Writing is, at its core, about exchanging ideas. Sometimes those ideas are new to us, other times they're new spins on well-worn ideas, and still other times they're lessons that we know well, but which bear repeating (sometimes they're none of those things, but... well, that's not ideal). What I'd like to talk about, though, is what you can learn from writing, and it usually seems to fall into that third category. Click down below the break for my ramblings.
There's a bit from one of my fanfics, Letters from a Senior to a Junior Changeling, that I'd like to start by quoting. In it, the senior changeling explains how to sow discontent between a mother and son:
Go to the mother and tell her how wonderful are all the many little things she surely does for him. Then, when she is inflated with your praise, casually offer that you can’t see why he never speaks of his appreciation himself. Likewise, go to the son and tell him what a dutiful child he is to care so for the mare. Speak glowingly of how patient he is with her, even though she doesn’t seem at all grateful. His smile may falter a bit at this, but do not press the attack. Instead, carry on as though you did not notice, praising the myriad sacrifices he daily makes for her.
Pepper your conversations with such minuscule barbs, and you will soon see just how quick these ponies are to turn from harmony to chaos. One day, the mother will pass her son as he washes the dishes, and the grudge your words have planted in him will burst forth. “These are your dishes too,” he will snap. “The least you could do is say thank-you.”
But by now, the mare will be too wrapped up in her own perceived grievances to consider what a little thing this is to ask. Instead, she will take offense. How can he ask me for thanks, she will think to herself, when I am the one who fixes supper each night for the both of us? And she will respond with some jab of her own, and soon the two will be screaming at each other over nothing more significant than a basic household responsibility, two minutes’ work at the most.If that sounds totally trite and artificial... um, oops. But if it sounds completely realistic to you, it's because I have done that exact thing. Multiple times. Something about doing dishes hits that puts me in a bad mood, I guess (better than being in charge of laundry, though), and I've gotten into more than one spat with family or roommates because I was doing the dishes, and some slight (perceived or otherwise) got me so riled up about my own grievances (perceived or otherwise) that I just had to pick a fight about it.
But, funny thing: since first writing that story nearly two years ago, it hasn't happened again. Granted, a lot of that is that I'm not regularly in the position of doing others' dishes these days (let alone feeling that I'm being insufficiently lauded for it), but even when I've had a chance to be aggrieved, I haven't been. And wouldn't you know? It's because whenever I start to get annoyed while washing plates, I think of that passage that I wrote. Seeing things through my own refracted past perspective helps me see just how petty I'm being.
There is nothing particularly clever or novel about the idea "maybe you shouldn't get so riled up about something trivial." Goodness knows, I've heard variations on that theme plenty of times. But when you put some time and effort into writing something, I find it's hard not to internalize what you've written. Although it certainly wasn't my intention, writing that passage provoked a positive change in me that dozens of childhood parental lectures only partly produced.
This is kind of a silly, trivial example, but I chose it because I think it makes for a good illustration (and because I think it's funny--"fanfic taught me not to be a jerk about dishes" would be a great Weekly World News headline, wouldn't it?). The best way to learn a subject is to teach it, they say (they're right). Perhaps the best way to learn a lesson is to write it.