Long ago, I gave Gardner Dozois a fresh-off-the-typewriter copy of what would be my first published story, "The Feast of Saint Janis," for his judgment and advice. When next I saw him, he handed it back with a big smile and said, "Congratulations, Michael. You're the first human being ever to write a story about rock and roll without using the word 'fuck.'"
"Oh, golly," I exclaimed. "I'd better do something about that."
So, yes, I have to admit that I have a tendency to underuse obscenity. But, being aware of it, I consciously go through my fiction to insert it where needed.
My reluctance to employ Billingsgate stems from two sources. The first is a statement a friend once made that such words are employed as "meaningless intensifiers." Which is to say that if you were to take an obscenity-laden passage and substitute "very" for every "fucking," you would have changed the meaning not one whit.
The second was something Robert Anton Wilson said somewhere in his Illuminatus! trilogy, that when primates feel threatened they throw feces -- but when those primates are writers, they employ scatology.
This is an observation that explains so much.
Among other things, it explains the review I read online yesterday, of a book or a play or a movie -- I am deliberately vague here to avoid giving offense to someone whose sin was not only small but very, very common -- he or she absolutely despised. It was a very witty piece of prose, one of those critical bloodlettings that are such guilty pleasures to those of us they are not aimed at, and it was rife with this and that and the other words.
I thought they added nothing. So I reread the piece, mentally eliding them. The result was beyond dispute funnier, wittier, better. What I had just read was a very talented writer expressing their fear of being stuck forever, writing reviews of things they despised.
So there's my advice to new writers: If there are a lot of obscenities in your work, go through it, imagining what the text would look like without them. If they add nothing, take them out.
I, meanwhile, will be going through my work, seeing if they need to be put in.