Monday, April 5, 2021

Morality and Creative Media: How To Be True To Yourself as an Author (Resisting Demands to Change Yourself)

Hey, it's me again. Here to discuss a hard-hitting topic that surfaces constantly not just in the writing world, but in any industry that revolves around creative content. I'm going to talk a little bit about personal morality, beliefs, and standards, and how you, as an author, can be a creative individual without compromising what you believe in. 

Morality and Beliefs - What does that mean? 

Your personal moral compass and belief system is what makes you yourself. Every day, at any given time, you are bombarded with information and data that throws ideas and perspectives and viewpoints at you with all the speed and grace of a hailstorm. For a lot of people, the guiding light of their personal morality is their religion. For those who aren't religious, their personal moral compass is governed by their chosen standards of right versus wrong, and this is what helps them make decisions in life that come up that may be difficult to wrestle with. 

In the industry of creative media, particularly in writing, there is always pressure to conform to what's popular or what's "hot." Unfortunately for a lot of writers, they may feel pressured to insert material into their books simply because they feel that it will be ascertained as mainstream morality and therefore their writing will be popular and acceptable in the eyes of the general public. 

A moral compass really is what you, as an individual, define as right versus wrong. Everybody has a different idea of what that looks like, based on their own belief system. Your belief system dictates your perspective on that subject, and let me tell you: you will be pressured to conform to lots of different things in any creative industry (like publishing), and you have to know when to draw a line in the sand. When you decide that having dignity is more important than selling a book. In the end, anyway, you will probably sell more books by being yourself than by trying to be popular by bandying about "hot" subject material. 

Authentic Writing - Unburdened Writing 

First of all, I read a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. I have often said that, even though I'm a Christian, I do not personally like to read Christian fiction. I will read Christian non-fiction until the cows come home, but Christian fiction does not do it for me. I read a pretty diverse array of young adult and adult fiction, and I personally enjoy a novel that's got white-hot romance, blistering action scenes, and a good dose of drama. I don't shy away from reading things that are out of my comfort zone, because I always want to learn from other writers and see what's out there. I teach this to my writing students constantly: if you want to become a better writer, read everything you can get your hands on, whether you like it or not. 

That being said, there are certain thresholds that I will never cross in my own writing, because of my own personal beliefs. There are two reasons for this: first, because as a Christian, I wouldn't want to write anything that is in direct conflict with God's Word, which is the very definition of truth (John 17:17). For me, what God said defines right versus wrong. The Bible provides me personally with a standard of morality that is extremely clear, and extremely easy to understand. The second reason is because I am very in touch with my reader base, and I would never want to write anything that would be inappropriate for them to share with their family members. I have been told, often, that my books are a refreshing escape from mainstream fiction. I have action, romance, drama, and mystery, but I never make it so graphic that a teenager can't pick up the book and read it along with their mom without both being traumatized in each other's presence (come on, you know what I'm talking about!!).

I believe in sticking to my moral standards when it comes to my writing, because in doing so, I am maintaining my own sense of dignity. 

I have seen a lot of instances where elements of pop culture or popular trends have been added into books where they really don't make any sense. Why? Because a lot of publishers or press relations gurus will tell you that you have to include certain things in order to be in. Well, if that's why you're including those things, you're doing it for the wrong reason. It's one thing when certain elemental content is an organic part of your story, but it's quite another when it's being forced simply to squeeze into a category or hot button topic. Never write about something just for the sake of it or to carry someone else's agenda on your back. It has to be real.

When you write, you need to stay true to your authentic self. Remember, YOUR voice and YOUR perspective is what makes your writing unique. Having certain things in a novel is not an issue for me when I'm reading - BUT it might be an issue for some people to write. It depends on that author. My point is this: NEVER feel like you have to write a certain way to tick off a box. I'm not sequestered in my house, wearing a bonnet and flinching at the girls on the street who are wearing Daisy Dukes and red lipstick. I don't care. Daisy Dukes are cool, and so is red lipstick. What bothers me is when an author or an actress or a musician changes themselves to conform to what's popular in order to fit someone else's idea of what's right or wrong.

In this society, everything is about saying the right things, posting the right articles, and virtue-signaling the correct buzzwords. If you insert fleeting elements like this into a book, it won't stand the test of time. It will be tinny and flinty and subpar. The books that stick with me, the ones that make an impression and emblazon themselves into my heart and soul, are the books where the author is unfiltered and honest. Thematic material exists for a reason. I certainly don't write Amish romance or religious prairie stories. I wouldn't want to. That's not who I am. But I would never, ever, even consider putting something into my novel just because it's trendy or because I'm told I have to in order to meet a certain societal-perceived moral standard. 

The best writing is authentic writing. True writing. Writing that is YOU. Writing that is raw and real and unburdened with pushing any kind of narrative or idea or agenda. Writing with strong stories that readers can identify with and enjoy without wondering, "What is this selling to me? What message is this sending?" Books should change you. Books should send you on a journey. Books should evoke emotion and despair and joy and love and disappointment and fear and triumph. But fiction - great fiction - should organically present morality and questions and introspective narration. If it doesn't, your readers will know. And guess what? So will you, deep down, in your heart of hearts.

How to Be Bold and Courageous 

We honestly live in a pretty vapid society. Popularity is fleeting and temporary. Social media has created a plethora of people who are literally famous for doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. When you look at brands that are created by people like the Kardashian Family, you begin to understand that anybody can be famous for being anything. This can be a great thing, and it can also be a terrible thing. 

Superstardom and success can be attained in one of two ways: Working hard and fitting a mold or working hard and going against the grain. Both include work. I would never say that anyone who is successful didn't work for what they have. That being said, it can be really intimidating to go against the status quo. I think that we hear a lot today about "being yourself," and "embracing who you really are," in today's society. It's definitely a popular idea. That's all well and fine, until somebody wants to be something that's not popular or not cool. Suddenly, that person is a target, that person is destroyed, or for lack of a better term, "cancelled." 

So, how do you find the boldness and the courageousness to not cave to what is basically peer pressure? Simply put: you just don't! I think the mistake that a lot of people make - particularly public figures - is always feeling like they have to take a stance on absolutely everything. You really don't have to. Why? Because unless you're an outright political activist, it's not always necessary (despite the popular narrative). And, despite the popular narrative, choosing to remain silent does not denote devious machinations. Silence is sometimes (and often) golden. Silence and self-control should be celebrated at times rather than mocked. 

Of course, there are going to be times when someone feels so strongly about something that they feel the need to be vocal about it - and that can be fine, if it's done in a kind way. The issue is not really about saying something, but more about personal discernment. Should you be saying it? Is it helpful? Is it kind? It is polarizing? Will you be alienating readers by saying it? Do you realize that anything you post online is permanent? Is it a subject that you might change your mind about and regret having spoken about it later? Can you prove what you're saying? Are you showing respect? Are you oversharing? Are you using your audience as a form of support or sympathy? 

These are real, genuine questions you must ask yourself because we live in a social media world. A world where it is easy to pour your guts out online and overshare. A world where sending the right socially-approved signals earns you temporary praise rather authentic dignity. 

So herein lies the question: when do you speak up, and why? These are questions that must be determined by your personal moral compass. The other question is this: how much are you willing to change yourself - or sell your soul - in order to buy a moment of success or fame? Hopefully the answer is "not at all." Yes, we live in a world where we're told to "be ourselves," but only if that self can fit into a social media campaign or tout a corporately-boosted political slogan. Then, of course, to go against the grain is to invite disdain and mockery. Which shows that authenticity is not valued at all in society, but rather discouraged. 

Don't ever compromise what you believe in. Remain open-minded and kind, but do not compromise if it's something that you know you are not willing to compromise on. Fame is fleeting. Monetary wealth is temporary. Personally, I'd rather live with less and maintain a sense of honor than to sacrifice my beliefs for the sake of popularity. Remember to stand strong and to stand firm, lovingly and kindly - but always firmly. 

Romans 12:2 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.


Mark 8:36

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?


Matthew 6:19-21

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."


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