• R. Barrow

Yes, you can write it but...should you?

In elementary school my first love was reading. My family couldn't afford vacations so my mom always made a big deal about taking us to the library. I remember how excited I was when I knew our library day trip was coming. All the books I could carry, for FREE?!?

Eventually my passion for reading blossomed into writing my own stories. I've always been a visual person so I would cut people out of old magazines and the sales ads that came in the newspaper. I'd spend hours picking the perfect family and then write stories about their lives (back then it was mostly Sweet Valley fanfic). I never perceived the stories I had to tell could be about people that look, sound, and act like me and my biological family.

Fast forward to years later, I recognized a gap in the market for our (Black American) stories and got serious about learning as much as I could regarding publishing and improving my craft. When I tell you I have thousands of words shelved in my manuscripts Dropbox file, I mean it.

Some of those stories will never see the light of day, nor should they. Here's why. Although I don't believe in expurgating art (people throw around the term censoring but they really mean expurgating) I do understand words have power.

Thankfully I’m married to my writing critique partner and he's not afraid to check me. Like the time I wrote a story with a vodka chugging Russian mafia boss as the antagonist. Or the one about the female serial killer who only kills men. Knowing what I know now, the mafia boss fed into harmful stereotypes about Russian men. My lady killer stigmatized mental illness. Especially because there are scenes with her taking meds to stop herself from the urge to kill.

I'm giving these detailed examples of my past ignorance to show someone might mean well but we can't always see our biases. I didn't intend to offend anyone but ultimately, stories like the two I just mentioned are harmful.

Critique partners, beta and sensitivity readers should tell us hard truths and as creatives, we need to accept those truths. Feedback should be constructive not tailored to pet someone's ego or spare their feelings. How in the world are you going to survive reader reviews from strangers, if you can't even take constructive criticism from those closest to you?

No matter how clever or brilliant I thought my prose was, those stories were harmful so I decided to let them go. Again, intentions don't negate harm. Therefore in summary, can you write what you want? Yes, you can write it but should you?

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