happens when we blaze our own trail to get to the heart of the story—which we can’t do if we’re censoring in the early stages of the process.

Shaping your stories is different than censoring them. Doyle shares deeply. Her experiences are myriad and painful, but she shapes them with an eye for her reader, including her children, after writing them. Take a page from her book and travel the unpaved road. Happy trails!

Do you think you are able to take Shawna’s advice and write the whole truth without worrying, at least at first, what readers might think? Share with us in the comments!

Related reading: 3 things to consider when writing The Truth

Over-write first for a better final draft

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