Censoring Myself in the Publishing World

10 Jul

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Censoring Myself in the Publishing World

It’s hard to be yourself in an art industry – as strange as that sounds.

Correction: It’s hard for me to be %100 myself 24/7 in the publishing industry. Perhaps this a fact of life – not just something in the publishing industry – but I have found myself censoring myself about my lifestyle because I’m afraid that I will lose readers if they don’t agree with me. (Personally, I don’t see why we have to agree about everything, but this still happens.) This happens in and outside the publishing world, but I wanted to share the topics I struggle with as an author in order to help other authors talk about their personal troubles. I also hope to take my first step at being %100 honest without fear of reader rejection.

So here is a list of things I have been afraid to mention before:

Books I Dislike and Like:

This isn’t about if they are good or not. I am a firm believer in the fact that books can both be good and be disliked. My personal example of this is Divergent. I just could not get into it. I could not wrap my mind around a society the forces you to be only ONE thing, and the color scheme seemed too simple for such a complex topic. I also felt like it had a lot of religious undertones that made me very uncomfortable. That being said, I still think Veronica Roth is a fantastic writer. I can see a variety of reasons to love it. I can appreciate her prose. On the opposite spectrum, I enjoyed Twilight. There. I said it. Granted, I was 14 when I read it, so it was also marketed to girls my age at the time. I actually remember buying Twilight after a friend told me about it and being reluctant only to go back the very next day to buy the second book that had just released. It wasn’t until much later that I considered the themes in it – when others saw it as abusive, I saw it as just a story – just entertainment. Either way, it still makes me really sad when readers hate on other readers, so that’s why I think I censor myself about my personal book tastes. I don’t want a fan to think I’m attacking their favorite book, because I understand how personal a book can mean to a reader, how much joy and heartbreak can come when a reader loses themselves in a story and how destructive it can feel when others try to tear it to pieces.

I smoke hookah and I drink:

I’m 23, so both of these acts are legal for me, but I try not to mention this about myself because my readers are primarily young adults, and I don’t want to encourage them to do either of the things. As a contradiction, my next novel, Take Me Tomorrow, deals with a lot of themes about drugs in society, including the youth. The sad fact is that many young adults find themselves involved with drugs. This a reality. But my biggest fear is someone telling me their kid blamed me for trying hookah or trying a drink. Here’s another ugly truth: my mother died from a drug overdose. They were legal painkillers prescribed to her. So I know the deadly consequences that can derive from drug use, legal or not. Perhaps – because of my various experiences – I am sensitive to how people perceive me in regards to the drugs in my upcoming novel. Who knows? When I’m asked in interviews “Where do you write?” I find myself struggling to answer honestly, “In a local hookah house.” Because I don’t want other kids to smoke because I smoke occasionally. I know it’s bad for you. I understand this. I am only afraid readers will somehow think I am saying it’s good for you when I’m not.

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Depression associated with publishing:

It happens. I have days where I struggle – just like any person in any industry – but there seems to be a strange stigma associated with artists. If we complain, we aren’t grateful. If we complain, we are selfish because there are so many writers who wish they were published. But can’t we be honest? Can’t we say it’s hard? Can’t we feel sad sometimes, too?

Characters I’ve based off of people:

I don’t directly and purposely try to base my characters off of people in my life, but – as time passes – I can see strong correlations. Still, I am terrified of admitting to my relationships (friends or not) with these people because many of these people are no longer in my life. It feels rude. It feels selfish. Maybe I’ll get over it. Maybe I won’t. But sometimes – when I realize this – I miss them. I miss the characters that were once my closest friends. And I have struggled to even make friends. Since I moved around a lot as a child, friends didn’t last very long. We always moved. But losing friends when I still lived in the same area was an extremely difficult part of my teenage years. I didn’t have to deal with it until I was 15 – and it was hard. Really hard. I couldn’t comprehend how someone I confided in could turn their back on me (or how I managed to turn my back on others.) So when those characters clear up, it can be confusing and unreal and strange, so it’s much easier to deny the possibility that my characters might – in fact – be them.

Certain scenes:

When I was younger, it was easier to be true to the story. I didn’t care what readers thought of a controversial scene, but now I find myself changing them or cutting them out completely – mainly because I or people I have met have gone through many of these trials and I don’t want to stigmatize the victims. I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t want to trigger something.

My personal life:

So you know I have a cat. You know I live in Kansas. You know that I work for AEC Stellar as an author and an employee. You know I lost my mother at a young age and my college roommate. But you don’t know how much I mentally struggle to believe that I created a relatable female character because I struggle to relate to females in general (which I think stems from the fact that I was mainly raised by my father and brother, therefore feeling more comfortable around males.) I’m also more comfortable writing as a male, and when readers ask me about it, I get really uncomfortable about it, because I don’t even know why. To clarify, I’m not uncomfortable with the fact that I enjoy writing as a boy; I get uncomfortable when someone tries to make sense of it, like there has to be a reason for it. I – on the other hand – just want to accept it for what it is. The only other topic I would like to clarify on is that I am not just a “cat person.” I grew up with dogs, and I love and miss my husky, Shadow. (So much so that Argos in Take Me Tomorrow is based off of him.) He was in my life for 15 years. If I had a yard and the proper time and money for a puppy, I would get one. But I don’t. So I have my cat, Bogart, and I love him very much. But I love cats and dogs and pretty much every animal on the planet.

There are ugly parts of everyone’s life and art, but – even though it is common – it is hard to confess to those darker moments. That being said, confessing to those thoughts can help others who struggle with truths they avoid. I like to believe that my “ugly” parts aren’t ugly at all. I am human. That’s what makes us artists.

Feel free to share those things you avoid mentioning below! It’s quite a freeing moment, and I’m glad to share my struggles here, especially if it helps other artists come out with their struggles!

~SAT

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31 Responses to “Censoring Myself in the Publishing World”

  1. gwpj July 10, 2014 at 12:17 am #

    Well said, Shannon. I think this is a struggle that all of us go through. I know I do. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re in very good company, part of the risk involved in being creative.

    • Shannon A Thompson July 10, 2014 at 12:18 am #

      Thank you for reading and commenting! I think writers help one another out a lot, especially when it comes to times like these.
      ~SAT

  2. Ashley July 10, 2014 at 12:32 am #

    Great post! It’s actually funny that the very reason you didn’t particularly like Divergent (being unable to fathom people having to choose one thing to be) is exactly why I loved and related to it so much. As a Black woman, I am often stigmatized, and expected to act a certain way, or be just one way, simply because of my race. Doing anything outside of the norm, or outside of the stereotypes is seen as other, being unreal, etc. Life experiences do ofte determine your love for a book, I’ve learned.

    But I definitely understand your plight with censoring yourself. I am going through the process of reinventing my social media for career and writing purposes, and struggle with what to delete. I want people to know all sides of me, but do feel that not everyone will agree, and it’s best sometimes to avoid the ire. It’s comforting to know others struggle with this too.

    • Shannon A Thompson July 10, 2014 at 12:40 am #

      I love how you shared your piece on Divergent because it shows a perfect example of how I believe a book that is disliked can still be a great book. Just because I didn’t like it, doesn’t mean I think it was bad. I think it is good – it’s just not for me – and your comment truly pointed out a difference that I really enjoyed seeing. Social media can be a complicated cyber world with lots of questions, but it is nice to know others who find themselves in the same situations.
      Thank you for sharing your story!
      ~SAT

  3. henrygame July 10, 2014 at 1:46 am #

    Henry likes what you have written. Henry also has long and headache inducing bouts of “should I delete this scene, should I delete that scene?”
    I try not to be hasty. Write what you will. The world is big enough to handle it. And if one person doesn’t like it, forget about it. There are plenty others who will.

    • Shannon A Thompson July 10, 2014 at 1:49 am #

      Shannon says, “Very true! I’m hoping my latest novel – Take Me Tomorrow – allows me to return back to my state of wanting to publish the controversies in the books instead of cutting them out.”
      ~SAT

  4. ljbradburn July 10, 2014 at 2:29 am #

    Great post 🙂 I do the same, I guess that it is natural to be critical of oneself and imagine that others will be the same, when in actual fact I think most people like to learn that everyone is human and has the same fears/loves/dislikes/habits as they do. Being a real person is what makes you a great writer, after all if you didn’t understand what it is like to be human how could you even begin to write about the human experience 🙂 x

    • Shannon A Thompson July 10, 2014 at 2:59 am #

      ^^ “Being a real person is what makes you a great writer”
      I love that quote!
      ~SAT

  5. Margie Brimer July 10, 2014 at 3:09 am #

    Oh thank you for coming out and admitting that you connected with Twilight over Divergent. I’ve started blogging those words so many times before and didn’t because I was too worried I would be criticized by other authors. Here’s the deal. I don’t think people dislike the Twilight series because it’s bad. They’ve grown to disregard it because our culture was so over saturated with it. We knew it was good but got so tired of hearing about it that we started mocking it to make it dissappear. Society…hmpf. Any way I really enjoyed your honesty. Writers shouldn’t do away with thier conscience to sell books. Our characters won’t always do what we would do but there is a way of writing those characters that doesn’t make thier lifestyle seem so desirable that followers might want to pursue it.

    • Shannon A Thompson July 10, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

      You point out some things I’ve thought about! I think the marketing you’re talking about did have a huge impact on how huge the hating had become. Thank you for reading and commenting!
      ~SAT

  6. Harliqueen July 10, 2014 at 5:00 am #

    It’s hard to let ourselves be ourselves in a creative world where out sales rely on other people. I understand how you feel. But you shouldn’t be worried about being able to be who you are, hopefully people can distinguish between you and your work, and if not, well shame on them! 🙂

    • Shannon A Thompson July 10, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

      Very true! This was my first step at being even more open about my life. 😀
      ~SAT

  7. Charles Yallowitz July 10, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    It really is a struggle to decide what to reveal and what to keep hidden. I’m a fantasy author who simply couldn’t get into ‘Wheel of Time’ or ‘Game of Thrones’. I tried and kept wandering off for YA fantasy and my own stuff. People don’t really like hearing that or think something is wrong with me.

    I think as an author, we start turning ourselves into public figures whether we like it or not. Many of us (Yo!) find out what’s ‘acceptable’ and what isn’t the hard way. I get depressed and rant-y whenever I’m frustrated or stressed. It’s fairly easy to push me into a bad mood and I’m kind of stuck with one or two people that do this on a daily basis. So I have to fake a smile on-line a lot. The few times that I have let my depression out have been met with the standard support comments, but many people simply don’t want to hear about it. A pessimist or depressive turns people off and I’ve even been asked if I’m ‘addicted to being miserable’. So now I stay away from making blog posts when I’m in a bad mood. Not unless I can mix some humor into it, which tends to soften the blow and avoid the calls for me to go away. Strange thing is that writing a depressive/angry poem gets praise while simply talking about being depressed/angry gets ignored or chastised.

    Anyway, that’s my big secret. I’m one moody author. I kind of put everything else out there, bu I don’t really do much. :/

  8. andrewknighton July 10, 2014 at 7:16 am #

    Being open about your book tastes is a tricky one. On the one hand it can create conversations and bridges with your readers, on the other hand you might meet the author as a peer one day, making your criticism or overly effusive praise kind of awkward.

    • Shannon A Thompson July 10, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

      That is a PERFECT addition! I only spoke about hurting readers, but hurting the authors is just as important when you’re a fellow author. For instance, I go to many writing conventions, and I’ve met authors there – it would be awkward if they read my reviews of their novels that I didn’t like. (This didn’t happen to me because I generally avoid writing reviews because of this.)
      ~SAT

  9. coldhandboyack July 10, 2014 at 9:20 am #

    It’s a fact of being an author that some folks won’t like our lifestyles. Politics, religion, shortcomings – we all have them. It’s hard to know where to draw the line on what to reveal. This was a brave post, and I respect you for it.

    • Shannon A Thompson July 10, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

      Thank you for reading and commenting. :] I appreciate your kind words. It is a confusing time when you have to make decisions on what to censor and what to be open about.
      ~SAT

  10. Elle Klass July 10, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    You make a valid point. Once your in the public eye people judge you by your actions.

  11. apotts31 July 10, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    What a wonderful piece! Good for you for putting what many of us go through in black and white.

    I used to watch a show called Mystery Science Theater. The writers on that show once said they sometimes were afraid to include a particular joke thinking that it wouldn’t be universally understood. Rather than censoring themselves, if they thought the joke was truly funny, they would trust that the ‘right’ people would get it and included the joke even if it wasn’t going to work for everyone. As a result the show was hilarious. I try to keep the same advice in mind with my own writing.

    • Shannon A Thompson July 10, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

      O_O I love your example. That has a very good point. It’s okay to write scenes (or even an entire novel) that won’t appeal to a wider range of people. Thank you for adding that!
      ~SAT

  12. frasersherman July 10, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    It’s probably wise to avoid advertising you’ve taken characters from life. Just in case someone decides to take offense in some fashion.
    I’m personally careful what I say about my wife or my family.

    • Shannon A Thompson July 10, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

      Very true. Inspiration confessions might hurt loved ones feelings or not flatter someone the way they expected it to. There are endless possibilities as to how that could go wrong.
      ~SAT

  13. Jilanne Hoffmann July 10, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    Shannon, I’m about to get all heady on you, so here goes. Get Margaret Atwood’s book, “Negotiating with the Dead.” In it, she has an essay that talks about how the writer of the book should not be confused with the writer, the person. They are two different people. When readers want to have signed copies of books, they want the writer who has written the book, but that writer no longer exists. They only existed to write the book and then disappeared. The person who signs the book is a stand-in for the writer who wrote the book. Am I making sense? Unless someone is actually watching you write, is physically there while you are writing, they can at least see the physical aspect of the writer who is doing the writing. But they can’t be inside your head while you are writing, so they can’t witness the mental activity that brings forth the book. No one will ever know the writer of the book. Even the writer cannot know the writer that is doing the writing. Strange, eh?

    I don’t know if this helps or confuses the issue. 😀

    • Shannon A Thompson July 10, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

      That…sounds…beautiful.
      I am going to travel around the bookstore right now.
      ~SAT

  14. Alfonso Colasuonno (The Literary Game) July 10, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

    Excellent post! I can definitely relate. I’ve been VERY careful about what I’m public with after making a huge gaffe. A few years ago, I was on the television program “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” I was a little startled, having been picked out of the audience to play for $1,000 dollars at random. Caught in the moment, when Meredith Vieira asked me what I did, I told her (and a national TV audience) that “I write hipster lit” and then proceeded to name-check some of the most well-known literary voices today (Zadie Smith, Rick Moody) as “hipster lit” writers. The experience has made me think twice about being so open about my perceptions, and attempting to be quite a bit more guarded in my public image, for fear of alienating individuals and losing opportunities.

  15. debyfredericks July 10, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

    I’m guilty, I guess, of letting my moderate-liberal political views show online. A few friends often argue back, and I argue with their more conservative posts. Yet we all remain friends and review each other’s books. Showing your true self doesn’t have to be the end.

  16. D. Emery Bunn July 10, 2014 at 10:35 pm #

    My female characters are well-written and relateable (other people’s words, not mine), not because I know a lot of women to infer their thoughts, emotions, and motivations (though that’s true), but because when it comes to emotion I’m more feminine. It’s not putting on another persona, it’s just tapping another part of me.
    It’s awkward, because I’m a straight guy. Straight guys are supposed to be Manly Men who do Testosterone-laden things and can’t understand women and their girly stuff. Yet I can. But I came to the realization about a month ago that it doesn’t matter what other people think. I am who I am, and I’m not going to apologize or make excuses for it.

  17. bizarrejc July 13, 2014 at 10:01 am #

    I feel like I’m an open book and should censor myself a bit. There isn’t anything that I’m not eager to share about myself. I think I do this partly because I’ve stopped caring what others think of me along time ago. It’s tough to live up to others expectations. I was always unhappy, but still tried to make others accepting of who I was. When I realized I couldn’t do it, I stopped trying to hide who I am. We are all different and do different things. That difference is what makes us all unique. I like unique over ordinary.

  18. Y.I. Washington July 14, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    Shannon, thank you so much for opening up. I really appreciate you doing this. It helps to know we aren’t alone in our feelings. The whole depression thing is expected. No one has the right to tell us how to feel. We are artists after all so we are going to be a bit emotional from time to time.
    The fact that you smoke and drink is your business. Unfortunately, we live in a world full of people who are too impressionable and refuse to take responsibility for their choices. Kids aren’t taught to take responsibility, they’re taught to blame someone else. I have drank since I was in my late teens (in my 40′s now) and I personally do not blame anyone for me choosing to drinking. It was my choice. I knew the risks and I took precautions to make sure I wasn’t hurting anyone or myself.
    As far as your characters, all of us tend to use characteristics of people we know. That is how we make them “real” for our readers. Sometimes it is a way of paying homage to people we know and care about. Sometimes it’s unconcsious. I have a character who is a lot like one of my brothers. Only thing is, I didn’t notice it until his wife pointed it out. We laughed about it, especially since we both really like the character. Don’t be so hard on yourself about the similarities.
    Keep up the good work and the great posts.

  19. M. Talmage Moorehead July 15, 2014 at 11:01 pm #

    Shannon, it does me a lot of good right now to read about your honest, open feeling as a writer. I think all creative people have the gift of feeling a broader spectrum of emotion than the average human being. It’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. The opposite extreme is not even human. “Spock to Enterprize.” OK, maybe half human. 😉 Thanks for emailing me with the helpful advice on blogging! You’re an unusually good person. Trust me on that. 🙂

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