The Enemy of Creativity: Self-Censorship

Writing is a creative process, sometimes just randomized brainstorming and fitful starts, sometimes fluid composing that only stops when your fingers or brain cells are too tired to go on. I’ve been writing ever since I can remember–one of my first short stories was composed on a steno notebook belonging to my dad, written in blue highlighter. (Maybe not the best choice, but as a six-year-old, I chose the tools close to hand!)

In childhood, I would hear about “writer’s block” as being this terrible condition that befell all writers at some point. But I used to think I never suffered writer’s block, because ideas for a story always came so easily to me–the words just flowed, and it sounded good to my ears and looked good to my eyes. It was much later, as I grew up and began writing for schoolwork or for other people to read, that I began to experience writer’s block in earnest. For me, that choking, halting sensation of just not knowing what to write next alarmed me. Was I losing my touch?

The Root of Writer’s Block: Self-Censorship

This feeling has come back sometimes while composing my novel, and at first, I was afraid that I was running out of ideas for the story. As I probed the feeling of writer’s block, however, I discovered that it wasn’t simply a lack of ideas–it was a lack of presentable ideas, ideas that other people would like. I was censoring my ideas, trying to make the novel immediately something that “other people” would like, rather than just writing what I felt was best and reviewing it later. Though I’m not sure that self-censoring was the complete source of my earlier writer’s block, I’m pretty sure self-censorship came into the picture at least a little, since I’ve been a perfectionist most of my life (LOL).

This Can Happen to Anyone

Self-censorship can strike at any time–when you have that little tingle of unease in your brain that signals “Ooh, I don’t know how good this is,” or when you are having difficulty producing part of a story because you’re afraid it’s all been done before. This is the enemy of creativity: when you hold yourself back, your writing becomes more stilted than ever, and you end up producing something that reads as if it’s afraid to come off the page. This censoring process, which starts out with good intentions (wanting to produce “good” writing that will be enjoyed and accepted), ends up just hamstringing you.

How to Beat Self-Censorship

Don’t let your personal judgment get in the way of your actual writing process. Write first and judge later. Seriously. You can always edit, erase or backspace if you review your writing and don’t like what you see, but if you don’t produce any writing in the first place, you won’t ever explore your ideas. (Who knows, you might write something that is utterly beautiful and life-changing to someone else, even if you think it’s nothing special!)

Also, don’t be ashamed if you have to go back and rewrite something several times over to get it “right.” Your taking the time to rewrite something that has already been put on paper/typed up in a document is a positive sign of writing development–and that development can’t take place until the original thought is put down in visual form somehow. Writing is not something you produce perfectly the first time (something I’ve had to realize the hard way); it’s something you imagine into existence, shape and sculpt, and then sand and polish until it gleams. Don’t let your desire for the polished finished product keep you from imagining.

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