I have read a great deal of Hemingway in my days. I recall the Hemingway book that turned me on to his writing, Old Man and the Sea. I recall hearing Hemingway say once in regards to this classic masterpiece, “The first draft of anything is shit!” I don’t think I would ever classify anything Hemingway wrote, even if it were his moniker on a used tissue as “shit”. That is because I respect the man’s work. The one thing I can attest, with Hemingway, when he was convicted of a thought, he always spoke his mind with no regard to fear of repercussion. Why should he be afraid?
That brings me to my next realization. As I look in retrospect over the past year, I consider my writing and how I walk on eggs and tiptoe around words just to protect an image — so as not to be perceived as offensive or distasteful.
Well, today is the day I say bullshit to that! I realize if I set a precedent, I must adhere to such guidelines and not sway from such things as form, style and basic mechanics. However, if I have to be ever so careful not to offend that I water down the words or the content of my composition, I feel I am doing more harm than good.
Really, in a nutshell, what does this all mean? For starters, cursing. I have been a huge proponent against profanity. However, I have come to accept some texts are enhanced by placing the dialogue in factual account and rapport we could believe to have occurred. Case in point. It is a little past closing time, 2:20 AM. An armed robbery is in progress at the local corner liquor store. The offender, armed with a sawed-off shotgun forces his way into the rear entrance of the store while the store clerk tidies up the days affairs. Before the clerk has a chance to react, the armed robber has the shotgun pointed in the clerks face. The armed robber would not politely say, “Hello store clerk, please give me your money and then if it wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience could you get on the floor.” No! The clerk would laugh hysterically while dialing the authorities. The conversation would most likely follow something such as,
“Get your hands up motherfucker… get ’em up in the fucking air now! Don’t touch a fucking thing unless I tell you to do something. You fucking understand motherfucker? DO YOU? Now… Give me the fucking money and make it quick. You so much as twitch a fucking eyebrow I’ll waste your fuckin’ sorry ass. Now… get on the floor bitch! NOW. I said move motherfucker if you want to stay alive. Stay on the floor for five minutes or I will put another asshole right between your motherfucking eyes. You fuckin’ understand me bitch?”
Which scenario is more impactful and believable? I agree! Perhaps Hemingway was on to something very basic, but very pertinent to writing when he decided not to compromise.
As an ordained Chaplain, I must say my conscience has wrestled with the dilemma of omitting or allowing profanity in my writing. Any person who has studied the scriptures knows Jesus’ disciple Peter began swearing as he denied Jesus (Matt 26: 69-74). Throughout the scripture, Peter struggled with cursing. That does not excuse me, that is only to point out that even the highest of ordained men (and women) struggle with profanity and cursing and I doubt it is a mortal sin carrying with it the sentence of eternal doom in Hell’s kitchen.
The point is, we make a big fuss out of the most irrelevant and insignificant matters. Here’s a thought (it would behoove radical religious fanatics such as Westboro Baptist Church members to heed this advice). If you are offended, do not read the material or listen to the discussion or watch the program, it’s that damned simple! It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out, when you attack a writer, a producer, or a group of people for his/her/or their beliefs… YOU have the problem.
I think that was Hemingway’s strongest message; I’ll speak my mind honestly and truthfully, attack me, I’ll laugh, because I am not the one bothered by what I said, you are. I believe that is what he alluded to when he addressed the issue of profanity and writing, “I’ve tried to reduce profanity, but I’ve reduced so much profanity when writing the book that I’m afraid not much could come out. Perhaps we will have to consider it simply as a profane book and hope that the next book will be less profane or perhaps more sacred.”
While drafting a manuscript I always try to recall Hemingway’s ideals, which is why most of what I write makes it to the recycle bin. Like Hemingway, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” With that in mind, I think I will actually save this article for print.
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