Writing in a time of heinous fuckery®


“Heinous fuckery” is not my description, I say with great regret. It belongs to @ChuckWendig, who is wondering how to keep writing while being in the middle of it. He’s not the only one. Kameron Hurley says here

Ongoing national horrors can’t be unplugged, but we go on

They are saying, from inside Trump’s America, that there is no end in sight, this is how it is, and how do you write when you have to respond to what’s happening around you? If we’re writers, we respond in a particular way, but we’ve got empathy hardwired as part of the package. Readers escape into the worlds writers create, the bugger is that the writers can’t.

We’ll come to John Scalzi later, because @scalzi has got the answer. It involves leopards, hope you’re not frightened by leopards. If you’ve not been scared shitless by an orange pre-sentient smear with his little fingers on the button, a spotty predator with massively powerful haunches and little, neat ears, isn’t going to bother you so much.

What do we do about this?

joanneharris_wthf 14.16.35

Classic British understatement which covers the reality of carrying on writing in the middle of the fuckery. To start with, we used our words to fight the horrors, words passionate with feeling, honed with sarcasm, every bloody trick in the book, designed to take down a vulgar, ignorant, racist online. There was a peevish reaction amongst the online fanbases unused to finding politics clogging up the source of their stories and storytellers. The authors sighed, interspersed the political with pictures of cats, sunsets, heirloom apples (Thanks, Chuck), even tried getting a book or two out there.

But the thing is, this is the thing writers do.

Writers have always been the ones weaving patterns out of everyday life with words, whether dealing directly with the facts as journalists, or a metaphorical version as writers of fiction. Getting better at the words is time, hard work, getting less shit at it. But writers, despite looking like everyone else, have an alien digestive process when it comes to reality. Most human beings respond to what is going on outside their own heads by (a) fighting it (b) achieving an amicable relationship with all but the really crappy parts over time and (c) pretending it isn’t there. Writers are not only on this headmessing spectrum but hardwired to empathise with the world around them, like the lettering in seaside rock. A writer is no more able to cut off an empathy with the world around us, than seaside rock can deny the existence of Scarborough.

A writer digests the raw stuff of life and produces story, which is life rewoven to show the warp, the weft, the pattern, the meaning, if we’re getting up ourselves. Human beings need to know what it’s all about, which explains why, in every cave, there was a storyteller, usually accompanied by someone waving a club around to convey the importance of narrative in case they were thinking of dragging her out to hunt mammoths. The storytellers were too busy making up stories about hunting to go out and bring the mammoths down, but the clan needed both. Still needs both action and the words that explain the action.

You ask, what about the leopards? Be calm, we’ve come to the leopards.

Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 14.52.20

The storytellers have always been hardwired for empathy, and retained a sort of sanity by a digestive process that finds the pattern in the best and worst of circumstances and turns it into something that explains it. The old, primitive threats posed by leopards find new horrors which, forgive me, I will not list because there are too many and we have the means, with words, in the right order, to fight.

I think we need to keep our words, our best words, for our writing, for telling the stories that make sense of the heinous fuckery. Creativity is a storyteller, not the hunter of mammoths; when the primitive instinct to fight kicks in, on Twitter or any else, I think we have to go back to a unique way of responding and focus on that.

And now, I’ll probably return to Twitter and join a rant about Trump.

I’m saying what we should do, not what I necessarily do.




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