It’s not easy to write when you’re angry.
Rather, it’s easy to write furious, frustrated-with-everything, stay-outta-my-way-or-I’ll-cut-you anger. Which is great if that’s what you want to write. If I were to guess, I’d say the demand for scathing political satire and scorching allegory is probably rising day by day. Even when the temperature of the times is not spiking like a pyromaniac’s summertime fever, there’s a place for blistering prose railing against iniquity, greed and the ignorance.
Hell, I’ve been known to indulge in it myself. It can be cathartic to savage one of the world’s particularly egregious ills in fiction, even if all you’re doing is kicking over shoddily-erected straw men.
But at heart I’d rather be the sort of storyteller who buries any messages well below the surface, like a shot of fertiliser to the roots. Without it, the story won’t flourish, but it’s not scattered haphazardly around the trunk or dripping off the leaves, on vulgar display to the reader.
Being a news addict, since long before 24-hour news and the internet turned it into a near-ubiquitous condition, and worse still a part-time political wonk, the last couple of months have been difficult. Outside of the months following 11 September 2001, I can’t recall a time when I’ve been more outright pessimistic about politics, both here and abroad.
Without belabouring the obvious, the state of the world bothers me. With things as bad as they seem to be, the urge is strong to create angry, defiant work that spits in the face of thugs, thieves and oppressors. To strip bare their lies and expose their shriveled, diseased truth. To punch Nazis in the face, with fists of pure, righteous Art.
Two problems with that. One, I’m not a great orator in the fascist-bashing mode of a George Orwell, Umberto Eco or Jack ‘King’ Kirby. Two, I don’t really want to be. I just want to tell stories.
It feels selfish, though. Who do I think I am, telling frivolous yarns about pyromantic monkeys and magic robots when the world needs serious help? Every day I struggle with the question of how to reconcile my desire to create diverting entertainments with my growing awareness of the many things being lost, broken and stolen by petty, grasping men.
I feel like a patch of disputed ground being fought over back and forth by two sides of my conscience: “do more good” versus “do what you love best”. Neither side is wrong and neither side shows any signs of gaining the upper hand. It’s exhausting.
Here’s some good advice on the subject from writers I admire:
- Kameron Hurley: How to keep writing through times of great political upheaval
- Chuck Wendig (NSFW, although it’s mostly only the title): Why persist as a writer in time of such heinous fuckery?
- Kristine Katherine Rusch: Writing in difficult times
There are many others, of course – it’s a popular topic of conversation among writers at the moment.
I’m going to press on for now, trying to write my escapist nonsense. I’ll do my best to pretend the world’s not falling apart (in fiction at least). It might not be a bad idea to cut back on my time on news site and social media feeds.
I’ll build a wall – a modest one, nothing flashy or expensive – between my storytelling and my political fury.
Though I might just let a little bit of the rage seep into the work.
Not too much. Just a little bit, dug in around the edges.
To help it grow, you understand.