How much should writers self-censor?

Years ago, before I’d published a book of poetry, back in the 90s when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I had a manuscript of short stories. The majority of these centered around “bad” men and that seemed to somehow be “hot” at the time, because I was offered a book contract by a large publisher. I declined because I wasn’t sure this was how I wanted to enter the publishing world. Over time, I became less attached to those stories, so I shelved them. How much did a 26-year-old, semi-woke dude really know about the subject of bad men? Less, I realized, than every woman around me. That said, there was some good writing in those, and some interesting subjects. I don’t care enough to try rewriting them, but it was a good set of questions for my brain to ask itself.

Anyway, this writer asks herself if and when self-censoring is a good thing. Should we hold back at all? My answer is “no,” but it’s no on a broader scale, and with caveats. We shouldn’t hold back writing our own truths, but we should do enough research and due diligence to know whether what we’re saying is worth saying, and take enough time to know whether these “truths” are “of the moment” or actual truths that are core to our lives. Both of these considerations will affect whether I write something, and subsequently whether I choose to publish it.

Five or ten years back (what years is this?), I got deeply in to Frederick Seidel and spent some time investigating my thoughts on what he was doing by writing in response. It was a good thing for me to do, processing as I was the shitshow of toxic masculinity being revealed around me, but ultimately, those poems were for me, not publication. I’m not self-censoring by doing this, I’m just acting as any artist once the work is done: as curator. None of it met my standard at the time or since. So off it goes into the nothings.

The realisation that my poetry and prose might get read often clips my wings, perhaps for good reason. But I question if my internal editor keeps me safe or suppresses me. As a rule of thumb, I tend not to post anything on social media that might paint me in a bad light with my boss, parents, friends or the public. Sometimes, the same mantra is harder to apply to my writing.

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