Safe spaces don’t make great stories

Nanowrimo has become a popular annual online gathering spot for writers who just need a little more structure. I’ve used it myself since the second year they were online, long before they exploded into a huge place to help artists of all sorts express themselves. More recently, I was active in the pro-life forum and had started my own forum creating a haven for conservative writers, helping them hook up with other similarly minded people while expressing themselves freely and avoiding the often-hostile attitude of the writing community at large.

Throughout all this, Nano had one awesome thing going for it: you got to write whatever you wanted. It was a no-judgment zone, a place where writers could release the wild and wonderful stories they had hidden away inside them. You could share or not. The only rule was that you “won” Nano by uploading a minimum 50K manuscript. Did it have to be a novel? asked writers over the years. Could it be poetry, a collection of short stories, a work of nonfiction? Yes, yes, yes! responded this open-minded group. Anything at all. The key is simply to get you writing – to ensure you write the words down. 

This laudable freedom has suddenly shifted. Executive Director Grant Faulkner sent out a letter to the Nano email list stating, essentially, that in response to recent political events (coughTrumpcough), Nano reaffirms its commitment to open access to all wannabe writers and promises it will be a safe space. He requested ideas from the community at large for how they can better keep people safe (on this virtual platform that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the US government, but whatevs.)

Ooo-kay. In my experience, Nano has always been a reasonably safe space. The only time I ever witnessed anything I was uncomfortable with was when the pro-choice people came into the pro-life list to tell them what awful people they were. The admin handled this fairly and quickly, essentially telling the pro-choice people to butt out. Even so, the message had been sent, and the pro-life people became far more guarded and cagey about their work. My conservative friends were also cautious, both before and after this incident, because in the very liberal world of creative writing we are often bullied and made to feel uncomfortable.

But here’s the thing: that’s okay. The liberals may feel that they need safe spaces to protect themselves from all those dangerous conservative ideas. WE do not. And we can be better writers by specifically avoiding the fallacy of safe spaces, by instead seeking out dangerous ideas and challenging thinkers.

Solzhenitsyn, Anne Frank, Frederick Douglass all overcame unimaginable hardship to write masterpieces. If they had been imprisoned in the open borders of safe spaces, could they possibly have written those stories? Would they have had any reason to? Oscar Wilde and other great alternative-sexuality geniuses were harassed and imprisoned for their speech and activities. IT MADE THEIR WRITING BETTER. Bronte, Eliot, Gilman fought the stifling bigotry toward women and, often, mental illness to create resonant and beautiful stories. None of these geniuses sought out the cloister of safe spaces. Instead, they fought, using their own lives as the proving grounds that made their writing sing with rage and glory.
Stories don’t come from positions of safety. Stories are about struggle, conflict, pain, about the solutions to circumvent or tear down those barriers. They do not issue from writers who think in lockstep but rather from those who are mavericks and renegades, good and bad. We have forgotten the real reason for seeking diversity: hearing different and often opposing views makes us better people. 

As conservative artists, let’s all commit to seeking out those wonderful, brilliant stories within ourselves, to understanding and loving liberals even as we tear down the walls that prevent them from hearing us. Let’s release the fantastic conservative themes and characters that struggle to escape us, or that lie dormant waiting for fertilization. Instead of ghettoizing ourselves, let’s use the power of the internet to share our ideas and personalities freely, scorning safe spaces and taking joy in the magic of storytelling.

Let our words ring.