Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Beyond Good & Evil

Back when I was in high school, I had a writing mentor, Marcia. She was the first "real" writer I'd ever met and I'm still shattered by the vast quantity of things she taught me in the few short months I had access to her wisdom and experience. One day, she took me with her to a writer's workshop. It was not of the One True Way of Writing school of thought (thank goodness) but rather about finding the stories that meant the most to you and focusing your energies there.

We did an exercise at the workshop that I wish I could remember in more detail. It was four (six?) sentences where you had to write down three things. Like: Three Things that would make the world a better place if everyone had them. Three Things that would make the world a better place if they were eradicated. I don't remember the exact wording or even all my Threes, but I remember I wanted people to have Freedom and be rid of Prejudice. I'd love to find this exercise and do it again... to see how my answers have changed in the last decade and a half. But I think some of them would be the same. I still want to get rid of Prejudice. I still long for Freedom.

At the end of the exercise, after we'd talked about all our answers ad nauseum, the guy leading the session turned to us and said, "If you aren't writing about these things, what's stopping you?" I liked that message. Don't just write the books you like, write the books that mean something bigger to you. Write the ones that resonate with your Threes.

I've been struggling a bit lately with my focus. I'm always more focused when I'm passionate about my story, so I've been working to find a way "in" to the book I'm writing, a common point of passion between it and myself. And when that fails to inspire, I find myself lured off to contemplate this completely different idea in a new genre.

I was trying to figure why this teaser idea was so tempting, and I realized it had to do with my threes. The things that matter most to me... or in this case, the three things that piss me off the most.

I have a trio of pet peeves - hot buttons that get me going faster than anything else. i swear I don't just sit around thinking about things that make me crazy all the time, but it's funny because a few weeks ago I was worked up over one of them and I sort of asked the universe if there was anything that bothered me more than that, and it provided examples of the other two in short order.

Number One, and the most common, is Unnecessary Assumptions. It makes me crazy when someone can ask a simple question and get an answer (I love questions) but instead they make a ridiculous assumption and then make a conclusion based on that erroneous information. (I think this is why I get so annoyed by misunderstandings in books.) If you meet me, it might feel like an interrogation because I ask you so many questions, but I won't be making uninformed assumptions. And if I am, you are encouraged to smack me. Repeatedly.

I was bothered a couple weeks ago by someone who was making assumptions about my background. She assumed I could not know anything about what I was talking about, when she could easily have asked if I knew what I was talking about. (Sometimes I don't, but I'll usually tell you in advance that I have no idea what I'm blathering about.) In that particular case, I did know so it was doubly frustrating. And the next day, as I sat there wondering, does anything hack me off as much as that? my second pet peeve popped up: Missionaries.

Religious, political, lifestyle, whatever - they come in all flavors. Have your opinions. Share your opinions. Defend them and publicly praise them. Go for it! But please, for the love of all that is respectful of others, do not insist that your way of life is better than someone else's and they must live by your rules for their own good.

This one definitely ties in with #1 and Assumptions, because you are assuming that all people would be better off if they were like you. You are happy in your way of life and I am happy for you, but I don't necessarily want to live that way. And if I do decide to, I want to come to that decision on my own. But there is no sense arguing with Missionaries - whatever they are preaching for your own good - because you cannot change the minds of zealots.

At that point I was convinced nothing else made me as frustrated as Unnecessary Assumptions and Missionaries. But then today... I found the third. (They always come in threes don't they?) This one is harder to pin down to a particular word. It's part Narrowmindedness and part Judgmentalness - but it's a very specific type. It's the tendency to brand something or someone "Evil."

I don't believe in evil. I believe people do horrible things out of self-interest (or deluded self-interest or massive psychological damage). It's all a question of the filter of perspective. This is part of why I avoid Romantic Suspense. Because I got sick of reading about serial killers who are just "evil" and there is no why behind their actions because once you throw out that catch-all phrase, what more do you need?

This behavior is dismissive and condemnatory - and whenever you dismiss and condemn something, you shut yourself off from anything you might learn about it. That's what all three of these pet peeves have in common - shutting yourself off from the possibility of learning from others. And that makes me nuts.

This, I think, is why my new idea keeps tugging me away from my work (when I really need to be working). It shines a light straight on my Three Pet Peeves. It looks at the assumptions about evil and turns them around, in spite of the resistance of those who would inflict their beliefs about the matter on everyone they can.

I'm gonna have to write it one of these days... or every time I get hacked off about something, it's going to keep distracting me from the work I should be doing...

What are your Three Hot Buttons? Do you write about them?

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