Writing Inhibitors on Our Shoulders


Rural mailboxes along road against vast Idaho backdrop
Rural mailboxes along road against vast Idaho backdrop

Writing With No Inhibitors

by Rita Robinson

My daughter’s junior high school teacher was checking at the counter when I paid for two confession magazines that carried articles of mine. He had taken a summer job to ease the nearly three-month school vacation from teaching.

As he picked them up to scan, he asked, “Do you read these things?”

“Nope, noooo, ahh.” And then I mumbled. “I only write for them.”

I breathed deeply, smiled, knowing my face had turned red, and hurried from the store.

Later, pondering the momentary embarrassment, I knew that I had to get rid of the inhibitor sitting on my shoulder because writers need to be open to all types of writing and reading. The moment we think, “Eeeew, better not write that,” we’ve cheated ourselves and readers.

Dana Brookins, a friend, now deceased, encouraged me early-on to write confessions. She was a prolific writer of confession stories, and was once called “The queen of confessions” in a New York Times article. She was also the author of several adult and children’s books, winner of an Edgar Allen Poe Award for Alone in Wolf Hollow, and an English professor.

At one time we both hung out with a group of horror fiction writers, Gary Brandner among them, author of dozens of bestselling books, including The Howling, made into a movie, and the kickoff of a series. But his face turned beet red when I produced a 1973 book of his, Saturday Night in Milwaukee, written near the start of his career that I’d found at a used book store. After he finished laughing about it, he told another story. He had gotten one of his early starts writing the book, Vitamin E: Key to Sexual Satisfaction. “I needed some money and read an ad in the paper asking for someone to research and write about the benefits of Vitamin E.” He called immediately, and got the job. He said that when he completed it, or so he thought, the publisher kept asking for more material. “I dug up everything I could find, since I was being paid for the extra word count.”

A good majority of well-known writers got their starts writing stuff that doesn’t seem to fit our views of them. Anne Rice, author of the Vampire Lestat, and many other bestsellers, much earlier wrote Erotica under the pseudonyms Anne Rampling and A.N. Roquelaure. My eyes bugged continually while reading any of her Rampling books. Earlier I had read The Vampire Lestat, and couldn’t put it  down.

Louisa May Alcott, among many other classic writers, also wrote pulp fiction, or so-called “dime novels, 30 of them, under the name A.M. Barnard. Upton Sinclair put himself through college selling pulp fiction stories, then went on to write “The Jungle,” the book that changed the meat-packing industry.

Many noted authors of books considered great literature have written everything from ad copy to greeting card verse, and worked on brochures and fillers in magazines. Writers write fiction and non-fiction, short stories and long, good poetry and bad.

Looking back on writing confession stories, I realize that confessing to everything I never did, and creating fictional characters, was great introspective work that added depth to my writing. And it was damn fun. One of my neighbors at the time was a prolific reader of the confessions, and kept stacks of them in her garage. When she discovered they weren’t really true stories, she threw them all away and never bought another. I’ve always felt sort of bad about that.

Years later, and on the same day my first published book was released, The Palm: A Guide to Your Hidden Potential, I was talking on the phone to an editor at the now defunct American Health Magazine. We were putting the final touches on a piece I had written for the magazine. I mentioned that my first book had just been released, and included the subject. He paused, and then said, “How could you, Rita. You’re a science writer.”

Stunned at first, I said, “Gees, I’m not one-dimensional.”

Fortunately he laughed, and I went on to write several articles for the magazine, among many other magazines, and later wrote health and psychology books on suicide, caregiving, friendship and women choosing to remain single, among others. The itinerary also included fiction and nonfiction short stories.

My dad got into the act one time when I showed him an article on palmistry I’d written for Cosmopolitan, “How Sexy do Your Hands Say You Are.” He glanced through it and said, “The word ‘erotic’ is sure used a lot.”

“Yep.” Then I laughed.

Writers write, and we write better without the inhibitor sitting on our shoulder.