Kameron Hurley: How to Keep Writing Through Times of Great Political Upheaval

I am never not in awe of Kameron Hurley’s writing. Whether we’re talking about her essays (ahem) or her fiction — like, say, her newest, The Stars Are Legion — I’m always eager to get my hands on the next Hurley book. Further, I’m always excited to have her here, because one day she’s going to be a literary rock motherfucking superstar, and I can say, I KNEW HER WHEN.

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My grandmother grew up in Vichy France, under a regime propped up by and answerable to the Nazi regime. These last few months, I’ve wished she was still alive more desperately than any time since her death. I wanted to ask her how you coped when terrible things were happening all around you.

While we understand the necessity of writing during these times, figuring out how to persist in one’s writing when everything around you is so incredibly uncertain is tougher. Uncertainty breeds anxiety, and anxiety can kill your ability to do anything but go through the motions of bare bones survival. It’s in realizing that it was the anxiety unleashed by the sudden uncertainty in this country – when will the government declare martial law? Will we become a Russian puppet-state? Did a city explode in nuclear fire overnight? – also helped me figure out how to address it. If we can’t control the world around us, at least we can control the work we do in the face of it.

So here are my coping strategies. Hopefully some of them will help you too:

Ration your news. This may seem counter-productive. We all want to stay informed! The resistance needs us! But staring at a screen that’s beaming nightmares into your eyes for hours on end isn’t helpful; it’s actively harmful, because it will convince you that the problems out there are too big to address. I subscribed to The Washington Post, which I now read once a day. That’s news enough. I use Tweetdeck to view Twitter, which allows me to mute keywords from both my feed and mentions. I’ve muted, easily, over 200 keywords at this point, and I generally add a new one or two every day or so. This has also reduced the likelihood I’ll get suckered into a fake news meme. I also don’t have a personal Facebook account, which is a blessing. I recommend that you trim and mute there as well if you want to stay on it. But, again: Facebook is where fake news and your racist Uncle Joe are, so. I dunno. Your call.

Take up a hobby you don’t need to be good at. Like many writers, writing started out as my relaxing side gig. It was something I did in my spare time, and I found it deeply soothing. When I turned pro, the mad crash of deadlines and the need to level up my writing game to compete in a crowded market made the writing, well, less soothing. Sure, it’s still fun sometimes. But it became work. I needed something else to do with my brain that didn’t require angst. Then Netflix started streaming old episodes of The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, and I found them so relaxing to watch that my spouse got me an oil painting set for Christmas. I’ve now painted something like 16 paintings, and it’s OK that they aren’t good! I don’t owe them to anyone. No one is paying me for them. I can just enjoy getting better at a new skill. It’s deeply satisfying to watch your skills level up from one painting to the next. Painting, like learning a new language, has also changed how I view the world. I’m starting to look at the angles of things when I look at building and mountains. I pay attention to the play of dark and light. I’ve also moved on to watching other painting shows. While watching a show by William Alexander on YouTube, he says, “You must add dark. You can’t have light without the dark,” and it was what I really needed to hear right then. Find something you enjoy that you don’t have to be good at, and go do it.

Chillax on the booze and other drugs. I spent a couple months post-election drinking way too much. Bad for my health and bad for my wallet. I cut myself back to once a week again, largely by replacing the booze behavior with the painting behavior. Watch your intake and reliance on drugs right now, legal or illegal, clearly. It’s easy to make “just one more because the government has imploded” into a habit, because the government is going to be imploding for a good long while. Caffeine isn’t great for anxiety, either, so stick to those two cups of coffee a day, or go cold turkey (I’m still working on this).

Get a dog. I mean, I’m a dog person. Dogs love you unconditionally. Pets make great therapy for folks suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD, or any combination thereof. So you could get any kind of animal: a cat, a chinchilla, a turtle. When you want to just lie around in bed and not get up, knowing that you have to get up because you’re responsible for the care of another living thing is pretty motivating. Dogs also remind you that there is love and loyalty and pure joy in the world, even if you have lost your faith in humanity. Dogs have the added bonus of making you get up to take them outside for walks, which will get you out of your chair and increase the amount of exercise you get. Recent studies even found that people with dogs tend to get more exercise, and as a result, are healthier, than non-dog owners. It’s science, people.

Do what you can. Listen, yeah, resistance is great. Change the world! We need it. But we can’t do everything, and this is going to be a long, long haul. Pace yourself. Figure out what you can do, and do that. I subscribed to 5calls.org’s newsletter, which sends you a list of five issues every week to call your representatives about. I make my calls and check the local Ohio Resistance (yes, really) calendar to see if there’s a protest downtown that I can attend. So far I haven’t made it to one of those, but it’s on my radar now. Persist.

Write your way out. The world has not fundamentally changed. Only our understanding of it. The sun still comes up. There is still the work to do. Certainly, I’ve found that my own writing has shifted in tone and scope now that my view of the world is altered. I want to write more hopeful futures, futures where bad things happen, sure, but there are still good people out there doing good work. I want to be one of the people who makes a little more light in all this dark.

Rage against the dying of the light. Listen. When I’m feeling REALLY bad, and the dogs are curled up with me in bed and the booze is gone and I don’t want to get up, I remind myself that this is what the bad guys WANT. They want me to hide in bed, to get weary, and most of all: to shut up and stop working. On the very worst days, it is pure, blinding spite that gets me out of bed, because fuck those guys. If the only way you can get out of bed and put ass in chair to work is to yell “FUCK YOU!!” repeatedly at the clouds every morning, do it. I often say aloud, “Get up, Hurley” in the same cadence one would say, “Get up, Trinity.” And it helps. It really, really does.

So get up, folks. And get back to work.

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Kameron Hurley is the author of the space opera, The Stars are Legion and the essay collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy and The Worldbreaker Saga. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. She was also a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Popular Science MagazineLightspeed Magazine, and many anthologies. Hurley has also written for The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice, Bitch Magazine, and Locus Magazine. She posts regularly at KameronHurley.com.

Kameron Hurley: Website | Twitter

The Stars Are Legion: Indiebound | Amazon | B&N

17 comments

  • However it all started, I now write because I have to, I have dogs because I want to and I’m training those dogs in energetic ways because I need the mental and physical stimulation. And because it’s FUN

  • I like her points for survival. Have now added ‘watch paint dry’ to my list of alternatives to reading hostile Facebook posts. Also, the f-bomb wake-up routine does stir one’s anarchical heart. Thank you for being you and sharing people like you. Viva la Resistance!

  • Thank you so much, Kameron! Great advice here, and this post makes me feel better about the time I’ve been spending with a fun hobby these days instead of writing as much as I *should* be. We spend so much of our day doing things for other people, trying to meet other people’s expectations, trying to meet our own high expectations, trying to save the world, and so on—it’s all too easy to give away all our time and forget to care for ourselves.

  • This is packed with great advice. As I read it I had a minor epiphany – many of the writers I know are LGBT like me, and all of us have talked throughout our careers about the importance of writing to simply save lives and leave breadcrumbs for those who follow. Perhaps because, for us, we’ve always lived in times of Great Political Upheaval.

    • Wow, you are absolutely right. I’m not LGBT, but am writing a true story about one who is, and have since become an advocate in telling her story. She has been an inspiration in spite of being knocked down so many times, and I need to remember to do the same. Blessings to you on your writing journey.

  • You can’t imagine how much I needed to see this today. Way too much wine, carbs, and pity over the state of humanity has left me frozen since the election and I’m done with it. Thank you for the wise advice and thank you to Chuck for passing it along.

  • This is great. I especially like the advice about limiting news and limiting booze. I read an interview with the lead singer of the Melvins a few years ago in which he said there is no problem in the world that cannot be made ten times worse with whiskey. I remind myself that when I’m feeling shitty and want to kill the bad thoughts with booze – they’ll still be there in the morning, and I’ll feel like shit.

  • I lack eloquence at the moment, but I want to thank you for this post. It was much needed, and is very much appreciated.

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