Thursday, May 10, 2012

Writing the Other: You'll Probably Screw This Up

"Kids, you tried your best, and failed miserably. The lesson to learn is: never try."
-Homer Simpson

In case I've not made this clear: I am a straight, white, upper-middle-class, non-religious*, able-bodied, able-minded**, average-height right-handed male.  There literally isn't a privileged class that I don't fall into.  I am the presumptive audience that Hollywood plays to, and I fit the characteristics presumed in the typical mass-market protagonist.  If a movie trailer starts out with something like, "Jake was an average guy..." then you know what that means: someone pretty much like me.

I try to approach this fact with awareness, especially when it comes to writing. Because whenever "Writing the Other" is talked about, it is usually talking about that which is not me.***  And whenever "Writing the Other" is talked about, it is crucial that I open my ears and listen.

This is what I've learned by opening my ears and listening:

1. In writing the Other, I will probably screw up.
2. I should try anyway.
3. In trying, mistakes will be made. Hopefully, these mistakes will be pointed out to me by those who have different**** life experiences than my own.
4. I should integrate what I learned from those mistakes and try again.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4.

Sadly, many writers in my position will not get past Step 3. A lot don't really get to Step 2. 

I was at a writing workshop where John Scalzi spoke, and he told us all to "embrace the power of sucking".  In short, it's allowing yourself to screw up, because that's how you learn.  The same applies here. I think the most important part in successfully writing The Other-- and with that successful writing in general-- is that act of trying, failing, getting up and trying again and again.  It's important enough that it's worth the continued attempts.

*- Catholic-raised agnostic, which fits in neatly to the privilege class in American society: presumption of a Christian background, with no social consequences that come from outward displays of faith. 
**- I sometimes say, self-deprecatingly, "I'm insane", usually in connection to writing or long-term plans.  Despite grand plans of immense scope, I am sound of thought.  This is a fine example of privilege showing: being able to joke about madness that doesn't exist.
***- Because those same sort of presumptions for protagonists apply to writers; most successful writers are, if not specifically identified as being otherwise, presumed to be straight, white, upper-middle-class, non-religious*, able-bodied, able-minded**, average-height right-handed males.  Why do you think the best-selling female writer of our generation goes by J.K. instead of Joanne?
****- And relevant to the cases in question.

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