My thoughts on Clean Reader and Censorship

This morning, I woke up with a link to this post in my Facebook feed. Wait wait wait! Before you go, be warned that Chuck doesn’t mince words and doesn’t delete expletives. Still curious? Then by all means. I’ll wait.

Back? Good.

For the TL;DR crowd:

And it’s upsetting quite a lot of writers. For good reason.

From my point of view, if profanity has been placed in books, it’s there for a reason. And no reason justifies someone changing any words in a book without the author’s consent.

End. Point. Period.

This is coming from me as an artist, being upset at other artists’ work being damaged. Yes. I’m calling this damage.

I believe that most authors publish wanting to feel like they’ve remained true to their original vision warts (and profanity) and all. Yes, that might mean that they don’t sell as many books or that their books might not be as widely popular as other books. But it’s not as bad as having rabid fans demanding books you don’t like writing.

And sometimes, I wouldn’t like the book I’m writing unless there’s profanity in it. For no reason other than the fact that if I’m writing someone like, say, a battle hardened bad-ass with scars and emotional damage, having him say: “Gosh darn son of a buck” just won’t cut it. Why?

Well this goes back to my whole belief about writing. This has come up before, and every time I DO bring it up, someone disagrees. (Which is fine. I’m lucky enough that the people who disagree with me are usually mature about it and that means we all still get along afterwards.)

To those of you who don’t know, my point of view on writing is as follows:

Fiction writers shouldn’t be expected to teach, preach, or lead anything except for (maaaaaaybe) thought. Yes, our art could do all that, but it’s not our main mandate. Our main mandate is to 1) be true to ourselves and 2) create a world and story that’s as real and visceral to the reader as possible (as determined by the story’s needs.) 

Having any effort of creating this experience for the reader to be ruined (whether they choose to do it to themselves or not), completely goes against everything we writers are supposed to do in the first place.

As Chuck said in his post, there’s a social contract between a writer and a reader. The reader has the choice of supporting our work or not. And we have the choice of putting whatever the hell we feel is necessary into it. If that means a reader or two thousand is lost as a result, so be it. But I don’t see why we’d have to stand by and have our work butchered simply for the comfort of someone who shouldn’t have bought it in the first place.

I’m not here to comfort anyone in my writing. I’m here to create stories. If you don’t like my story, go buy something else. Point. Period. The end. You as reader do not, at any point get to dictate the look, feel and dialogue of my story without my permission.

Why not? Because of what comes next. There’s a very small step between people telling writers which words are allowed in the story and telling them which types of scenes aren’t allowed in the story. Yes, here, Clean Reader is painting this as the reader’s choice. But the point is that if the reader is reading the book, he/she should be trusting that the stuff inside it is there for a reason. Because they are. 

After screwing up our books by taking out scenes, it’s a small step to banning books for having scenes and words in them in the same place. For burning them for because they were written in a way someone just didn’t like. Where exactly would this end?

Oh? Someone might say. It’s not that bad. I’m just blanking out some words. 

No. You are betraying the social contract between the writer and readers. Once you start doing that, all bets are off.

Change my story and take out any of the dark/twisted/violent/profane or otherwise *gasp* challenging to you, and you’ve destroyed hours of dedicated work that I and/or my editors, crit partners etc have put into putting the thing before your eyes in the first place.

We writers don’t expect much. We don’t expect everyone to buy our stories. Hell, we don’t even expect everyone to even like our stories. But when we do sell a book to you, we do expect you not to fuck it up. For whatever reason.

If you want to read something I’ve written that has profanity, but you don’t like profanity, suck it up. If you’re worried about your children reading profanity… get them to understand why their reading my books aren’t acceptable to you.

But you DON’T teach your children how to be censors from a young age. 

Because this is exactly what this app was originally designed to do. And if it takes… if children do take to bleeping out expletives, because they weren’t taught to respect the work, thought and time put into writing the book they’re reading… we might as well kiss our artistic expression good bye, because the rest will be sure to follow. 
It’s really that simple.