Recently, a slew of articles have asked if sensitivity readers act as a form of censorship.* For those not familiar with the term, sensitivity readers are consultants who advise authors about whether a story has offensive or harmful content. If an able-bodied author has a story about a disabled character, the author might hire a sensitivity reader who specializes in ableism.
At this point, you’re probably asking how sensitivity readers could possibly enforce censorship, since censorship is traditionally defined as preventing someone’s free expression, and sensitivity readers only offer advice the author paid for. What you don’t understand is that anything that might influence your writing in any way is censorship of the worst kind. Your work as an author is like unto a sacred cow, and anything that might change it is to be feared. Now that you’re properly terrified of sensitivity readers, here are six more sources of censorship that all authors must be aware of.
This first one should be obvious, really. It’s all in the name. What is an edit if not a change? And remember, any change to your work, no matter how voluntary, is censorship. Copy editors are the first great offenders, always mucking about with your sentences in the name of “clear communication” and “readability.” Who needs that? See, thiss pert wasn’t poppy edited at awl. The entire profession is clearly just an excuse to censor your art.
Developmental editors are even worse. They don’t content themselves with censoring your typos and nigh-unreadable sentences. Oh no, dev editors go straight for the jugular, changing the very heart of your story. You might have written a groundbreaking manuscript about the pointlessness of human storytelling, but then some dev editor goes in and adds a plot, of all the nerve. Or at least, they’ll recommend that you add a plot, which, as we’ve already established, is the same thing!
Both kinds of editors need to understand that when you pay for editing services, you don’t want them to censor you by suggesting changes. What you’re after is an expensive pat on the back.
2. Spell Checkers
Ugh, and I thought editors were bad. At least they have the decency to lurk in their internet caves until someone is foolish enough to summon them up. Spell checkers come at you where you live, flooding your document with squiggly red lines. You might try to ignore them, but they’re always there, watching, judging. Why can’t these evil programs just understand that any supposed typos are actually expressions of your genius?
As if censoring your spelling weren’t enough, spell checkers also have the gall to critique your grammar and word choice. This is based on the outrageous assumption that you might use “to” when you mean “too.” But that’s obviously nonsense, because authors never make mistakes. Every letter and punctuation mark is deliberate, and to suggest otherwise is clear censorship.
Fortunately, there is a solution to the spell check problem: just type your document in Notepad or some other plain text editor. No spell checkers there to worry about. Im duing it write nou, aand noe squiddly read lyne caan stope mye.
3. Other Authors
Do you read books or watch movies? If so, you’ve probably been inspired by them at some point, which feels great. While you’re enjoying your favorite piece of media, a new story idea suddenly bursts into your mind. What you don’t understand is that this “inspiration” is actually an insidious bit of censorship from other authors.
You see, your brain only has room for so many ideas. When you have an idea based on someone else’s work, it overwrites an idea you already had. Trust me, this is science. So by experiencing another author’s story, you are letting them tramp around your brain with a baseball bat, smashing your ideas left and right. Authors wage this psychic warfare on one another to silence all competition in a vicious act of censorship.
The only way to escape this problem is to avoid all other media when you’re writing. In fact, better to avoid all other media in general. You can never be sure when a bit of inspiration will lie dormant in your mind, waiting to strike. Even better, live in a dark box with no access to the outside world, just to be sure.
Some naive storytellers might tell you that pleasing readers is your overall goal, both because it lets you pay the bills and because it’s the best way to communicate your ideas. That’s nonsense, of course. The role of a reader is to passively accept whatever the writer hands down from on high, thankful for genius in any form.
Despite the obvious rightness of this role, many readers insist on having… opinions. They might not want to read your brilliant novel about a thousand-year-old vampire who is uncomfortably into teenaged girls, either because they’ve read a lot of vampire books recently or because they find the romance elements to be exceptionally creepy.
When readers insist on only buying books they like, they bring censorship to a whole new level. They would literally starve you out for writing something they don’t approve of. This is why the true author knows that readers are the enemy and avoids them whenever possible.
What I’m about to say may shock you: your cat is totally evil.* In addition to being furry little monsters who will consume your flesh if you die, cats are some of the most prolific censors in history. It may be hard to accept, but these adorable murder machines have prevented countless words from being committed to paper.
Consider what happens when you sit down to work and your cat wants attention. Does it wait politely for you to finish? Of course it doesn’t. Instead, the feline oppressor will interpose itself between you and your computer, presenting ears that must be scratched or a belly that must be rubbed.* If you give in for even an instant, your cat will bait you with ruthless purrs. It is well known that no human can walk away from a purring cat. Until your cat is satisfied, no words shall be written.
If you somehow managed to resist giving out scratches, your cat will only redouble its efforts, this time through brute force. It will step onto your keyboard, making it impossible for you to express your ideas, the penultimate censor. Oh no, Mythcat has spotted me expressing myself and will have none of that! It’s stepping onto my keyboard and hwuehgfwuhwuhewuhwqfeu.
6. The English Language
Okay, now that Mythcat is satiated, I want you to imagine a form of censorship so terrible that it can render your most beautiful ideas down to an awkward series of sounds and pauses. Welcome to the horror show that is English. In this, the most restrictive form of censorship, you cannot even express yourself without first filtering your statements through an archaic system of verbs and nouns. Most of these words haven’t been changed in centuries, so how can they possibly accommodate the modern writer?
English has no word for the feeling you get when you simultaneously birth a universe from your forehead and drink a really good martini. A clever writer might try to get around this censorship by inventing a new word, like “bugudal.” But because English isn’t instantly updated across all speakers, no one knows what “bugudal” means, and your idea is again censored.
The only way to truly express yourself is to be free of language entirely. Instead, communicate all your stories through direct mind-to-mind contact. Of course, to do this you must implant telepathic receivers in every other human being on Earth, but an apocalyptic war to convert the unbelievers is a small price to pay if it means you never have to deal with pronoun confusion again.
Did that list seem ridiculous? Good. Keep that in mind the next time someone asks if a new service is censorship. Censorship is the suppression of ideas, usually by government agencies. It’s not censorship when someone asks to be treated with respect or gives advice on being respectful.
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