What You Need to Hear But Nobody Will Tell You: A Writer's Worldview and Why it Matters
As a writer, I believe in words. Words matter. They have the power to heal or destroy. They call forth identity. They inspire. They define and create context.
In this age of social media, where emotions run high and message clarity dims, it has never been easier to cast stones. Half-baked opinions are instantly published for 642 (so called) friends to like, agree, or disagree at will. Being right is a matter of eliciting the most sympathy comments and hand clapping emojis.
For all of this limitless access to information and self-publishing efficiency, I don’t see individual worldview becoming clearer—just more conforming and emotional. (The millions of likes, shares, and angry comments on fake news articles are a testament to this.)
About a year ago, my inner alarm bell started going off. I began to wonder how this lack of critical thinking and trend of ultra-sensitivity is affecting writers ability to write without fear of censorship.
Yes, we need to be wise. Yes, we need to be respectful. Yes, we need to be well versed. That is a given as far as I'm concerned. But at what point do we give the hard issues such a wide berth that we are essentially avoiding them all together? Are we becoming afraid to exercise our freedom of speech for the sake of sensitivity?
If the answer is yes, then we are doing a disservice to ourselves, our craft, our readers, and posterity.
A view of the world through a hole in a nutshell
A worldview is the philosophy that an individual uses to define reality, make sense of life, and the world. Whether conscious or subconscious every person has some type of worldview. It is what we believe. It is the impetus behind our decisions, emotions, family structure and faith.
The world is vast and we only get to experience a little bit of it. Before we shout our own worldview from a soapbox, we must be compassionate and respectful toward the people with other world views—knowing that they have those views for a reason (whether personal, cultural or otherwise). It would be ignorant to assume that my worldview is the only one and/or the most important.
That being said, you still need to write what you know. By writing your worldview you are being authentic and vulnerable. If you don’t share your worldview for fear of being judged, turned down, labeled, seen as irrelevant, or politically incorrect, well, then that’s an insecurity that you need to address within yourself.
Hop on the Maddening Carousel of Sensitivity!
Is it just me or is everyone hyper-sensitive these days? Sensitivity is the new black (as in black clothes—because black clothes are always in. Gosh, why do I feel like I have to explain that?)
With gaining rapidity, I meet writers who feel cornered and confused. They are hiring sensitivity editors prior to submitting to agents. (Yes, sensitivity editors are a real thing!)
When I learned about that my face screwed up like a baby after her first spoonful of prune purée. Uk!
I think what these writers are looking for is legitimacy. They want to feel that they aren’t harming anyone. I get that. I’m all about that. But legitimacy isn't going to come from a sensitivity editor. Sorry. It’s just not.
So how can we have both? How do we have legitimacy, worldview, and story?
Research, research, research!
Research is the heart that will give your story its pulse. It is everything.
Take NYT Bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden as an example.
How does a white, American male from Tennessee write a first-person novel from the perspective of an orphan girl growing up in 1930’s Japan and make it seem real?
Well, Golden lived in Japan, threw away three drafts, had the once in a lifetime opportunity to interview a real geisha, and researched for somewhere around twelve years. Golden got letters from fans asking for him to pass their compliments on to Sayuri. But, of course, she’s not real, Golden made her up.
But he immersed himself in the culture so that he understood how a girl like Sayuri might think and why she might think that way. She was real to me. I understood her--even loved her. That is writing another worldview at its finest.
If you're writing about a culture outside of your own experience then interview as many people as possible, take a voice recorder with you, ask tons of questions, but for goodness sake don’t write and then pay someone to cross off all the insensitive words! If you’re going to write authentically, then do so. Write what is TRUE even if it doesn’t sound politically correct.
The rich soil of worldview
Fiction is one of the most interesting ways to explore worldview. For three hundred or so pages, we get to step into the shoes of a character and look out through their eyes; we become a Japanese orphan (Memoirs of a Geisha), a millennial cancer patient (Fault in Our Stars), an African American in the 1930’s south (The Color Purple), a marooned Native American (Island of the Blue Dolphins), a Nazi youth and a blind French girl (All the Light We Cannot See) and the list goes on and on.
"You can't judge a man until you walk a mile in his shoes." In a way, by reading fiction, we get the opportunity to walk a mile and try to understand what it might be like.
I want to be one of the enduring writers of our age, don’t you? Don't you want to write a book that people want to read again and again and continue to pick meaning out of it? Don't you want to be profound?
This requires risk.
If we write afraid, we won’t inspire courage. If we write censored, we won’t set people free. If we listen to that judgmental voice whispering in our ear, our words will just be another drop in the rain barrel.
So crack open your laptop, write from your heart, and ignore any nonsense that makes you feel like you have to conform. You are you. Be the you-iest you can be!
Have you ever felt trapped by social expectations or that you have to think a certain way in order to be legitimate? Have you ever been unjustly labeled? I'd love to hear about your experience!