Inner Filters

Today’s Twitter question comes from @MustardSeedRisk (a journal you can find here: http://themustardseedrisk.com/) reading:

@JessicaDall Q: What is the best mindset to avoid ‘filtering’?

Now, there are a couple of different ways filtering can be used when talking about writing. First, there’s the idea of your character filtering everything that’s happening before it gets to the reader, which of course makes for slow (most of the time weak) writing, for example:

“She saw the ball falling through the air. She heard the window shatter…”

Rather than:

“The ball fell through the air. The window shattered…”

Since MustardSeedRisk asked about mindset, however, I’m going to venture to guess that they’re asking about inner filters, or feeling the need to filter yourself before you even actually write a scene, character, or entire story for one reason or another.

There are plenty of reasons to feel the need to filter your writing. You might not feel comfortable writing certain sorts of scenes; something might feel too personal to put out there, or you might be much too aware that if you get this [novel/short story/play/etc.] published/produced you’re going to have your sweet conservative grandmother reading/seeing it. With how personal writing can be, it makes complete sense that it isn’t always the most comfortable idea, writing those things down when you’re intending for other people to read it.

Now, inner filters are not always a bad thing. In the same way having a filter when out with people can keep you from losing friends, some level of filter keeps a controversial book from just being insulting. Filters become bad, however, when they keep you from actually writing a story that could be great if you could just get yourself to put it on paper.

So how can you get past those filters? Everyone has their own way of breaking through, but I can offer some suggestions.

1. Decide if the scene/character is actually necessary: Of course, this only works when it’s a part of a story that’s keeping you from writing, not the story itself, but if you have a half-finished story sitting somewhere lost on your computer or in notebooks and you just can’t finish it because it’s gotten to a point where you aren’t comfortable writing it, figure out if the scene/character you’re avoiding is actually needed. For example, my reference to Sexy Discretion Shots earlier. I’ve never written erotica, and I’m not especially comfortable writing in-depth sex scenes, so there’s no reason for me to stop writing just because I’ve come to a place where a sex scene might be called for. Just like there’s no need to put a random sex scene in a story that doesn’t call for it, there’s no need to be graphic about what’s happening if you don’t want to be. After all, if you aren’t comfortable writing about it, it probably isn’t going to be very good anyway. It’s possible to do the lead up then “fade to black” coming back in after a scene you aren’t comfortable with ends. Aren’t comfortable about having a character tortured? If it isn’t absolutely necessary, jump it. Aren’t comfortable with the language a character uses? If it isn’t necessary, cut it. Simple as that.

2. Pretend you’re only writing for yourself: Ok, you’ve looked back, and it’s completely necessary for your character to swear up a storm based on how you’ve characterized him. You’re ok with that, but you don’t want your friends/parents/children/etc. to know that you even know those words. Pretend, at least for the time being, that you’re only writing for yourself. Your eventual plan may be to publish, but for now, it’s just you and the paper. Just because something’s written doesn’t mean it has to be read. I have written stories that I only finished because I didn’t actually consider other people reading them. It was only after going back and rereading and editing that I even considered the possibility of it getting out there. If you are able to write something without worrying about other people seeing it, you’ll be able to finish the story before thinking about things you might want to change. And it’s possible at that point you won’t want to change it any more.

3. Remember you can always use a pen name: This goes back to the earlier point, if you’re filtering yourself because you have the fear of someone else reading it, you can always publish under a pseudonym. Tell those you don’t mind reading it the name, for everyone else, it can just be a book by John Doe. It’s completely under your control.

4. Have someone else look over it: Sometimes filtering comes from worrying about doing a touchy topic incorrectly more than having someone read the story in general. Perhaps you’re filtering out a character who you originally imagined as bisexual because you don’t want to be insulting, or someone with autism since all you know about that is from Rainman. That sort of filter can be good in some ways. There are certain things that people far to often over do. Just because a character is homosexual does not mean that he thinks, “Girlfriend, those shoes are fabulous,” or she only wants to wear flannel. Just because a character is clinically depressed doesn’t mean that they are automatically goth and just because a character is goth doesn’t mean they’re clinically depressed. If you aren’t comfortable with writing a character because they are X or have Y, it doesn’t mean you should completely filter yourself, it means you should have someone help you with that character. As a whole, people who are attempting to filter certain controversial topics , and push through anyway, are much more likely to end up with insulting characters since that unfilterable thing becomes all that character is. A person with a disorder isn’t their disorder, someone’s sexuality only affects with whom they have sex. If you feel a filter is affecting how you can write a character who is X or has Y, find someone to talk to and pick their brain before forcing yourself forward. Once you’re more comfortable with the topic, the filter should become less of a problem.

5. Ask yourself if this is something you really want to write: So you’ve done everything else. You’ve talked to someone with X and know how to not be insulting, you’ve determined this scene is completely necessary to the plot, you’re writing for yourself so you don’t have to worry about what other people think, and…You’re still filtering yourself. And it’s really hurting the story. At this point, you really just have to ask if this is a story you are ready and willing to write. Perhaps it’s a great story, it just isn’t something you’re comfortable with. Decide if it might not be better to just put it aside. It doesn’t have to be forever, just until you’re more comfortable with it. After all, not being comfortable with your own story and characters just makes everything sound forced anyway. You won’t have a great story if everything you write sounds forced and stilted, no matter how amazing and timely the plot. Sometimes forcing writing just isn’t worth it.

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