Read the words as they’re written – or don’t, but YOU choose, not an app

While it may seem a cop out to blog about others’ blogs, I read two kickass blogs this week that really resonated and I wanted to share.

The first was an entry from the fabulous Joanne Harris (yes, she of Chocolat fame). She found herself at the front of the Clean Reader app controversy. This is an app that allows the user to filter their ebooks and replace any nasty smutty language with tamer and more vanilla words (no fair – I love vanilla, but you know what I mean). Initially they were also a bookseller, you purchased the books through them and the filter was applied to your level of preciousness, now it seems that you can simply apply the filter to books you already own. Let me say – this way trouble lies, much much trouble. Not only were you’re standard profanity words swapped for things like crap and darn, but they were also changing more benign phrases like bastard (which has an actual meaning that is often used in novels, changing it to jerk will not make sense). But there’s a rather short slippery slope from substituting crap for shit, gee for Goddamn to taking out passages about topics we don’t like. If you don’t like the subject matter, the language choice, don’t read the book, or put it down. Anyhoo, Joanne Harris argued this far more eloquently than I in a direct exchange with the app developers – my favourite bit and what best encapsulates the relationship between a writer and a reader:

We have a relationship, you and I (you being the reader). I like to think it’s something deeper than a simply commercial one. I don’t want to be a product. I don’t believe you really want to be simply a consumer. By sending my book out into the world, I’m giving you entry to my heart. It is a gesture of trust. And I expect you, in return, to trust that what I write is as honest and true as I could possibly make it. That means trusting me when I say that I have thought about every word; considered each one carefully. If they shock you, it’s because I felt that the story needed to shock at that point. Stories are not always comfortable. The heart has many chambers, some of them very dark indeed.

I’m not promising to get it right all the time. I’m only human. But I try. Which is why, if you’re thinking of using Clean Reader to filter words from my books, don’t bother. Either you trust me, or you don’t. Fiction is a leap of faith.

Yet another reason to love Joanne Harris.

The second piece comes from Kristen Lamb who wrote this post about how it’s o to say you’re a writer, you’re not aspiring, if you’re writing that’s what you are, what you do. Don’t be flim flammy about it. There’s days as a writer that I feel like I’m playing at doing a real job, I’m a writer for work as well as a writer at home, and there’s days when I question the validity of what I do, whether the 1000 monkeys at the 1000 typewriters are just as capable. Then I read this. Thanks Kristen, while I’m not taking down dictators or inspiring acts of valour, I’m a writer and what I do is tough and is of value, and is valued.


I hate the term “aspiring writer” because it takes guts to do this job. Everyone loves what we do. Their lives would implode without it. Without writers there would be no entertainment, no instruction, no industry. No movies, no television series, no books, no manuals, textbooks, magazines, newspapers, trade journals, warning labels, laws, speeches, and all songs would be instrumental. No lyrics. Heck there wouldn’t even be an Internet.

It would be all pictures of cats.

Modern society hinges on writers. If we can take a step back and truly take in all we contribute it’s easier to own our profession and value it. Most people take what we do for granted because they fail to make the connection that their favorite television show began as an idea and started with a writer. 

They just assume they will log onto the Internet and be able to google anything they want. It’s easy to forget someone wrote that information.

So yes, I get it. This is a tough job. But if what we do didn’t matter then why is it dictators arrest and shoot the writers first?


One response to “Read the words as they’re written – or don’t, but YOU choose, not an app

  1. “there’s a rather short slippery slope from substituting crap for shit, gee for Goddamn to taking out passages about topics we don’t like.”

    In the novel Inherent Vice, the main character’s crazed and media-obsessed attorney wants to start a class action suit against Warner Brothers, on behalf of all the people who disliked the ending of Casablanca, who wanted Bogart and Bergman to end up together. But, of course, the fact that they don’t is part of what makes it an all-time great movie. As Penn Gillette said once. “Art is plugging into somebody else’s vision.”

    Plus, if you take out all the curse words, you lose the pleasure of seeing them used correctly. The PG-13 rating allows you one “fuck,” and that allowance was never used better than in X-Men First Class, for example.

    It’s fun to hear the audience react to those moments, like in Kick-Ass when young Mindy and her father are sharing an ice cream soda, after he demonstrated the effectiveness of her bulletproof vest by shooting her in the chest, and she teases him, and then says, “I’m just fucking with you, Daddy.” The audience gasped at that one, but it prepared us for the fact that this preteen girl would be doing some killing, and more cursing, later on.


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