Writer Resistance – Roxane Gay

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Roxane Gay

According to Wikipedia, that most questionable but oh-so-convenient source of information, Roxane Gay is – among other things – “an American feminist writer, professor, editor and commentator … associate professor of English at Purdue University, [and] contributing opinion writer at The New York Times ...”

She is also, apparently, a champion for writers who want to stand up for their beliefs, even in the dog-eat-dog world of publishing.

Gay is perhaps best known for her NYT bestselling essay collection, Bad Feminist. But, she came across many new readers’ radar (mine included) in January when she pulled her upcoming book, How To Be Heard, from Simon & Schuster after learning that the company’s TED imprint, Threshold, had also signed to publish Milo Yiannopoulos’ book, Dangerous.

For those not familiar with Yiannopoulos, he is described in a related Washington Post article as a, “Greek-born, British writer who thrives on the publicity he generates by being outrageous. His incendiary and racist remarks about “Ghostbusters” actress and Saturday Night Live comedian Leslie Jones on Twitter got him permanently banned from the platform in July 2016.” They also note that, “His caustic viewpoints on women, minorities, Muslims and immigrants have made Yiannopoulos a de-facto mouthpiece for the ‘alt-right’ movement, short for alternative right, a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state.”

In a January statement to Buzzfeed, Gay explained her stance and how it was her “putting my money where my mouth is.”

And to be clear, this isn’t about censorship. Milo has every right to say what he wants to say, however distasteful I and many others find it to be. He doesn’t have a right to have a book published by a major publisher but he has, in some bizarre twist of fate, been afforded that privilege. So be it. I’m not interested in doing business with a publisher willing to grant him that privilege. I am also fortunate enough to be in a position to make this decision. I recognize that other writers aren’t and understand that completely.

Yesterday, Simon & Schuster cancelled Yiannopoulos’ book deal. The publisher reportedly made the decision in response to statements Yiannopoulos made about pedophilia on a conservative radio talk show.

Gay posted a reaction to the publisher’s change of heart on her Tumblr:

In canceling Milo’s book contract, Simon & Schuster made a business decision the same way they made a business decision when they decided to publish that man in the first place. When his comments about pedophilia/pederasty came to light, Simon & Schuster realized it would cost them more money to do business with Milo than he could earn for them. They did not finally “do the right thing” and now we know where their threshold, pun intended, lies. They were fine with his racist and xenophobic and sexist ideologies. They were fine with his transphobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. They were fine with how he encourages his followers to harass women and people of color and transgender people online. Let me assure you, as someone who endured a bit of that harassment, it is breathtaking in its scope, intensity, and cruelty but hey, we must protect the freedom of speech. Certainly, Simon & Schuster was not alone in what they were willing to tolerate. A great many people were perfectly comfortable with the targets of Milo’s hateful attention until that attention hit too close to home.

.I share this story because I think there are several things we can learn from it and, specifically, from Gay’s words and actions.

First of all, freedom of speech must exist for everyone, even those whose opinions we find abhorrent. Censorship is not advisable as a solution because silencing any voice opens the door to silencing all voices. (Personally, I wish that more individuals and news institutions would stop providing free press and air time to people like Yiannopoulos, but that is – perhaps – an opinion for a different post.) We can, however, find other ways to condemn and cripple hate speech and oppression in all its forms. Gay’s choice to pull her book from the publisher was a powerful way for her to a) exercise her will in the situation, and b) bring wider attention to the story.

I also think there is something important about how far Yiannopoulos had to go before Simon & Schuster drew the line. I haven’t had time to fully digest what it means that, as Gay points out in her Tumblr post, the publisher was willing to look past all kinds of offensive opinions until pedophilia was in play. It makes me think of the quote from Martin Niemöller that begins, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.”

Finally, I believe that artists – including writers – must very often play the role of canaries in the coal mine. While it is not mandatory that every creative endeavor carry the weight of political opinion, I believe history will show us again and again that artists are often the first line of defense against forces of oppression, in all their hideous forms.


Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Weekend Edition – Battling the Writer’s Inner Critic

Illustraion by Zeeksie

Illustraion by Zeeksie

You know about your inner critic, right? It’s that unkind voice in your head, the one that belittles, discourages, and disparages, the one that tells you what you can’t do, how untalented you are, and why you will never (ever) accomplish anything worthwhile.

I think we writers have it tougher than most when it comes to the inner critic. After all, we are storytellers with fertile imaginations. Our writer’s minds conspire against us by bringing our inner critic to life with personality and character. We endow this internal naysayer with a sharp wit and give it all the best lines of dialog. And, perhaps most damaging, as if it weren’t bad enough that we allow our inner critics to unleash such venom in our minds, we also give them free reign to serve up near-spontaneous visions of a bleak future brought on by all our shortcomings.

Let me give you an example.

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I have been paying more attention to my inner critic lately – not so that I might heed her words, but so that I might notice when she starts sniping at me (and, therefore, have the chance to counteract her negative influence). Sadly, I’ve come to realize that she attacks far more often than I ever consciously knew – pretty much every time I sit down to write. (The only writing space that seems safe from her derisive commentary is my morning pages, but all my client work and blogging appears to be fair game.)

The other day, for instance, I was working on a piece for a client when her voice (which sounds, confusingly, very like my own voice) began pecking at me. “You have no idea what you’re doing,” she said. “You’re just making this up as you go along, and they’re eventually going to figure that out.” I wavered, my fingers poised over the keyboard in doubt. Despite the fact that I’ve been successfully earning my living  as a freelance writer for almost a decade, her words made me stumble. Despite the fact that the assignment I was working on was one in a long string of similar assignments (each and every one of which had been very well received), faltered and wondered if maybe this was it – this was the point at which I was going to crack and it was all going to fall apart.

And that’s when my writer’s mind really went to work on me.

My inner critic’s voice faced only to be replaced by vividly depicted scenes of my downfall. In the space of only a few seconds, I had played out multiple scenarios that began with my being fired and ended with me losing my house. These lurid daymares branched out in a dozen directions at once to include scenes of loss and shame and grief: having to tell my daughter we were moving again, having to quit riding, having to take a 9-to-5 job and not being there for my daughter after school, my ex-husband gloating. I experienced it all as my fingers hung over the keyboard, frozen in terror at the prospect of such possible futures that all now appeared to hang in the balance of the next sentence I was about to write.

No wonder I felt blocked!

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book self-talkOne of my dad’s favorite books is a little self-help number that was published back in the 80s. What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter is something of a cult classic in certain circles. And, while Helmstetter’s “self-talk” approach to self-improvement may call up visions of SNL’s Stuart Smalley earnestly reciting affirmations into the mirror (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”), I do believe there’s a lot to be said for retraining your inner critic, or – as Helmstetter puts it – “reprogramming” your brain.

Again, as writers, this concept shouldn’t be all that foreign. We know the power of words. We understand how real a story can become in our minds, the way a writer can create an entire world and characters so real that we feel like we know them personally. A well-rendered story can make you laugh out loud or bring you to tears in very much the same way a Real World experience can inspire the same outward display of emotions.

It’s no different with the stories you tell yourself in your head.

no spoonIf you let your inner critic hammer home the same “story” over and over and over again, you’ll start to believe it. You will embrace it. Own it. Become it. That is not a good thing. Your inner critic is not looking to help you succeed. If you listen to those tall tales and believe them, you’re seriously handicapping your ability to accomplish your goals. Think of it like The Matrix – your thoughts create your reality. (“There is no spoon.”) I know it sounds totally SciFi and maybe a little crazy, but Real Science has proven the truth of this over and over again. The power of our story-driven minds is immense. Honestly, we don’t give it enough credit.

Take something as simple as the way thoughts can trigger physiological reactions. You watch a scary movie and your heart rate goes up. You’re worried about an interview and you get nauseas. You have a nightmare and break out into a cold sweat. You anticipate a kiss and go weak-kneed with butterflies in your stomach. You think about the delicious ice cream you’re going to have and start salivating. All of these instances are examples of thoughts manifesting as physical reactions – words in our heads causing things to happen in the Real  World. How hard is it to extrapolate from this point to understanding that the stories we tell ourselves  (“I’m a bad writer,” “I’m lousy at saving money,” “I’m fat.”) also manifest in the Real World?

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Defeating your inner critic may not be easy. In fact, it may not be possible at all. The truth is, our inner critic is part of who we are. I tend to think that if exorcising it entirely is how sociopaths are made. But, that doesn’t mean we have to give credence to every word that comes out of it’s mean mouth. I like the approach Amy Poehler describes in her memoir, Yes, Please.  In this passage, she’s talking about how her “demon” used to make her feel bad about her appearance, but I think the same approach makes sense for writers whose demons are belittling their creative efforts.

“Hopefully as you get older, you start to learn how to live with your demon. It’s hard at first. Some people give their demon so much room that there is no space in their head or bed for love. They feed their demon and it gets really strong and then it makes them stay in abusive relationships or starve their beautiful bodies. But sometimes, you get a little older and get a little bored of the demon. Through good therapy and friends and self-love you can practice treating the demon like a hacky, annoying cousin. Maybe a day even comes when you are getting dressed for a fancy event and it whispers, “You aren’t pretty,” and you go, “I know, I know, now let me find my earrings.”

That seems like a pretty healthy self-talk conversation to me.

 

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P.S.  I know it’s only been a month since I said I was going to take a sabbatical from my Saturday posts, but somehow the “shorties” I keep meaning to write to accompany the Sunday reading & writing links keep outgrowing their intended word count. I’m not committing one way or another about Saturday posts, but I felt this one deserved a little space, so … here it is. Maybe that’s the best approach for the weekends: Don’t overthink. Don’t over plan. Just do what feels right.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Resistance

I’m listening to the book, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne, and I find it very interesting. Mr. Pressfield talks about the resistance every artist has to manage in order to get his or her work done in the world. He equates resistance with fear, self-doubt, self-sabotage and every other thought, belief, feeling, or action that stops us from getting to work.

While listening, I started to think about Deborah’s recent post to this blog: Be Boring, and Julie’s response post, A Different Color Refrigerator.

It struck me that Deborah “combats” her resistance to her creativity by cultivating an orderly life that allows her plenty of time to write. Julie deals with her resistance by cultivating a multi-faceted but balanced life that includes writing.

How do I deal with resistance? Mostly by managing my mind. Starting with the old saying, “The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.”

When I let my mind go wild, thinking fearful thoughts about my work in the world and my writing, I get nothing done.

Who can get anything done when they are thinking thoughts like these?

  • I don’t have time to get anything done.
  • I have nothing to say.
  • No one wants to hear what I have to say.
  • This is drivel.
  • Why bother when so many others can do it better than you?

I start by questioning each thought. When I do, I find that none of the above thoughts are really true. Some of them go away as soon as I really look at them, others take a little more work.

I believed the thought: I don’t have time to get anything done, for many years. But when I examined that thought, I noticed it was ridiculous. I’m getting something done all the time, even if it’s just typing this sentence, or making a sandwich, or reading a book.

I did a bunch of experiments to see how much I could actually get done in 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or half an hour. I was continually surprised by how much work I got done, no matter how small the window of time I gave myself.

So now I routinely think: I have time to get something done.

When I manage my thoughts about my writing, I decrease my resistance (my fear) and I’m better able to sit down in the chair and write, even if I only have 15 minutes or half an hour (which is almost every day). Some days I have many 15 minutes or half-hours to write and they add up to an hour or more, but only if I use each one, rather than resisting the urge to write and squandering that time on something less dear to my heart.

How do you manage your resistance?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, physician, mother and stepmother. I’m enjoying each 15 minute segment of time that I get to spend working on my craft. Even if I do it in 15-minute increments, it will eventually add up to 10,000 hours! Check out my life coaching blog to see what I’ve come up with during some of those hours.