Thursday, February 14, 2013
The Seven Deadly Sins of Writing - Lust
Well, being that it's Valentine's Day today, it seemed like lust would be the natural choice of sins, wouldn't it? And sure, Valentine's is about love and all that mushy stuff, but Feb 14th is also the second day of Lupercalia - a fabulous pagan celebration which has to do with fertility and purity, symbolized by wolves and the god Pan. (And Pan was a satyr, remember. Pure lust, all the way.) Plus the main ceremony for Lupercalia involved half naked men running through the streets, flogging naked women with thongs of goat and dog skin.
So now that we've got that out of the way, how does lust match up in scheme of writerly sins?
Lust is usually associated with sex, and often in a negative way. (e.g. a lust for power). But really, lust is just the flip side of desire - after all, we also hear about people having a lust for life, or being struck by wanderlust, so the concept of lust by itself isn't exactly sinful. I mean, change up the words a little - a thirst for knowledge sounds a bit tamer than a lust for knowledge - even though it's the same thing.
Without desire, we lose what makes us drive forward to success. Most of us desire to publish our stories, or just share them - but it's the *need* to share those stories that allows us to slog through revisions and rejections, to keep trying and trying and trying.
So where's the negative in that?
Well, if you take lust as a sin literally - as in Thomas Aquinas' version:
...wherever there occurs a special kind of deformity whereby the venereal act is rendered unbecoming, there is a determinate species of lust. This may occur in two ways: First, through being contrary to right reason, and this is common to all lustful vices; secondly, because, in addition, it is contrary to the natural order of the venereal act as becoming to the human race: and this is called "the unnatural vice." This may happen in several ways. First, by procuring pollution, without any copulation, for the sake of venereal pleasure: this pertains to the sin of "uncleanness" which some call "effeminacy." Secondly, by copulation with a thing of undue species, and this is called "bestiality." Thirdly, by copulation with an undue sex, male with male, or female with female, as the Apostle states (Rm. 1:27): and this is called the "vice of sodomy." Fourthly, by not observing the natural manner of copulation, either as to undue means, or as to other monstrous and bestial manners of copulation.
Well, okay, I don't *like* his views per se - since he was pretty much against everything from masturbation to homosexuals, (I'll pass on the bestiality, thanks). But what he's saying is that lust is wrong because when the desire for pleasure becomes so encompassing that you're actually considering sex with a goat, you've got a problem.
For writers, I think this concept translates pretty well. When your desire for success is so large that you become ruthless to achieve it, then....yeah.
For example - social media. Starting a campaign on Facebook or Twitter asking people to buy your book or click like tags is one thing, and part of the typical publishing thing these days (although some people go overboard with it) - but let's say you take it a step further. We've all seen some pretty ugly stories come to light the last few months, particularly on GoodReads and Amazon, where badly-behaved authors purposefully give shitty reviews or bad tags to try to make the competition look bad. Straw-man reviews. Plagiarizing.
Sometimes it's not even all that obvious. The person may not even realize they're doing it. I'm sure many of us have run into writers who have a tendency to "use" others until those people are no longer considered valuable. Making contacts is always good - publishing can often be a game of who you know - but it stings when you realize someone you thought was a friend or a professional colleague gives you the brush off because they don't think you have anything else to offer them. (Only to have them come simpering back when you do succeed later on.)
It becomes a very slippery slope, very quickly.
It's hard. We all want to write that best-seller and hop our way into fortune and fame. And people's ideals and values vary - what I find distasteful may be business as usual to someone else. But as excited as we may become on our journey up that success ladder, sometimes it's useful to take a step back and really measure what it is we're about to do.
If you look in the mirror and find yourself bending over for a goat? Time to rethink your priorities, my friends.