In our house there is no rule against using the F-word. We are middle-aged, no kids at home, and the dogs don’t seem to mind—they’re more interested in words like dinner, walk, and ice cream. So our use of a socially unacceptable term happens—frequently. Editing ourselves is something we only have do when we’re outside the safe confines of our home. But…the word that is against the law, not allowed in any form in our home is…the C-word…CAN'T.
Can’t has to be the ugliest word in the English language. It stops you in your tracks.
Think about all of the times you’ve been told you can’t. You either believed it, or got pissed off and said, “Oh, yeah, watch this!”
In my life, I’ve done both. I think we all have. Of course, I would say, “Oh, yeah just F’ing watch this.”
As writers you’d think we’d understand the power of the C-word. But we don’t. Whenever I am around other writers I hear things like:
“You can’t get an agent unless you’ve been published.”
“You can’t get published unless you have an agent.”
“You can’t make a living as a writer.”
“You can’t write a bestseller.”
“You can’t get reviewed by the larger, more prestigious, reviewers unless…”
“You can’t be a mid-list writer these days…”
“You can’t be a genre writer and be taken seriously.”
I could go on, but you get the idea. You’ve heard them all and more.
But it’s not just writers. It’s our culture. Commercials on television tell us that whatever is going on in our life is not good enough. You can’t be happy unless you use Revlon. You can’t look good unless you wear Victoria’s Secret air bras. You can’t quit peeing so you need Flomax. You can’t be pretty enough unless you look like….you fill in the blank...somebody else.
Can’t sells products. We are bombarded by can’t every single day. On billboards. On the Internet. On television. In church. And maybe, even worse in your own home.
I could write a hundred pages on the evils of can’t, but the bottom line would be: If you believe you can’t, then you can’t. Period.
If you let somebody else tell you that you can’t, then you give up all of your power to that person if you believe them, allow them to control what you can and can’t do. It doesn’t matter if that person is a spouse, a parent, or an editor…giving away that power to anyone is downright dangerous. You lose a piece of yourself if you take their version of can’t to heart. You end up letting someone else define your dreams, your hopes, your life.
The use of can't should be outlawed. But that will never happen. Too much power rests in the word—and if you go out into the public…listen to how often you hear the word can’t compared to the F-word. Really, which one is more dangerous? One is deemed vulgar. The other kills dreams.
So—there you have it. Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t. Period. Write what you want. Dream as big as you can. And if somebody tells you you can’t—run in the opposite direction as fast as you F’ing can.