Some musings as a writer. I read / listened to a few things that happened in parallel this week that’s got me thinking on when the art we create hurts people, why that happens, and what to do about it.
There was a pretty big scandal that exploded in the Romance Writers of America just before Christmas–big enough that the whole thing may implode. Board members resigned, people left the organization, member chapters called for the resignation of the current and incoming presidents of the organization. Yeah, that big. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, of which I am a member, had a row like this years back and thankfully made it through with some good lessons learned. I watched at a distance, having not yet starting publishing at the time, and breathed a sigh of relief when things improved. That’s not to say anything’s perfect, but progress.
Signs don’t look good for RWA having the same fate, which is truly sad, because I had been planning to join this year, and I’ve always heard that it is by far the best writer advocacy group out there, with many wonderful member chapters.
In the midst of all this, Nora Roberts posted about her thoughts on the matter and her past with RWA, which you can read here. I love her books, and this blog post is not different. Her words are always diamond-sharp and powerful. What got me thinking about this post was that she wrote about her past:
“Let me add, as a personal note, that over the course of my life, the course of my career, the couple hundred books I’ve written I may have–most likely have–said or done something that was offensive, racist, homophobic. Without intent–but intent doesn’t mean a damn to those hurt. So I’ll apologize without qualification.”From Fall Into the Story
Meanwhile, this week, Youtuber Natalie Wynn published a video on her Youtube channel Contrapoints about “cancel culture.” (Link to the video here–not for kids or light-hearted viewing and definitely NSFW. Also CW: trans issues, alcohol.) Sometimes that phrase “cancel culture” sets me on edge because it can be a dog whistle, but as Natalie has also analyzed extremist dog whistles on her channel, I was intrigued.
Natalie is the only person I know of who can de-radicalize someone just by talking through things for a bit in a video. More powerful words.
During the video, she talked about a time when a viewer watching a live stream was sent into a panic attack by the episode’s content. It was fairly clear that this (extremely NSFW) content would come up during the live stream, and Contrapoints encouraged the viewer to leave and care for herself, but the viewer wouldn’t go. On this, Natalie says she’s learned a long time ago that her content might hurt someone even if it’s unintended. And that is not necessarily her fault, although we can still try to help the person who is hurt.
I find this juxtaposition of viewpoints really interesting. Sometimes we grow as people and reflect back and see that we did some hurtful things and want to apologize or fix things. Sometimes just existing might hurt someone through no fault of our own.
Does this mean we shouldn’t even try? Is everyone worrying too damn much about Teh Feelins? Is this all a bunch of hand-wringing nonsense?
My take is that it’s complicated.
I do think we should care whether we hurt people. It’s something most philosophers and religions agree on. WWJD is not that different from what Seneca might argue, or Buddha, or Confucius, or many other great thinkers.
As writers, as artists, our stories emerge from brains that have been soaking in the current world. We should try to get better. We should make efforts to ensure that our work is needlessly, carelessly hurtful in ways that are easily preventable and cost us nothing. We should strive to be kind while also protecting ourselves. We should build the world we want to live in, not constrained by the one we have.
Are you blown away by this cutting edge hot take yet?
What I think is interesting about all this, what I think I learned today, is that there may be some inevitability in hurting each other. Maybe it’s part of the process.
The perfectionist in me hates that idea.
Kids don’t learn to walk without falling down and getting bruises. So we’ve also got to give ourselves the grace to improve, to get better, to talk about things that have nuance and not just see things as black and white. To not be perfect 100% of the time. To learn. Getting better is impossible without that room.
Yeah, I know. I’m asking a lot.
Just in case this is unclear, I am in no way arguing in favor or excusing the things that have gone down at RWA. If anything, I hope this can encourage people to be more brave in tackling more diversity in their writing.
Stay warm. Stay kind.