This is the second and final part of my interview with MoonHorse. Names are censored to protect the privacy of the individual being interviewed. If you have not and would like to read the first part, click here.
This section of the interview delves into writing pedagogy, agency in writing, and discourse surrounding both sensitivity reads and content warnings. As these topics are once again becoming relevant, I did want to discuss them here with someone who is well-versed in the workings of comedy, a discipline in which this continues to be a prominent issue.
If you were to construct a writing exercise specifically for the purpose of encouraging others to take agency, how would you go about that?
First off, I would find what they're most comfortable writing. Not everyone can fit into the same field. Like I said early on in this, I've tried writing in other genres and I'm simply not good at it. That's fine. It's just not my field, and it took awhile to learn that because I was always under the impression that if this is what you say you do, this is what you do (referring to writing across genres). Sometimes, you have to learn what you're actually good at through experimentation.
So, if we have a group of five people, the first step would be to determine what their comfort zone is. What is the thing you most attach to and can express best? Then, from there, to create something to show capability, to show what they're capable of and how they do it. The biggest problem with basic academia, and that's what I went through when I was in school, is that there's often little to no excitement in what you're doing and if you're not excited, you're not going to learn.
If you don't enjoy what you're doing, you're not going to continue working at it. I learned that from school in general, all of these different book reports about books that I don't care about. These stories are not interesting and I don't care about them. I know, I know, I've been through this a thousand times. Can we try something different? Actually, it's not that it's a bad story, it's just that it's been run into the ground for so long that you're not excited for it. If you're not excited, you're not going to absorb anything. You're not going to collect this information and it won't mean anything to you.
People I know who are incredibly skilled mathematicians who love [math], that's their passion. They enjoy that. They want to know more about this. They're constantly working on things like this, but I was never into that, which is one of the reasons why I don't remember a huge amount and what I do know I don't focus on because it's not a focal point for me.
So, you have to find where someone's interest is. Obviously, we're just going with writing. Someone's interest in writing and their particular nuances that they want to build on, they're going to want to put everything into that. Then, you can actually see if it's working because they'll actually put effort into it.
So, you would say that someone's best work would come from trial and error and experimentation. What forms do you think those experiments would take?
There's so many different things. I've seen all of these different boards where people write amateur fiction, and a lot of their more simple works are just about needing an exercise. That's the intro to it. I needed an exercise. I picked out some basic character ideas and decided that I was going to hammer something out and see if it works. If it does, cool. If it doesn't, oh well.
It's the reason for those boards and websites like that. It's not about becoming the next great fiction writer. These people who write mountains of fanfiction, for example, these are not people expecting to become millionaire writers. They're writing fanfiction, you can't even publish it for god's sake. The copyright alone would eat you up alive, but it's purely being done for the enjoyment of a craft and the enjoyment of characters. There is an audience for this and the audience tells them if it's something they enjoy or don't, so they have a kind of open measure.
Honestly, with the advent of the internet, we've gotten a better system by which to do this. Before this, you would have to experiment with this writing, and ask this of people you know. You still have that issue in talking to people face to face, when someone is judging you based on what your friendship is as well as your work, and they don't want to hurt your feelings. In this, you have a board of people, and yes, some of them can be particularly nasty, but you have a board of people purely judging you on what you have created. They don't know anything else about you. They only know that this is what you made, and they can tell you whether or not it fits and whether or not it's good.
It allows you to learn things that you can carry over into other skills. You can take it from writing something simple and silly and nonsensical and move it to a project that you really want to make. You have this moment with these people to exercise and learn skills. A lot of these people are actually paid through commission to write things for other people. So, they're obviously professionals and they do this a lot. This is a good exercise for them, a way to get out and try things, to do things and see what else they can create while at the same time building their portfolio.
This kind of relates to that. I want to talk about some things that have gotten a pushback starting with sensitivity reads. For readers, I'm defining a sensitivity read as an editing process by which an editor would look for possibly harmful language toward certain people or groups. The inclusion of the sensitivity read as something an editor can get paid for has grown to be a point of contention. Do you see merit in the sensitivity read? If so, how?
I absolutely agree that this should exist. There should also be something to tell whoever is going into this that they may encounter certain things that are more than what someone might be prepared for. This is a rough draft or the result of multiple drafts, not a completed work. The people who are going into this, they're working, this is their job. Job site safety is absolutely tantamount, you need that. You need to be understanding to the people you're working with.
There's this idea that you shouldn't have to warn your editors about what might be potentially upsetting to them, and it's kind of the same thing as saying that you don't need to warn your site workers that the scaffolding is unstable. You absolutely do. This is their job. You're not here to appreciate the house, you're here to work on the house, so this isn't an appreciation thing. [An editor] might expect a bad guy to say some pretty horrible things or might do some incredibly horrible actions. Something horrible may have happened to your main characters. If anyone reading that in their free time comes across a part of this that they're not particularly fond of, they can simply stop.
They can say, "This is simply not for me and I don't want to finish this," but an editor is a paid position. It's a job, so they have to continue. Safe workplace conditions are necessary. You need to be safe in the place where you work, otherwise you're not going to do the kind of work that's expected of you. You're going to be upset or in a bad position. This is a part of treating your workers fairly. Any editor that doesn't want to deal with [a potentially upsetting text] shouldn't have to deal with that. They're an editor, not your pet.
What, do you believe, should be included in a content warning that includes potentially harmful material like that?
Usually, with online stories that have these things in it, they have certain tags on them. It should be like that. A lot of things are divided up by tags, the same way you would do it on image boards or something like that. That's a way of saying, "This is the kind of thing that's in this particular work." The way that this is set up on websites is, if you have an account on this site or image board, you can set up a blacklist setting where you just don't see certain things. Anything with this tag does not get displayed. It's still there, it's just not for you.
They could look things up in a different way if they really wanted to, but it's not going to show up on their feed because they don't need it to. It's not a part of what they're comfortable with and it's not a thing that they want to do. For editors, it also means a change in productivity, but again, you have to understand that people aren't machines and businesses are made out of people, so things are going to be different. People are all different, and it's going to take understanding and compassion to get these things working.
I would never make anyone edit any of the work I do if they're not comfortable with the subject or the systems that I use. I know, for example, several other people who work in the same line I do are also their own video editors, but I use a particular grouping of software because I don't use a standard Windows-based operating system, so everything is specifically made for Linux. I don't expect everyone else in my field to use this stuff or even to have to put up with it. That wouldn't be fair to them. That's not what they're used to and it's not their comfort space. Everyone works in their own way, and to force them all to deal these things that are not comfortable with, they're not going to keep working for you. If they find a group that is more compassionate and will work with them on these things, that's where they're going to go.
Going on with that, something else that's been widely debated is content warnings in academia. There have been teachers who have refused to notify students of possibly triggering subjects. The counter-argument to that, that I've seen, is that it's not complicated to say, "This book has this, this, and this, if you're not comfortable, there's an alternate assignment." Then, the teacher would be tasked with providing an alternate but similar assignment. Where do you stand?
Are they unwilling to do an alternate assignment? Is it this and nothing else?
Maybe, there are also school systems that want certain books assigned. So, a teacher might have a pre-set list of what to assign their students.
In that case, it's not so much on the teacher themselves, it's how the system is demanding that they do so. What I think you should be done, much like you said earlier, an alternate curriculum should be put in place. If they're not going to do that, that leads to contacting the school board or administration and asking them to consider an alternative. If they refuse, protest. You can't force people to do things like this. Education is important, but forcing people into a little box where they're uncomfortable and doing the same thing means they're not going to absorb any of this. If someone is entirely put off by the nature of whatever is being done, it's deeply disturbing to them for mental health reasons or physical health reasons or any reason, they're not going to continue with this. They're not going to absorb this. If they must go through it, they won't do well at it because why would you? Why would you want to spend that much time with a subject that's that deeply upsetting to you?
Trying to force an educator in a specific spot, in this middle ground, where they're the ones presented as saying, "You have to do this" isn't fair to them because it wasn't their decision to begin with. This is like the middle management set-up in a store where they constantly tell you that the manager says things, but the manager didn't say those things, it's a corporately owned store. Corporate said that the manager said that you have to do that. The manager is there to make sure nothing is destroyed, but they don't actually make the rules. So, to blame them for bad rules really isn't fair to them.
Granted, there will be some teachers who want things to be the way they designed that, they're obviously an exception to this. With a lot of these people, they have to say what administration says to do. If they're not comfortable, they fail. Educators and students looking over things and giving an alternate assignment will help them learn, and I see a huge benefit from that.
Okay, last question! If you were to give advice to an established professional author, you might have someone in mind or just notions of what a well-established professional author looks like, what kind of advice would you give them?
Always be open to new things. Sometimes, new concepts, new things can seem strange and almost unapproachable, but if you spend time getting to understand them and getting to understand people who work within these concepts, it starts to make sense. All these things start to fit together and you get to understand a broader picture of what's going on.
Settling yourself into one particular place means you're never going to be able to expand from that place, and you always want to have that ability to keep learning because there's no such thing as being at a point where you can't learn anymore. Everyone can learn. Everyone who has the drive and willingness to learn can learn. Age, gender, race, religion, irrelevant. Everyone can learn. Everyone has that capability and everyone should.
For any of my readers who would like this context, this is one of those who helped me to start this blog in the first place. Many of you might notice that some of the ideas that come through in this interview are those that I have emphasized through the course of my writing about writing theory, writing pedagogy, and planning in writing. I refer especially to those pieces in which I emphasize, that writing is often not about what's right or wrong, but about what works. That's because we talk about these things and he's given me a lot of guiding ideas that have helped in my reading and framing of different concepts. He is an advocate for all creatives who wish to pursue their ideas to the greatest extent at their capacity and has been a huge supporter of Purposeful Prose from the start.
A big thanks to MoonHorse for sharing his insight and experience and to everyone who has given me feedback and engagement on these posts. All members of Purposeful Prose can like, comment, and make use of my forum and the members' section of my site. If you would like to sign up and be a member, that would be greatly appreciated!
If there is any topic that you would like me to research, feel free to suggest it. You do not need a source ahead of time, I will see it!
As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!