Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Voltaire

Crossing the finish line

Hello. It’s been a while. I’ve been away from this blog for much longer than I wanted to be.

I have prided myself on keeping up with my writing and art, as well as blogging here three (occasionally two) times a week, no matter what else life threw my way. I’ve managed it pretty consistently for a while. But I guess you know what they say about pride.

I hate missing deadlines. But ever since the week after Worldcon I’ve had to let some deadlines go, to meet another. I had a challenging editorial deadline for the please-God-final draft of my novel What’s Bred in the Bone, this past week.

I did it. The manuscript is turned in. Done. I have a sneaking suspicion it’s still not perfect, but I’ve had some indications from sources who seem reliable, that it’s pretty darn good. You’ll get a chance to judge for yourself later this year, if all goes well. Keep following this blog, and sign up for my newsletter for updates!

But Napoleon Hill was definitely onto something with the opening quote up there. Until there’s a deadline, you can go on, and on, and on, and . . . just keep dreaming. It can turn into a trap that means you’re never quite be ready to call a project done.

There’s a saying commonly attributed to Voltaire, that “perfect (more accurate to say “the best”) is the enemy of good.” He was quoting an Italian proverb, but this essential wisdom that you can strive for perfection till the end of time, and never get anything actually accomplished has been a truism in many ages and cultures.

For me, the most helpful variation is the one illustrated here: Perfect is the enemy of DONE. I needed to get on with finishing my book. I’ve got others to write! My new editor and a challenging deadline were just the tonic I needed to get this one DONE.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Brainy Quote for the Napoleon Hill quote-with-image. I haven’t been able to go further back than Pinterest for the “enemy of the done” image!


Political correctness

Let’s talk about “Political Correctness,” since it’s been thrown in my face recently. It came up at my writers’ group Saturday, when a fellow group member whom I normally respect brought a story that was riddled with ugly, offensive racial stereotypes directed toward a particular minority group. During the critique session I called him on this (I wasn’t the only one), and his defense was that he didn’t want to have his story “limited” by political correctness.

This quote cuts both ways in the “political correctness” debate.

I asked him what he meant by “political correctness” in this context, and he said he didn’t want to limit his range of expression. As if “artificial” rules of “correctness” constituted an intellectually narrow approach that fettered his freedom of expression. A story-critique session wasn’t the forum for a full-blown debate. The group’s leader very firmly changed the subject.

I probably wouldn’t ever convince that particular fellow through direct confrontation, in any case. In my experience, when someone who already feels his privilege is under attack and whose area of greatest pride is his intellectual ability, is accused of intellectual malfeasance, his invariable reaction is to dig in his heels and prepare to die rather than yield to a different point of view.

I do, however, continue to challenge the validity of any “expressive freedom” that depends on not restraining oneself from employing demeaning stereotypes. My associate seemed to think that what he called “political correctness” was a kind of intellectual laziness, an unwillingness to “push the envelope” in certain directions, or to challenge social norms. Perhaps ironically, I see it as just the opposite. In my opinion, folks who decry too much “political correctness” generally don’t seem willing to exert themselves intellectually to stretch beyond their own comfort zones or seriously engage a different experience.

Which of those two approaches should one more accurately call an “intellectually lazy” attitude?

It’s a hallmark of privilege when a person sees the need to adapt to others’ viewpoints as an unwarranted inhibition. That’s a “take” on life and social discourse that  ignores or dismisses the fact that anyone from a non-dominant cultural group has to accommodate and adapt near-continually, just to survive and get along in the world. Yet the most blindly privileged folk are the ones who seem to complain the most aggrievedly about political correctness.

This is not to say that all members of minorities or persons of color are perfect. It isn’t even to say that sometimes the “sensitivity line” can’t be too narrowly drawn—although I’d say the most vulnerable among us probably have a better gauge of where to draw that line, and what’s offensive, than the most privileged among us. But it is to say that our art shouldn’t rely on the cruel crutch of cheap shocks at the expense of innocent bystanders. 

It is to say that vicious racial stereotyping is both a morally and intellectually bankrupt way to approach storytelling . . . or to anything else. For God’s sake, can’t we writers dig deeper? If we can’t be merciful, then at least let’s be original.

There’s a truism that if a phrase or expression comes too easily to mind, it’s almost certainly a cliché. Using clichés is an obvious hallmark of weak writing, precisely because it betrays the author’s unwillingness to push past the easy or obvious, and explore new ideas.

What the apologists for ignoring so-called “political correctness” seem to overlook is that every offensive stereotype ever created is both mean-spirited and a cliché of the worst order. The only valid and original thing to do with any cliché is turn it on its head or expose its vacuity it in a fresh new way. That’s not easy, but then—isn’t that a given, if you’re trying to produce real, lasting, meaningful art?

IMAGES: Many (ironic) thanks to The Federalist Papers, for the Voltaire quote, and to Sizzle for the “Freedom to offend” meme. I am indebted to A-Z Quotes for both the Ian Banks quote, and the one from Toni Morrison. Many thanks to all!

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