Sensitivity readers are the cultural police, and a sure sign that the party is over.

Imagine: you are an artist and you find yourself drawn toward a certain articulation, and then someone sidles up to you, puts their hand on your shoulder, and says gravely that you cannot proceed. You ask why and the answer follows: “Your articulation belongs not to yourself, but to others; not to you, but to me.”

It turns out that in our age - the age of the sensitivity reader - all kinds of artistic configurations must be eliminated for the sake of multiplicity. By multiplicity is meant not variety, but its opposite: the maintenance of a blind replication of identities in their most static form.

The truly playful phase of postmodernism having definitively passed - giving way now to a new canon of compulsion and a monoculture of difference - the contemporary artist finds himself bound to himself, and forbidden to contemplate reaching beyond, reaching across, and reaching to the depths where all true artistic rapture is to be found.

The avowal that an individual dare not venture beyond the confines of his own identity is the anti-artistic call for him to remain forever stunted, forever locked within himself, and forever in need of the validation and gratification - fundamentally, the pre-approval - of others.

For the artist to have his thoughts admonished and prevented from reaching their end, to have them slowed down so as to comport with the physiognomy and prejudice of others, is to bar his art from anything new and to keep it trapped in a closed loop of fearful stereotypes.

That is what sensitivity readers are: the stern gatekeepers and practitioners of our most worn stereotypes. Like all dogmatists who forbid what is wrong and who enjoin what is right, the artistic guards of today’s art are the corrupt and corrupting cultural police of free creation. Like all moralists in history, they have forgotten that the lanes of good and evil are not apportioned according to type, but run through the core of each of us - and in so forgetting, they have elevated themselves above us, and now presume to decide for us what we can and cannot say and write and think.

The call to “stay in your lane” - beyond being a presumptuous breach of ordinary etiquette and an impertinent violation of basic manners - is, in the end, a call for the elimination of all art, and for the elimination of the individual as the fundamental factor of art. Theirs is art by vintage, art by category, art by canon and dogma, art by control and inheritance.

There is an antidote to this too-clean conception: when the possessors of the new precepts put their hands on you and tell you to stop creating and following your own articulation, take their hands off and keep writing. Keep creating. You may not get published, for the righteous lane-tenders now staff the ramparts of that crumbling citadel.

But that hardly matters: publication is the least interesting aspect of creation. What is interesting is what is truly new, what is truly multiple and diverse, and what, therefore, violates any kind of lane and sets itself against the breed-mentality that would seek to impose them.

In art as in life, the pre-approval of the cultural police is simply the opposite of anything that can claim to be truly free.

Make your art, and fear not the admonitions of the sensitivity readers. Their “lanes” are cul-de-sacs of sameness and conformity.

Your art is the only thing that really matters.


The view from the citadel:

The Republic of Letters would like to make a statement on the recent raft of platform expulsions and professional and social purges in social media and in what we’ll call “real life”.

Links below provide recent examples of Cancel Culture. Cancel Culture ranges across many disciplines and many different corners of life: the thread among them being the idea that “speech” of certain people, whom self-appointed of guardians of what is Correct have condemned, should be deprived of our hearing, seemingly in perpetuity.

We have watched the social media and public reaction to these events and have noted a dismal insouciance that is a sure portend of more pressure in the immediate future.

Clever people, who have forgotten how easily these prohibitions can extend to them, have contented themselves with the perfectly serviceable argument that this is not actual, technical censorship. “Not when you’re punching up, it’s not…” - being one excuse. “Not when it isn’t the government doing the censoring…” - being another.

But what is typical, and what counts as technical, in these unprecedented times of ours? In fact, it is idle to occupy a schematic position vis-à-vis censorship as it simply hand-waves away the actual, operative character of the new form of social expulsion: bottom-up, “popular”, and fueled by the whims of technical factors (the internet) that we barely comprehend, and that are not within our control.

To glibly settle upon the barren insight that private corporations can censor, and that there is therefore no issue, is to pass in silence over the obvious question: should we censor ourselves? So long as the public square remains in private hands, the entities of mass surveillance and algorithmic control (Facebook, Google, Twitter, and so forth) have every right to stifle life as best they may. But should we go along with it? Do we approve?

Those of us who have not surrendered to the Game of Narratives cannot be satisfied with philistine obfuscations. We know that these cultural expulsions, this “new” form of soft-censorship, is the very thing of old in all but name - and its newest features - its opacity, and its popular approval - are precisely the ones that seem to enhance the menace of the practice beyond the example of previous forms.

We can stand strong against these maneuvers, and counter with maneuvers of our own. We can even thrive under these pressures, and love the adversaries of free thought for their errors, because it gives us an opportunity to “come together”, as people are fond of saying, and to talk about it all - yet in the open.

We are against Cancel Culture, and all of its works, and we invite our community to affirm with us our enduring commitment to writing, to talking, and to thinking.

We take no stance, at this time, on the particulars of any of the incidents cited, but cite them in aggregate to draw attention to the macro trend of censorship.

That depends. What’s your story about? What emotions are inside the plot? What’s the backstory under those emotions?

Spring is about digging in deep and seeing what’s been hibernating, finding what we can unearth from the dirt, and caring for what grew on its own. We’re all thinking of ways we can clean up winter.

No doubt your book could use a spring cleaning too.

Every character – no matter protagonist, antagonist, or supporting – they all want something, they’re all people with goals and fears, preferences and parents. The character doesn’t need to be completely self-aware, but you, the author, need to know everything.

Now is an opportune time to organize all of your thoughts on each aspect of your book.

Consider a protagonist like a blank slate, this is so the reader can place themselves easily inside their head. The protagonist’s friends and minor foes tend to be more archetypal and colorful, they are more two-dimensional friends. Ron is funny, Hermione’s smart, Harry reacts. Harry has emotions and he is brave, but these are both reactions, as a result, he’s more three-dimensional, he’s universal, which is another way of saying that he’s empty – a blank slate – so we can relate and through the power of good storytelling, we become Harry.

Some authors outline everything from the start. Some have no idea what they’re going to write next, they let the characters talk for themselves. Whichever side of the spectrum you find yourself, a great way to simplify your writing craft is to have character portraits of all significant someones in your book. (Maybe even settings too, because a good setting is a character.)

Of course, not every character detail needs to be in your finalized book. But the more you know, the more specific the details surrounding the character will be, and the more alive the character will become.

Some questions for your portrait ::

Where did they grow up? From what class? What’s their relationship with their parents like? Are they religious? What are their principles? What are their red lines? Do they have habits? Ticks? What’s their relationship with food like? Are they in love? Are they in pain? And most importantly: What do they want? What are their dreams and desires?

Be as detailed as you like answering these questions. Ask some more even. Include whole swaths of scenes or memories. Make it a book! Include photos or cut outs of what your characters could look like. Or draw them. Such a better way to combat writer’s block than falling down internet holes.

Basically, make a stat sheet, like something you’d find in a child’s book on their favorite tv show. Because once you have a roster for yourself, it will be easy to add any details to your scenes to really bring your book to life.

I know someone who once said he took his character for a walk. He walked with their eyes and wrote down what he saw. Not a bad exercise.

If you’re looking for some more help on the topic of characters, email us. We edit with exactly this kind of stuff in mind.

If your project is already written, some of our workshops might be right for you :: Right now, we have an intensive book polishing course :: Third Trimester :: Work with three other writers to dive into each other's books, and from the depths we'll surface its weaknesses and help you find and showcase its strengths. Open to fiction or nonfiction, but prose only :: 12 weeks of gestation and growth, starts May 19th. Get that manuscript publication ready.

We also have a few slots left in our more general and ongoing Creative Writing Workshop too.

Happy writing!!

The Republic of Letters NFP

RoL is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization

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