Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Murdering Your Internal Censor

In high school I took a creative writing class. I thought it would be an easy class, because I'd been writing for as long as I can remember, and I had always earned high marks for writing...until then. I wrote story after story, but no matter what, my compositions came back scrawled with red marks. No matter how much time I spent pouring out my ideas, getting inside my characters’ heads, I was never given a grade high than a C-minus. This was a giant blow to me. Devastating. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I didn’t have the courage to ask my teacher. She was frightening.I began to doubt my ability as a writer. I did try to drop the class, but it was too late in the year.

So...I dug deeper with every writing assignment. I wrote about the truths in my life—divorce and death. My grades sunk lower. Meanwhile, the girl next to me was writing about puppies and intact families eating apple pie at picnics. The only red mark on her compositions was a symmetrical A at the top of her paper. I worked harder.

I wrote a story about a girl who met her mother years after her mother had abandoned her as a toddler. I wrote the story with ferocity and energy I had never had before. A few days later the teacher handed back the story. She had x’ed out every page. At the top of the page was an F. I was furious. At the end of class, I stopped in front of my teacher’s desk and made confetti pieces out of my story and watched them flutter on her desk. She glared at me.

“What is wrong with you?” she said.

I gulped tears. I was too afraid of her to speak.

As she brushed the confetti into the trash can, she said, “You’ll never be a writer. You don’t know how to write.” She shouted at me the insecurities I had had every time I faced a blank page. This stooped over old woman gave life and power to my internal editor.

Too late to drop the class, I had to stick it out. I began writing about the things I thought would please her. I wrote about kittens and rainbows and children who never got messy. I thought it was awful, but my grades came up. But I still felt miserable. I wasn't writing the truth, what mattered to me. Outside the class, I didn’t do any writing. For a long time afterward, I believed I would never be a writer. Whenever a story idea came to me, I shooed it away saying, “Why bother?”

Fortunately, the following year, I took creative writing in college. At first I was tentative. But my professor was encouraging. He prodded me to dig deep. And soon my passion for writing returned.

Everyone has an internal censor. For some it may be loud and intrusive. For the luckier ones, it may only be a squeak. Our internal censor tells us things like: “You’ll never be a writer.” “You’re not good enough.” “No one would want to read that.” We don’t have to listen to it. We don’t have to write what we think would please others. We can’t allow our internal censor to keep us from writing our truths. Take control of it, squelch it, murder it if you have to.

Give your internal censor a voice. A body. Is your censor a male, female, or a creature? Describe its appearance. How does it smell? Use all your senses. Write everything your internal censor says. Spend about ten minutes freewriting. When the time is up, take a deep breath, walk around, or make soup. When you feel you’re ready, create a murder scene on paper. You are going to take control of your censor. Vanquish it. How you murder it is up to you. Respond to all the things your censor has told you. Tell your censor you are a writer. How you write this doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you’ve vanquished your censor.

Your internal censor may return like the monster that never seems to die in horror movies. Try variations of this exercise. Eventually, you won’t hear that monster any more.


jeff said...

I allow my Muse, a very buxom and hearty decendant of Diana, Hunter Goddess to attack with flaming arrows, any form of writer's block Demon!

My Muse knows that I must write for a living and takes my survival and eventual wealth very seriously...

She doesn't brook a shred of lazinesss, although She allows me my daily, Whiskey And Candlelight Hour...

Now for those you who are asking why a GUY has a Female for a Muse...

Well, it's like this I am a Earth-Loving, Tree-Worshipping Pagan who believes in a God and a Godess, and rightly Adores All They have to give Me- When I say to a Woman that I "Worship the Ground She Walks On..." I really mean it! LOL!

Besides, when I asked for a Guiding Muse, They responded instantly, knowing my personage and it's needs, wants and desires...

Yep! They sent me a busty, lusty, decendant of The Goddess Of The Hunt, who at the first sign of an attack of The Writer's Block Demon, loads up Her Arrows...

She also has one of those arrows aimed straight at my shapely arse, just in case I might even THINK of becoming lazy, for a New York second! LOL!

You writing is incredible! Wow, I gonna read some more! :)

Rita Marie Keller said...

Thank you for this enjoyable read! I like your Muse, and I don't think it's strange that a man would have a female for a muse. Weren't Hemingway's muses his women?
I do like you image of a Hunter Godess attacking with flaming arrows. How could you NOT have writer's block.
Bless you for your generous comment. {blushing} I appreciate your stopping by.

VelVerb said...

My God, I think I had the same teacher my senior year in high school! She killed some of my best writing with her red pen while she passed out A's like candy on Halloween to the rest of my classmates.

Luckily, when you need to write, you just keep writing.

Rita Marie Keller said...

Thanks for stopping by. Did this teacher wear a vegetable necklace and smell like chantilly perfume? Those are my most vivid images of her.
I think a lot of English teachers squelch students' creativity, and I think it's sad. How many gifted writers have been squelched?
I hope you keep writing.
Best, Marie

Johnna said...

Sounds like your teacher wanted to hear about puppies and little girls. She was too soft to face reality. People like that really have no lives.

I had an art teacher tell me that I would never make it as an artist. *laughs* IF so, then I wonder why I sold over $400 worth of art over the past 5 years.

You do your thing and stop letting haters get you down. Keep your head up and remember, you ARE a writer no matter what a stupid teacher making probably $6.00 an hour things.

Rita Marie Keller said...

Thank you for your post! YOu hit the nail on the head. My teacher had led a sheltered life, and there was no room for creativity. Congratulations on your success. Did you ever go back to that art teacher and tell him/her about your success? I wish you continued success!
Best, Marie