Tag Archives: writing

Off the Shelf and Into the Closet: The “Ed Scare” and the LGBTQ+ Book Banning Crisis

Those in the literary community have likely paid close attention over the past year to the sharp uptick in the number of banned books across the country—the American Library Association reported over 300 challenges in the last three months of 2021 alone —largely focused on diverse books written by and featuring LGBTQ+ people and people of color. In April 2022, a well-known picture book Everywhere Babies written by Susan Meyers and illustrated by Marla Frazee, “was featured…among dozens of works recently targeted by an advocacy group called the Florida Citizens Alliance, which cited the picture book in a report identifying ‘extremely age-inappropriate and pornographic books…in the K-12 classroom.”

Readers familiar with Everywhere Babies are likely shocked at its inclusion on a list targeted for pornography as the book contains no nudity or sexual content and rather is full of illustrations of infants and families going about their mundane, everyday lives. On its face, there’s nothing remotely pornographic about the book, but it seems depictions of same sex couples within the pages are enough to warrant outcry more than twenty years after its publication. This mild representation of diversity seems to be the reason for the ban and is the latest, and one of the most extreme, examples of the “Ed Scare” currently targeting children’s literature.

Coined by PEN America, the term “Ed Scare” refers to the growing rise in censorship efforts, book challenges, bans, and legislative efforts targeted at curriculum and classrooms that overall impact free speech while creating a rampant and pervasive environment of homophobia and racism. According to a report from PEN America, “Between January and September 2021, 24 legislatures across the United States introduced 54 separate bills intended to restrict teaching and training in K-12 schools, higher education, and state agencies and institutions.” While legislatures across the country have also been targeting books with racial diversity for teaching so-called “critical race theory,” the scope of this essay will focus primarily on the impact and consequences of LGBTQ+ book bans and challenges and the role the literary and publishing community plays with regard to the bans.

Important in the context of the rise in LGBTQ+ children’s book bans and challenges is the ensuing political backlash against the queer community, much of which is playing out in schools and within the literary community.

As of February 14, there are at least 177 anti-LGBTQ state bills proposed across the country; 69 of those are anti-LGBTQ school policy bills. State and federal legislation targeting LGBTQ education in schools typically takes one of three forms: bans on books and materials, “Don’t Say Gay” bills targeting LGBTQ conversation in school and bans on “Critical Race Theory” that also prevent teachers from discussing discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

GLAAD – “Media Guide: Reporting on Book Bannings and School Censorship”

Thus, book banning bills are undeniably tangled with larger political efforts to suppress and erase the LGBTQ+ community like bathroom bills and the recent “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”

LGBTQ+ children’s book bans don’t simply remove an offensive title from a classroom or library but have far-reaching effects. With LGBTQ+ book bans in particular, there is an increased risk of violence and self-harm as, “The rise in efforts to ban specific topics from school libraries—largely books about LGBTQ people and race and racism—is inextricable from longstanding efforts by extremist groups to increasingly use schools as a political battleground, including more than 170 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed in state legislatures in 2022.”

Despite the ongoing “Ed Scare,” LGBTQ+ children’s books play a critical role in the wellbeing of all children by exposing young readers to diverse viewpoints, teaching them empathy, and reflecting their identities back to them. Because of this, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, those in the literary community including authors, parents, educators, and publishers must work to protect LGBTQ+ children’s books and the queer community as a whole. This essay will examine the history of book bans, LGBTQ+ book bans in the modern political context, the consequences of banning LGBTQ+ children’s books, and what can be done to protect LGBTQ+ children’s literature.

A Brief History of Book Banning

As the latest wave of LBGTQ+ book bans come to a head citing obscenity or inappropriate sexual content, it’s important to understand the historical and legal precedent for challenges to literature. According to Brady, “arguments over obscenity—how it’s defined and how that definition relates to the First Amendment—have been at the heart of banned-book controversies throughout the 20th and 21st centuries,” likely since the banning of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the first book in the United States to experience a national challenge due to its abolitionist content.

Roughly two decades later, “a carping moralist government official named Anthony Comstock convinced the United States Congress to pass a law prohibiting the mailing of ‘pornographic’ materials.” Comstock’s broad definition of the term pornography would have lasting legal implications for nearly 75 years until 1957 when Roth vs. The United States redefined obscenity and placed importance on creative expression and intent behind art. This ushered an era of free expression and sexual liberation in the 1960s and ‘70s that was soon met with a wave of conservative backlash and censorship during the Reagan presidency, leading to the first Banned Books Week in 1982.

Banned Books Week hadn’t yet existed for a decade before the publications of Heather Has Two Mommies, written by Leslea Newman and originally illustrated by Diana Souza, and Daddy’s Roommate written and illustrated by Michael Willhoite, two of the first and most seminal LGBTQ+ picture books for children that simply depicted normal children with happy same sex parents. While publishing today has worked to make room for diverse authors and stories, Newman faced roadblocks and rejection when she initially tried to publish Heather and ended up crowdfunding and self-publishing the first printing of the book before it was reprinted by a small LGBTQ publisher. Unfortunately, Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate became some of the most banned books in America in the 1990s. “By the time 1999 rolled around, the American Library Association had ranked it No. 9 on its most banned-books list, with Daddy’s Roommate coming in at No. 2. For perspective, the titles were higher on the list than J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Madonna’s graphic coffee table book Sex.” While Newman and Willhoite paved the way for other queer children’s book authors, their books also predicted the challenges to come for future LGBTQ+ children’s books.

LGBTQ+ Book Bans in the Modern Era

There’s a sad but direct lineage from Heather Has Two Mommies to the infamous picture book about a penguin with two dads And Tango Makes Three written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole which “…caused quite a stir when it was published: it topped the American Library Association’s list of challenged books in 2007, 2008, 2009, and reappeared again in 2011…” While challenges to LGBTQ+ children’s books have never gone away, the recent uptick of the “Ed Scare” movement is different in both number and overall political fervor. 

What makes modern-day book banning so stark and alarming is not the banning itself, though the sheer number of challenges is noteworthy. While the aforementioned 330 challenges the ALA reported between September and December of 2021 “is an increase relative to the same months in prior years…the figures are most likely an undercount, as teachers and librarians are often afraid of the consequences of reporting censorship campaigns.” The consequences of the bans will be discussed in more detail later, but it’s important to note that censoring a book never removes the title alone, but has numerous ramifications, including the emotional welfare of teachers and librarians who do not want to lose their jobs. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that challenges and bans targeting LGBTQ+ children’s books are steadily and scarily on the rise.

Yet while this uptick is of note and unsettling, bans are nothing new—historians note that censorship and challenges have coexisted alongside publishing throughout time. Rather, it’s the multi-pronged political attack on the larger LGBTQ+ community utilizing children’s books and education with little logic or evidence to back up the bans that feels startling. For example, Leah Johnson’s You Should See Me in a Crown made a list of obscene books under investigation in Oklahoma, despite the fact that her novel is hardly obscene, containing mild profanity and a brief same sex kiss. These nonsensical bans—which generally are not tied to the text itself—are instead linked to the broader movement to restrict and remove civil rights from the LGBTQ+ community through the educational setting. To wit, in November 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered his state education and library boards to originate statewide standards that would keep pornography and obscene content from entering Texas classrooms, which many saw as a homophobic dog whistle to target LGBTQ+ literature. However, other states have proposed even more disturbing and invasive bills that seem intended to surveil LGBTQ+ students and parents, like Arizona’s HB 2011 which:

…amends the state’s law requiring parental permission for sex education to cover student participation in LGBTQ clubs. Schools now must ‘seek consent’ from parents if a student attempts to join a club ‘involving sexuality, gender or gender identity’; it also requires that schools provide the group’s charter to parents as part of the permission process.

Vox – “Why Book Banning is Back”

In short, educational Pride organizations, a traditionally sacrosanct safe space for LGBTQ+ teens and young people, are now under threat, too. School board members have even gone so far as to advocate for burning banned books to ensure total eradication of content they deem to be unseemly, an image many associate with fascist Nazi Germany. Of course, those who live within a marginalized experience know their communities cannot be censored away or erased, but while schools are supposed to be a safe haven for children, the “Ed Scare” breaks the foundational trust in the classroom between the administration and students and most importantly removes access to books and literacy for young readers at a critical age.

On the whole, these political efforts amount to state-sponsored censorship of the LGBTQ+ community, beginning with children’s books. Even more upsetting, those who control the levers of power have little understanding of the community they seek to control through the texts they challenge and ban. This indifference to understanding the subject matter presents a fresh challenge for literacy and free speech advocates.

Previous banning movements did not overtly concentrate on race, aim to empty libraries, or associate so closely with one political party. The people behind these movements prided themselves on their direct familiarity with the explicit contents of that which they wished to ban (or even burn). They used their literacy in their brazen efforts to control the uses of others’ literacy. Today’s banners and burners, by contrast, are the new illiterates, achieving a rare historical distinction.

Publishers Weekly – “The History of Book Banning”

Driving this point home, six of the top ten most challenged books in 2021 were LGBTQ+ children’s books banned for being sexually explicit despite lacking pornographic content. Even more frustratingly, the latest book bans have fallen on the legal definition of obscenity to remove objectionable texts but may not be within the legal right to do so. “Since 1973, this has almost exclusively been understood as visual hardcore pornography. It’s nearly impossible for a book to be obscene.” Instead, obscenity and pornography function as dog whistles and synonyms for any kind of queer subtext, desire, or joy that is objectionable. Conflating obscenity and pornography with queerness at large is at the very least fear-mongering and at the worst a gross false equivalency. Most frustrating of all, the politicians who seek to ban LGBTQ+ books claim to have children’s best interests at heart, but instead harm those they allegedly seek to protect.

This willful lack of engagement with the discourse at hand is evidence of the sinister and pernicious thinking that impacts those in the LGBTQ+ community. The painful irony of the “Ed Scare” is that LGBTQ+ authors understand just how much power words have, regardless of the ignorance or intent behind them. The underlying commonality in the ongoing political effort is the assumption that queerness can be taught, a central tenet of conversion therapy (i.e. if someone can be led astray to homosexuality, they can be converted back to heterosexuality). As a result, intentional or not, the LGBTQ+ “Ed Scare” has an underlying sinister, deadly ideology rooted in conversion therapy that seeks to control young queer children, a framework that is proven to be violent, harmful, and ineffective.

“The architects and infantry of this latest moral panic have no interest in the platitudes they spout about sexualizing children, nor do they have the range to honestly discuss the content of the books they despise. Theirs is a campaign of hate, bent on erasing queer lives so they can bully more vulnerable kids into being “normal” heterosexuals and make it easier to abuse them at the first sign of rebellion.”

Them. – “Queer Book Bans Aren’t About Books At All”

While LGBTQ+ book bans are rooted in a moralistic agenda to protect children, regardless of the true intentions, that’s the last thing these challenges are accomplishing. If lawmakers wanted to protect children, they would provide equitable access to information and books about a diverse range of experiences and identities, allowing children to explore and navigate their perspectives and worldview in their own time. Instead, “What matters to them is controlling the information their children have access to—ostensibly to keep them safe and ‘innocent,’ but in truth, it’s because they think that if kids don’t know about LGBTQ+ identities, they won’t form one. It’s conversion therapy-by-ignorance.

This is particularly dire with literature targeted for younger age categories like picture books where parents view themselves as more in control over their children’s education and identity, regardless of whether a child has begun to explore their LGBTQ+ identity. Young readers may be the most impacted by the bans as, “Children are often aware of their sexuality and gender at an early age, and there are increasing numbers of families with same-gender parents. Representation of these identities and families is critical for building healthy perceptions among youth.” As a result, LGBTQ+ children’s book bans can have tragic consequences.

The Consequences of Banning LGBTQ+ Children’s Books

To understand the future implications of LGBTQ+ children’s book bans, we can look to the prominent psychological theory, social learning theory, by psychologist Albert Bandura which says that children learn and encode behavior through observational learning. A child’s behavior will be either negatively or positively reinforced through direct interactions with a parent or role model, or the child will receive vicarious reinforcement by witnessing positive or negative reinforcement of a similar behavior on someone else. Per social learning theory, with regard to children’s literature, the impact of LGBTQ+ books works twofold: if children have positive role models in the form of picture books, authors, illustrators, and educators, their own identities or experiences will be positively reinforced and they will develop positive self-images; but if these texts are banned or erased, visible role models outside of texts may be harder to find, and a young LGBTQ+ reader’s identity may be negatively reinforced, leading to a negative self-image.

For young children, particularly LGBTQ+ children who are at increased risk of self-harm and violence, removing books from schools and libraries that represent their identities is negative reinforcement in action. According to The Trevor Project, at least one LGBTQ+ youth attempts suicide every 45 seconds. Bandura’s social learning theory draws a direct link between the “Ed Scare” book bans and the impact of the loss of these texts on LGBTQ+ children. Without the opportunity to positively reinforce and encode behaviors through peer models in LGBTQ+ books, children are left to internalize the rampant negative reinforcement of homophobic book bans and laws. “The young…face the greatest threat to intellectual and psychological development. That danger is most severe for the racially and gender diverse, who see themselves being erased or banned.” Without access to LGBTQ+ representation in books, queer children immediately internalize, or per Bandura, encode, the homophobia of the bans and interpret the language directed at LGBTQ+ books and authors–obscene, pornographic, inappropriate—as directed at them.

This negative reinforcement extends beyond childhood, however, as the effects of the bans are felt by parents, educators, librarians, and the authors themselves, which children in turn witness and encode. Take for example the case of Call Me Max, an early reader written by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Luciano Lozano about a young boy beginning his social transition on his first day of a new school year. When a young student in Utah brought Max to share with his class, the school’s storytime program ended in an overall bid to censor further “inappropriate” books brought from home. Lukoff wrote about the pain this decision caused him as an author and a trans person:

When I watch these school board meetings or read the bills introduced to penalize librarians for their collections, I see bloodlust barely disguised as civility. I see the veneer of due process peeling around the edges of genocidal fantasies. I see Jay, and his peers, and his adult counterparts like myself, twisted from human beings into points of rhetoric and symbols of societal degeneracy.

“My Children’s Book Was Challenged in Schools”

Lukoff’s emotional recounting of the experience is vivid and serves as an important reminder of real world consequences of book bans beyond a title leaving a classroom. With the LGBTQ+ “Ed Scare,” censoring books functions as censoring the larger LGBTQ+ community which can do irreparable harm, especially for children. Research shows that LGBTQ+ youth are more at risk for serious mental health issues relative to their cisgender and straight counterparts, making the “Ed Scare” all the more dangerous.

…in their urgent zeal to “protect” children from the “evils” of homosexuality and genderaffirmative care, conservatives are proactively endangering queer and trans children. Decades of research have established the link between negative social environments and poor LGBTQ mental health, and the link between allowing kids to safely express their sexuality and gender identity and positive mental health.

Vox – “The Right’s Moral Panic Over ‘Grooming’ Invokes Age-Old Homophobia”

Therefore, it’s no exaggeration to say LGBTQ+ affirming children’s books that show a safe, loving, and accepting world can save lives. LGBTQ+ children’s books can also be an emotional education for young readers who may not otherwise know diverse identities exist and simply need to learn how to be accepting and tolerant in order to avoid growing up hateful and ignorant.

Furthermore, bans and challenges ignore historical queer subtext in literature. While there are countless examples of LGBTQ+ protagonists in modern day children’s literature, that was not always the case. For many years, young LGBTQ+ readers instead created their own subtextual queer canon, sometimes with characters that were written to be interpreted as LGBTQ+ by their authors. Characters like Caddie Woodlawn, Pippi Longstocking, and Harriet the Spy were depicted as “tomboys” and have been adopted as unofficial lesbian icons. Picture book characters like Ferdinand, a bull who doesn’t want to fight and thus rejects masculine norms, and Frog and Toad, have also been interpreted as gay or queer. Needless to say, even if explicitly queer books are removed from shelves, authors will find a way to insert queerness between the pages and readers will identify with the subtext.

What Can Be Done About The “Ed Scare”

  • Regardless of one’s relationship to the LGBTQ+ “Ed Scare,” any concerned individual can take a wide variety of steps to fight back.
  • Be a vocal supporter of LGBTQ+ children’s books and speak out against censorship online and in your community.
    • Share information about the “Ed Scare” on social media, educate your neighbors, or write an editorial for a local newspaper.
    • When LGBTQ+ books are challenged in your community, organize neighbors to educate them, host forums, and rally with fellow concerned citizens.
    • Visibility and numbers matter—create, sign, and share petitions in person and online.
  • Fight back on a policy level: if a book is challenged, check your school’s policies, and potentially work to change them.
  • Individuals can also provide monetary support.
    • Buy challenged books from local or independent bookstores or donate them to classrooms or libraries.
    • Request them from libraries if you cannot afford to make a purchase.
    • Partner with or donate to organizations fighting against censorship like the National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN America, and American Library Association.

  • Publishing companies need to recognize the necessity of protecting their authors as financial assets in the face of political unrest.
  • Some publishing companies like Hachette and Penguin Random House have put together online resource hubs for authors, illustrators, parents, students, educators, librarians, and other concerned stakeholders, but can do more.
  • With recent changes to advance payment structures, authors are already struggling financially. The “Ed Scare” book challenges will undoubtedly hurt author income; not every challenged book hits the bestseller list—it’s in fact quite rare. If the publishing industry can profit off of LGBTQ+ authors and readers, they in turn have a responsibility to support and protect them. Implementing standardized, equitable pay and health insurance for the authors who are most vulnerable would be a way to protect publishing’s assets.
  • Publishing could also do more political lobbying and recognize that there may be an immediate short-term loss in sales from conservatives while sustaining a long-term win for future legal precedent over censorship in books.
  • Protecting authors is a critical forward-thinking investment. For LGBTQ+ authors who are already in the business, they need to be protected for the assets they provide; for future aspiring authors, they need to see that publishers will value and protect their work in the face of political adversity.

This essay barely scraped the surface on a hugely important topic, but if the “Ed Scare has taught us anything, it’s that art has always been a medium to push forward diversity and conversations and to fight back against political hegemony, which makes literature a hotbed of censorship battles and challenges. In turn, LGBTQ+ children’s books must be protected at all costs on behalf of those who labor to create them and the queer community and readers they serve. Perhaps the plea can best be summarized by young adult author Malinda Lo, whose book Last Night at the Telegraph Club won the 2021 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

This year, schools across the country are facing significant right-wing pressure to remove books about people of color, LGBTQ people, and especially transgender people from classrooms and libraries. I urge every one of you watching to educate yourselves about your school boards and vote in your local elections. 2022 is coming, and we need your support to keep our stories on the shelves. Don’t let them erase us.

School Library Journal – “2021 National Book Award Winner Malindo Lo: ‘Don’t Let Them Erase Us'”

Lo warned of the increasing book challenges for LGBTQ+ books and authors of color when she accepted her award–three months later, Last Night at the Telegraph Club was flagged for removal in Texas.

Rock Your Writing Practice Day 6

  1. What’s the first big step you can take to achieve that success? (e.g. finish my first draft, build my daily writing habit, revise that long-shelved work-in-progress…)
    • My ultimate goal is to finish my first draft of December by the end of the year. I’ve pretty much established a daily writing habit and have had really good daily writing habits before, so I know once I get back into it, I’ll be fine. Writing every day isn’t the issue; it’s tackling the book.
  2. How can you quantify that step as an easy daily or weekly goal? (e.g. draft 500 words every writing session, work for twenty minutes every day, complete a comprehensive read-through of my project…)
    • I can pretty easily write 1,000 words in my daily freewrite sessions. If I shoot for 2-3 freewrites a week, I can write 2,000 – 3,000 words a week.
    • Additionally, on the days I don’t freewrite, if I can edit/revise for at least an hour, I can get in three to four hours of editing/revising a week.

Molly

Rock Your Writing Practice Day 4

  1. Identify what commonly causes you to procrastinate.
    • I’m incredibly deadline driven (i.e. extrinsically motivated in this regard). Because at this point my writing is entirely for myself, it is very easy to keep pushing it off, especially if I can find myself being productive in other ways (for example, cleaning, doing my taxes, etc). Additionally, because I have a full-time job, I really want to savor what free-time I have and unwind my brain at the end of the day by just binging some mindless television. Of course, writing for a little bit does help my brain slow down, but the reward is much faster with television…
  2. Learn to lessen the resistance you experience.
    • Based on reading all of the great resources at Well-Storied, and thinking through my struggles over the last year getting my work in progress going again, I think my biggest issue is not knowing how to tackle it. I’ve written a lot, but it’s a jumbled mess. I even have a pretty detailed outline, but I feel like I need to throw out a lot of what I had previously written to make everything fit. (I completely rewrote one of the main characters and revised big portions of the first act which has been a huge help, but I need to marry the good parts with the new parts now.) Each time I sit down to seriously work on this, I find it easier to write one little, fun scene that’s a one-off rather than really tackle the meaty stuff. But if I keep doing it this way, it’ll never get done.
    • It’s very easy for me to talk myself into or out of anything. But because my mental reward after a long day at work is to watch a few episodes of television, I think if I delay that by writing for an hour or so after work while I still have some energy, I will feel less lazy. (And if it’s been a truly hellish day where I don’t get home until after 8 p.m., then I can take that night off, if I need to.)
    • I also like the idea of a special reward for hitting a certain goal. I have no tangible clue of where I’m at with this book right now, word count wise or anything, but here are a few possible rewards:
      • Every 1,000 words written/5,000 words edited – 30 minute break to play on phone
      • Every 10,000 words written/edited – ice cream
      • First draft completed – one hour massageDiscover the pressure points that will motivate you to write.
    • OK. I just counted and I’ve written almost 15,000 words! That’s almost half a book. But I certainly don’t feel halfway through… The biggest priority at this point is editing and slotting what I’ve currently written into my outline.

Molly

Rock Your Writing Practice Day 3

(If you’re wondering what happened to Day 2, I didn’t publish because it was a wishlist of my writing future and seemed awfully vain to put out there for everyone to see.)

  1. What obligations and hobbies am I willing to sacrifice to make time for writing?
    • I don’t actually spend that much time with my hobbies anymore because I work so much. The bulk of my time is spent working. This year, I’m really trying to regain balance and work less overall (but still am bound to 40 hours/week and some big projects that will take me above and beyond that at times). I think I certainly need to reclaim my time away form work (for multiple reasons).
    • The main “hobby” I can give up is my weekend time when I do occasionally travel to spend time with family and friends. This will also help me save some money, so extra bonus there.
  2. How can I free up more writing time by making my everyday life more efficient?
    • I’ve already been cooking my meals on the weekends so that I have more time in the evenings freed up. I also do most of my house work on the weekends. There shouldn’t be any reason I can’t write 1-2 hours on a normal evening after work and 5-6 hours on a weekend day.
  3. How will I set clear boundaries with friends and family members so I can write without guilt or distraction?
    • I need to stop being embarrassed of the fact that I want to be a writer and tell people how I’m spending my time. Embracing this will help me embrace it overall. Once I get to the point where I’m actually setting clear goals and trying to meet them (other than just write a book), I won’t have feel guilty saying no; I’ll just have FOMO.

Molly

Rock Your Writing Practice Day 1

I signed up for Kristen Kieffer’s free email course, Rock Your Writing Practice, and am going to blog through the daily homework here as a way to hold myself accountable.

  1. In what way am I dissatisfied with my current writing practice?
    • I want my writing to be the priority in my life and take precedence. I’ve been working on the draft of my novel going on eight years. The writing process has been haphazard and highly disorganized. I need to develop a better routine to 1) actually complete it; and 2) better envision the plot as I’ve just been writing the scenes I want to write and not actually working through the plot chronologically.
  2. What does my version of an ideal writing life look like?
    • Since I currently have a full-time job (and need to keep it), I would ideally like to spend 1-2 hours an evening after work on writing in some fashion (whether it’s brainstorming, editing, free writing, plotting, etc) and 4-5 hours a day on weekends.
  3. Why do I want to pursue this version of success?
    • I eventually want to write full-time. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Storytelling is what makes me happiest. I just need to shift my current life balance in order to prioritize what I’ve always wanted to do.

Molly

Update: Writing Incentives

Some of you may remember I previously wrote about establishing a system for writing incentives here.

I started the system right after publishing that post in January. To begin with, I withdrew 20 singles from the bank and set up a plastic bucket with the words “writing bank” on it. Very official, I know.

  
The final payment system I settled on was this:

  • Post to blog:  .50
  • Daily freewrite for 10 minutes:  .50
  • Misc. work for 1 hour (writing exercises, research publications, reading, etc.):  $1
  • Write for 1 hour:  $1
  • Revise/edit/outline for 1 hour:  $1
  • Submit pitch:  $2.50
  • Submit story to journal/submit article to website/submit piece to contest: $5

I’ve finally reached the end of my initial start-up and here’s how I estimate having earned the $25:

  • 4 blog posts:  $2
  • Submitting a pitch:  $5
  • Submitting a screenplay to a contest:  $5
  • Revise/editing:  $2
  • Freewriting:  $11

Overall, the system has been satisfying mentally and financially. I withdrew the money from my checking and deposited it into my savings after I had “earned” all of it. I realize $25 isn’t much, but that also makes it more feasible to continue the system and to help continue to build up my savings, a personal goal right now as a poor grad student.

Additionally, I learned something I already knew–that my freewriting is most valuable. This is when I tend to generate new ideas or find ways out of sticky situations. Yet I still am so lazy that I dread doing it all the time. Writing for 10 minutes then going to throw .50 in the bucket makes it somehow more satisfying.

Have any of you tried a similar system? How has it worked for you? Let me know in the comments.

Molly

My Writing Resolutions

A new year means writing New Year’s resolutions for many of us. I am not one to write these, typically, though I often mentally think of them. However, this year, I did write a variety of lists, both personal and professional, in order to concretely visualize the goals I wanted to accomplish this year. They ranged from getting back on board with my vegetarianism to developing a consistent walking routine to writing every day. Below are my unfiltered writing resolutions from my journal. I haven’t looked at them since January 3.

  • Write every day. No matter what. It has to be a necessity. Like brushing my teeth. (Do that, too.)
    • It doesn’t have to be in a writing notebook. Journaling counts.
    • It doesn’t have to be 5 pages long. 1 sentence counts. 1 sentence can be everything. Ideas are good, too.
  • That said, plan times to write or you will never finish anything. Treat writing like it’s your job if you ever want it to be.
    • Come up with some sort of payment system for writing. Maybe set aside a dollar for every hour of actual work?
  • Submit some sort of something once a month.
    • Look for places to submit to once a week.
    • Use spreadsheet and update it.
  • Get a complete first draft of “December” done by 2016.

I think, overall, my resolutions are pretty doable and reasonable. So far, I have been doing OK with the writing every day, though I’m not quite there. I would say I average 2 or 3 times a week right now. However, I have developed the incentive system (discussed in this post) and it is helping with the daily freewriting and writing in general. I have yet to plan times to write aside from thinking that my free days of Tuesdays and Thursdays are days I should use. And I have yet to submit anything or prepare anything to submit. I plan to check in with these throughout the year, though, as I want to actually stick to them.

Have you developed any New Year’s writing resolutions? How have they worked out for you? Let me know in the comments.

Molly

Writing Incentives: Systems for Getting it Done

We’ve all heard the old adage that the hardest part of writing is actually writing. And how true it is. Like every year before, I am determined this year to actually write and to finish many of my started projects, submit more, and allow myself to actually be called a writer. However, I want to actually do it this year!

Since writing is not my full-time job–I attend graduate school for communication studies and teach–it’s easy to come up with excuses to avoid writing, aside from the general excuses for not doing anything that my brain easily produces at any given moment. So I’ve been thinking about developing a system to reward myself for when I actually do write and, thus, encourage myself to write more.

At first, I thought about 1 hour of dedicated writing for 1 hour of Netflix or something like that, but let’s be real, I’ll never deprive myself of Netflix, so it doesn’t really work as a reward. But one of my other goals for the year is to seriously start saving money for my post-post-grad life. So my second plan is to get some kind of jar and for every hour of dedicated actual writing, published blog post, submission, etc., put a dollar in the jar.

The other reasoning for this idea is that writing will feel more like a “real job” to me. In other words, if I have results to show for the work I’ve done, aside from nonsensical words in an insanely commented Word document, the idea of being a writer will feel far more real.

Do any of you have any similar systems? Have you tried something similar before? How did it work out? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Molly

Crossing the Line: Writing About Taboo Subjects

This spring, I took my first “official” Creative Writing class. (Arts Camp doesn’t count, right?) I figured I may as well try to take a class that was actually relevant to what I wanted to do with my life in the last semester of college. As a communication studies major, the workshop format appealed to me in that I am very used to discussing topics and ideas with professors and fellow students–we comm people love to talk. However, I quickly came to feel as though my ideas weren’t valid in the class–not due to anything our instructor did–because of the way they were received by fellow students. I was used to group discussions in my comm classes where no one could ever really be wrong. Conversely, in the workshop environment, I soon learned that writers had very clear opinions about right and wrong, even if they didn’t explicitly state them as such.

Early in the semester, before I learned to keep my mouth shut or suffer a verbal onslaught where virtually everyone in the class disagreed with me for the rest of the hour, we were workshopping a story about rape. It’s important at this point for me to tell you a few things about this story:

  1. It was initially framed as a romantic comedy type story about a couple trying to conceive. (That’s probably not really important. Just a fun fact.)
  2. It quickly veered into nowhereland when the female protagonist was literally kidnapped by a horribly disfigured man in broad daylight. Did anyone see, you ask? No, because she ran at a track with no one in the nearby vicinity except a WHITE VAN and she still willingly helped the man when he asked her to use her phone or something, despite her internal monologue along the lines of, “He looks like bad news. Oh well. I’m sure my intuition is completely wrong.”
  3. The story then flashed forward 5 years in the future. Our heroine had been held captive in the elephant man’s basement and raped on a daily basis. He also sterilized her for laughs. Because he somehow knew she wanted a baby more than anything.
  4. She finally escaped and called her husband (while still in the elephant man’s house) and he married someone else because he thought she was dead. End of story.

The author of the story, who was a woman, basically took all the worst societal tropes and myths about rape and violence against women and put them in one poorly written short story. Which I think is very dangerous.

I raised the point that the rape in it really bothered me. Now, there wasn’t a rape scene in the story–at least, not to my memory–I just thought it seemed senseless. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but my main point was that if you are going to be writing about rape, or something similarly sensitive, it has to be done with a great amount of care and thought, not just because it’s horrifying. You have to think about the audience–potential survivors of rape themselves–who may be reading it and how they would feel. You have to think about what writing about random acts of violence from random people contributes to the culture.

Of course, the people in our workshop staunchly defended the author of the piece, which is fine. I wasn’t attacking her. I wasn’t attacking anything. Except the notion of careless rape scenes, I suppose. To the instructor’s credit, he paused the discussion and asked the class if we thought there were certain subjects that shouldn’t be written about.

And thus, the subject of this post.

This is a highly contentious issue for writers. I think most writers feel like they should be able to write about everything because, well, they’re writers! The human word is their palette! Or something. But, I don’t think it’s quite as clear as that. Because words don’t just exist on the page and make pretty sentences. They have power.

It’s not my job to say what you can’t and can write about. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say there should be a black book of subjects that are forbidden. I simply think with certain topics that are obviously sensitive–sexual violence, child abuse, race, just to name a few–you have to put extra thought into why you are writing about it in the first place and whether your story needs it.

The real kicker is, the author of that story was not a survivor of rape. (Shocker. I know.) She wrote that story because being kidnapped in broad daylight by a horribly disfigured rapist is her worst fear. Sadly, she didn’t understand the logical trap she was caught in. She essentially wrote an episode of Law and Order:  SVU because she’s scared of Law and Order:  SVU. Not to discredit these experiences, of course. We all know the statistics about rape. I’m not here to remind you of that. With shows like Criminal Minds, NCIS, CSI, Law & Order, (and all varieties thereof) and even True Detective which focus overwhelmingly on female victims, the portrayal of violent, sexual crime against women is undoubtedly contributing to the culture at large. It’s a vicious cycle.

I answered our instructor’s question, whether some things should be off limits, with a yes. I said that rape, for example, should be off limits unless you are writing from your personal experience or if you are doing it for a specific reason, which, frankly, I don’t think this story was doing. (This was, of course, met with many grumbles.)

A few months later, near the end of the workshop, we were critiquing a story where the character’s race was suddenly revealed through a random racist joke by another character who implied the protagonist was Black. I actually missed it the first few times I read it. That was the only reference to it in the entire piece. It’s also important to note the author of the story was white.

At this point in the semester, I was pretty well keeping my mouth shut until specifically asked to contribute. So when the instructor asked what I thought, I said, “Is he supposed to be Black?” Everyone shrugged and nodded, nonplussed. I essentially said:

“OK, that’s what I thought. I kind of have an issue with that. I think if you’re going to mention race, especially a race other than your own, you can’t just throw it away. It has to be done with purpose. And I really don’t know if you should even be writing from the perspective of a Black character because you don’t know what it’s like to be Black. I don’t know, I just had a problem with it.”

Some people thought it was “anti-racist” because the character was so cool, which is offensive in and of itself.

But this brings me back to the main theme of this entire post, which is that writing about sensitive subjects, and writing in general, has to be done with purpose, with care, with thought, and with meaning. Or else it’s just drivel.

Furthermore, I signed up for stand-up classes in Tulsa. The first class was this past Sunday and we mostly met the instructor and talked. Much of the discussion revolved around what it’s like to do stand-up, to be a comedy writer, our various opinions on comedy theory, etc. At one point, the instructor looked straight at me and said, “Do you think there are any jokes that are out of bounds?” (It’s as if I were wearing a sign on my forehead.)

I replied immediately and said, “Yeah. Rape jokes.”

He then replied with a weird diatribe about what kind of comedy he finds to be offensive or not offensive. As he was ranting about it, I wasn’t entirely sure why he asked me. He was basically saying he wasn’t the type to make racist jokes or dead baby jokes or rape jokes and didn’t necessarily like them, but he would laugh at anything. Which I thought was an arbitrary line, but I didn’t outright have a problem with. I can’t say I haven’t laughed at racist jokes or rape jokes in my lifetime because I’m sure I have. But I certainly wouldn’t defend them. However, moments when we laugh are also moments we have to check ourselves and ask why we did laugh. Was it just the shock value? Or was it the racist/sexist/homophobe in us laughing?

As he was going on this weird diatribe, another student in the class, an older guy in his fifties asked, “Yeah, but just because you laugh doesn’t mean you support [rape], right?”

The instructor replied, “No!”

Here’s where I kind of disagree, though, I didn’t say anything. I think laughing is implicitly a form of consent. Especially when you’re a comic. If a comic bombs, they know the joke didn’t work and they don’t keep using it. But when people laugh at, say, a rape joke, they think it works and will keep it in their set. Even if you yourself aren’t a rapist, you’re overtly supporting the rape culture by laughing.

That’s my rambly thoughts on it, anyway. I suspect as a freshly minted female “stand-up”, this won’t be the last time I discuss rape jokes with a dude.

And, of course, a few minutes later, when the older gentleman insinuated that I was a prostitute because I was waiting on the street with him before the class started, I wasn’t terribly surprised. Which is kind of the whole point, isn’t it? At least our instructor found that “joke” to be offensive.

I owe a lot to a column in LitReactor by Cath Murphy for my thoughts in this post.

Molly