Why The “Positive Writer Declaration”: A Call for Common Decency and, Dare I Say It, Self-Censorship

In my previous blog post, I introduced the Declaration of the Positive Writer, a pledge to oneself that I am proposing be adapted and adopted (with you, my reader's, help) by creative writers. Today, I want to explain a bit more about why I believe such a declaration is vitally important.

The fiction-writing and screenwriting communities — indeed any creative-arts professions — generally miss the opportunity to formally and overtly promote the usefulness of self-censorship that is reasonable and appropriate — namely when the writer's/artist's honest evaluation of his work suggests a probable negative impact that is potentially dangerous and that could be avoided by revisions that would retain the overall original intended point.

While every group wants to distribute their products more widely and, presumably, to make more money at what they produce, most do not focus on advocating a common sense of decency. That is, a sense of courtesy towards one's fellow man — a courtesy in which the writer/artist treats his readers/audience as though they were all his closest relatives and most respected friends…all, as if his mother and father…all, as if his most revered and loved relations…in short, as if they were all his Brothers and Sisters.

The writer/artist may care deeply about how, say, his child might be affected by being exposed to some particular danger or vulgarity or questionable principle or dogma, or about how someone he respects would regard misbehavior on his part; yet some creative writers and other creative artists often produce their own creations with seeming disregard for what might be the creations' negative effects upon their readers/audience.

And just as important, if not moreso, they often fail to concern themselves with how much their works could be made to engender positive results, inspiring, building, empowering, strengthening, uplifting, enhancing, beautifying; missed opportunities to inspire, to teach, to enrich — indeed, to remove ignorance or hate — are surely as indecent and shameful as ignoring potential negative effects. There is a certain crassness to such a careless disregard for the larger implications (and the wondrous potentials) of one's own creations. And to me, it is dishonest — untrue to ourselves, untrue to our fellow human beings. We have given up part of our souls in the interest of a hollow self-satisfaction ("Look at the work of art I've created!" or "Look how much money I'm getting paid for this!" or "Look how many people like what I'm doing!"), exchanging true respect — and self-respect — for fame, fortune, or flattery, fooling ourselves into thinking that we really care, or care enough.

But I do not bring out the "c" word without great care. Censorship is almost never appropriate when it is in the hands of government. But there are times when it is often not only appropriate but morally necessary that it be applied (to oneself) by the individual and (to children) by real parents. (I say "real parents," because governments and other institutions, all too prone to becoming paternalistic, should not be given authority that only actual parents should have.) The individual has the right and the need to censor himself when he looks at the product of his labor and concludes, honestly, that its potential for harm is unnecessary and inappropriate. And a parent rightfully has the authority, and sometimes obligation, to censor as he/she sees fit in the interest of the child. And groups that promote or monitor creative expression are certainly reasonable to encourage the promotion of common decency and self-respect as well as inspiration and beauty.

Declaration of the Positive Writer

The following is my "Positive Writer Declaration," a declaration that all writers (especially fiction writers, screenwriters, etc.) can use to remind themselves and direct themselves to write "positively," in all the moral and inspirational senses of that word. It is based on the simple, yet powerful, notion that we are all made better when we increase our awareness of the potential effects (good and bad) of whatever we are creating (especially what we write) and act (write) as though we are responsible for whatever effects actually occur.

The Declaration of the Positive Writer is a work in progress that I first introduced on my YourCodeOfEthics.com website on June 18, 2006. I need you, the readers, to tell me what you think of it, how it can be improved, what you think should be changed or added. Just use the "Comments" link (farther below) to add your ideas for improving the wording of the Declaration. Let's brainstorm together on this valuable project! (And please feel free to use the declaration in your personal life and to post it on your websites — with proper attribution: "courtesy www.conservativewords.com" so that our message will be spread throughout the web!)


Whereas I am aware of the power to influence that I hold in my stories;

And whereas I am aware of the ease and swiftness with which stories, in this massive media age, can be seen and read and repeated by many people and imitated and reinterpreted by fellow writers;

Whereas the topics on which I write and which I am interested in writing are those which have come to my attention through the experiences I've had, the people I've met, and the stories and information that I have absorbed;

And whereas the stories I write may affect my own attitudes (as well as the attitudes of all who read those stories);

And whereas I possess a special opportunity – through my stories – to influence many more people than merely those whom I meet personally day-to-day;

And whereas I, as a writer, influence the styles and ideas of other writers;

And whereas I, like most everyone else, influence others every day of my life merely by my day-to-day examples, attitudes, actions, etc.;

And whereas positive experiences and information tend to build me up – uplift me – and to influence/affect my actions, which in turn affect those around me, often in positive ways – while negative experiences and information tend to bring me down and handicap me and fog my thinking and my attitudes as well as to influence/affect my actions, which can in turn affect those around me in negative ways;

I therefore affirm that it is important to seek out positive experiences in all my activities, both those directly related to my writing education as well as my daily life, from the books I read and movies and tv shows I view to the people I associate with and the general experiences I seek out, in order to gradually direct myself to more and more positive experiences and influences, which will pervade more and more of my actions, including my writing and the topics I choose to write about and the approach I use towards those topics.

Comic Book Code of Ethics

The code of ethics of comic book publishers is the "Comic Code" of the Comics Code Authority of the Comics Magazine Association of America. Here are links to the original comics code standards (click here, here, or here), the 1971 revision (here), and the 1989 revision (here), as well as background history (here).

Writers – Ethical Codes

The following are links to codes of ethics of associations for creative writers. (Related topics: For libraries, see Computing and Information Systems's associations codes of ethics category in the Honest Business/Association blog. For newspapers, see Newspaper associations codes of ethics in the Honest Business/Association blog.)

  • Artists and Writers for Responsible Entertainment AWARE (Max Roth, founder)

    "I pledge to create in a fashion encouraging and befitting the nobility and grace of humanity, and by demonstrating mature vision I will aid in maintaining an artistically free and responsible society. This web site shall remain free of racism, prejudice, hatred, and excessive violence. I enjoy the right to express my unique vision as I perceive that vision to be, and I simultaneously accept the ethics of freedom and a better tomorrow through being artistically responsible today."

Book Publishing Codes of Ethics

Thus far, we have not found (via the Internet) any codes of ethics of any book publishing association or any individual book publishing company. (Related topics: See also Computing and Information Systems's associations codes of ethics category and Newspaper associations codes of ethics in the Honest Business/Association blog.)

Movie Production and Screenwriting Codes of Ethics

The following links provide access to the pledges/codes of morality and standards associated with the motion picture industry, past and present.

  • Pledge of the Legion of Decency (Catholic)
  • Motion Pictures Association of America Official Code Objectives, including "Motion Pictures Rating System" and "Standards for Production" (1968) can also be found at the Digital History website (Note: the Standards of Production were not implemented.)
  • Code to Govern the Making of Talking, Synchronized and Silent Motion Pictures (The Hays Code) (also the same code, but also including the various versions, is described in detail at David P. Hayes website). This is the Production Code of the Production Code Administration of the Motion Picture Producers & Distributors of America
    , formally adopted March 1930 and went into effect in July 1934

  • Screenwriting With A Conscience: Ethics for Screenwriters by Marilyn Beker (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004)

    "Screenwriting With a Conscience: Ethics for Screenwriters, is for screenwriters who care deeply about what they write; screenwriters who are aware that movie images matter and can influence audiences; screenwriters who want to create meaningful screenplays that make powerful statements while entertaining and winning over audiences.

    A user-frinedly guide to ethical screenwriting, this book makes the case that social responsibility is endemic to public art while it emphatically champions First Amendment rights and condemns censorship.

    In this dynamic and practical volume, author Marilyn Beker provides methods for self-assessment of values, ideas, and ethical stances, and demonstrates the application of these values to the development of plot, character, and dialogue. Screenwriters are introduced to ethical decision-making models and shown through specific film examples how they can be utilized in plot and character development. In addition, specific techniques and exercises are supplied to help screenwriters determine the difference between good and evil, to write realistic and compelling characters based on this determination, and to present messages and write dialogue powerfully without preaching. This book also puts forth a livable work philosophy for dealing with the ethics of the screenwriting business, and presents a viable personal philosophy for surviving in the screenwriting world."

Art – Ethical Codes

The following are codes of ethics of major associations for artists.

  • Guidance for Archaeological Conservation Practice (UK Insitute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works)
  • Any links to http://ethics.iit.edu are linked with permission from the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions (CSEP), Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). Copyright Illinois Institute of Technology.