That which you hate
I may the only person who loves writing exercises. You find out some of the dormant issues and thoughts and beliefs within yourself. You stretch your reasoning and your imagination. No matter what happens...a writing exercises changes your way of thinking...thus, changing your writing.
The best writing exercise I was ever forced to complete was assigned by writer Janet Fitch. I took her fiction class while completing my grad studies at the Univ of Southern California. She rarely gave statements and many of her strongest lessons occurred while she picked your brain about why you wrote something the way you did. She pointed out patterns in your writing and when and why you shied away from an inevitable conflict.
Was it therapy? no. But did you learn to work out your character's motivation from your own inclinations?
One day, she asked us to think of someone we hated. Someone who wronged us. Someone who hurt us and stunted our growth for a while. Someone we found it hard to forgive. It could be a frenemy, a family member, enemy, spouse, neighbor or even someone you only read about in the news. I glanced at my classmates and we all were staring to the left or at the ceiling, thinking of the one person we could gut in the blink of an eye.
Then she said,"now that you see them, think of how they talk, how they walk, what they have for breakfast, the way they smile, the rhythm of their speech...and write a short story about them in such a way that the reader has to understand and love them.
The room paused...just like you probably just did.
That's invasive. That requires you to humanize scum of the earth. That requires rational thought and time spent thinking of motivation and why they are the way they are. Isn't it so much easier to think of them as a raging banshee of demonic oppression?
Well, when you really want to write and move a reader you sincerely think about every character's motivation, background and the things that make them different. You take your time and show them the consideration to grow in the quiet rooms of your imagination.
The lesson of the story is that yes, you eventually must forgive everyone who angers and hurts you. And you eventually must learn to write skillfully and carefully about the real characters we meet in life that fall into the good, the bad and the ugly categories.
Happy Writing and Happy 4th of July...