This I believe: If you are a writer, you cannot pull your punches. That means you can’t be afraid of what anyone else will think. That will compromise the writing like nothing else.
At some point, you will have to write about some tough topics. It might occur to you that your words will offend some people, including, but not limited to: your parents, your significant other, your best friends, the world at large, etcetera. Tough. If you want to avoid offending people, don’t write.
We read to learn, to discover new information or to discover something new that was hidden in old information. We also read for entertainment, but entertainment can teach you as much as the supposedly dry and boring stuff. Don’t believe me? Candide, Gulliver’s Travels, and Watchmen are all entertaining reads, but they all speak about the human condition to a certain extent.
This leads me to Jim Nelson, the editor of GQ magazine. As in Gentleman’s Quarterly, the magazine with style advice, expensive taste, and the occasional scantily-clad woman on the cover. I don’t know what I expected from their editor-in-chief, but I sure didn’t expect a thoughtful, serious piece on the state of affairs in the home of the brave. He talks about the R-word (racism), and he’s pointing fingers. For example:
"'Pat Buchanan, rejecting a Latino Supreme Court nominee, glibly declared that “white men were 100 percent of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence, 100 percent of the people who died at Gettysburg” and “100 percent of the people I like to eat dinner with.” (He didn’t say that last part.) Then he made his most ignoracist claim yet: “This has been a country built basically by white folks.” Which, apart from ignoring the entire history of slavery, is the subtext of every song I’ve ever heard by Toby Keith.'"
BAM! I wasn’t expecting to read a smackdown of that kind, but why not? I say good for Jim Nelson. And he didn’t stop there. That was from the September editorial. He covered exploitation and greed in October, and a pseudo-homosexual scandal in Afghanistan in November.
The editor of GQ promoting intelligent discussion and other principles of democracy? That, my friends, is fearless. So, whether you write fiction and you’re basing a bad character on one of your good friends, or whether you’re writing a short piece for a magazine owned by Condé Nast, be fearless. If Jim Nelson can do it, so can you.