Can A Writer Have a Social Conscience?


I’m currently reading Margaret Atwood’s book Negotiating With The Dead (as a mojo mining endeavour) and for a moment grew very worried when I read:

“A socially conscious writer can be charged with exploiting the misery and misfortune of the downtrodden for his own gain.”

Dear god!  I should not have a social conscience?  Considering that all my YA books concern the concept of normality and individuals who strive to find their own version of ‘normal’, this means I shouldn’t write…at all!  Or I should write something completely lacking in social awareness which would mean I would find writing very difficult, which would result in me not writing…at all!

With a sick feeling in my stomach I kept reading (I had no choice I got to school too early for the pick-up and as it’s a new school have yet to make any friends who could distract me from this dire warning unless I was willing to sit like Nigella-No-Friends and twiddle my thumbs) only to laugh with relief when Ms Atwood continued by saying:

“Take care of the writing and the social relevance will take care of itself…it isn’t the writer who decides whether his work is relevant.  It’s the reader.”

The concept of social conscience is important to me but possibly more so for my upcoming release.  This next book of mine Foley Russel And That Poor Girl involves a girl who has cystic fibrosis.  I chose cystic fibrosis because it doesn’t necessarily make a person obviously different.  It does however, mean that the person with cystic fibrosis must work very, very hard to experience things others might take for granted (school for example).

Because I’ve ‘borrowed’ the disease for my story, I thought measure of thanks (to those from whom I borrowed) might be in order.  While thinking about how to launch the book, I figured it might be a good idea to do a combined book launch/fundraising event.  The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation have guidelines regarding how these things should be done and it struck me as a fine idea.  Having read Ms Atwood’s concerns regarding writers and their social conscience, I’m wondering now, if that’s the right thing to do.

What do you think?  Am I overstepping some invisible boundary if I do the fundraising thing?  Do I run the risk of appearing to exploit the downtrodden?  Is it better to exploit the downtrodden but offer nothing in return?  How would that make me a better person/writer?

All advice here is welcome!


4 responses »

  1. Beck
    If you must have a social conscience [God only knows where you got it] donate a percentage of profits, after costs, to the cystic fibrosis crew and then exploit the disease like hell.
    If you sell a motza your conscience will be appeased and you will not really mind sharing.
    If you do not make a profit then you have nothing to loose.

    Good Luck!

    • No Daddles, exploitation is the opposite of what I want to do. However since writing this I’ve consulted with a few people in the know and they assure me a fundraiser will be fine. So that’s what I’ll do. (And for those of you reading out there, he’s not the way this sounds, I promise!)

  2. Hey Bec, writers need to be part of the social conversation of our times and so you’re letting the side down if you DON’T engage with current topics. Don’t mistake social conscience for social scruples, which means doing nothing in case you offend someone. Your books are excellent and contribute to the good of society by opening up discussion … if offending someone is the worst thing you do today, so be it.

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