It is fucking weird being a writer right now.
Especially the writer of what is ostensibly entertainment — it feels precariously like tap-dancing on the Titanic. It’s like, tippity-tap-tappity-tip, “Ya-da-da-da-doo-dee-da-da! Hey, ignore the iceberg, look at me dancing, I’m dancing over here, it’s great, we’re not smashing into a jagged frozen nightmare, ha ha ha that’s just the power of my dance you’re feeling as the boat splits apart and, oh god I’m falling into the hoary black depths, but maybe I can tap dance on an ice floe or the head of a shark–” *is frozen* *is eaten*
What I’m trying to say is:
It’s hecka hard to conjure words these days.
Hard to sit down, avert your gaze from the Hieronymous Bosch painting going on outside your window (“Oh, good, there’s a giant face vomiting up a skeleton bird and the skeleton bird is eating children”), and especially hard to put words down. It can feel hollow. Or like a waste of time, a fruitless endeavor. Or it might just feel like nonsense, like all you’re doing is typing out nice-sounding gibberish that has no impact on anything or anyone. Just squawking into the void. Squawk, squawk. And the void does not answer.
This is truly the stupidest, meanest timeline.
And it would be easy to… just not write.
But that’s not an option. Okay, it’s totally an option, but it’s not a good option, especially for me, where I use this thing I do *gestures broadly to my desk and the scattering of papers and the Chewbacca toy near my coffee-stained keyboard* to pay bills. If I don’t make words into books, I don’t make my mortgage. So, I gotta do it. And, I bet, you gotta do it to. Maybe not for the mortgage, but for your peace of mind. Because it’s what you wanna do. Or better yet: it’s who you are, full-stop, end of story.
How the fuck do you do it? It’s like trying to give a colonoscopy to a rabid badger in the dark — it seems impossible, bitey, foul-smelling. But there are ways. There have to be ways. Let us count them, so we have a way forward, together. Some of this I’ve spoken of before, but it helps me to put it down in words, to create a mission statement and a motivational springboard to help propel me — and hopefully you, too — through the maelstrom.
First: It’s Okay To Be Pissed Off And Upset As Fuck
That thing you’re feeling? That roiling, writhing middle like you just had a enema of Gaboon vipers and jagged driveway gravel? That’s anger. You’re pissed off.
It’s perfectly normal.
Christ, it’s abnormal to not be wanting to bite your keyboard in half. I wanna throw my phone into a wood chipper daily, not because I hate my phone, but because I hate all the hate that my phone contains. *looks at phone* “Oh, good, Trump is putting babies in holes, now, just random holes in the ground, wherever goblin-dildo Stephen Miller can dig them.”
It’s vital to realize you’re not alone. Nor are you alone as a writer who has no idea what to do with all of this — all the fuckery, all the madness, all the poison and sepsis and outhouse tornado, all the cruelty and the terror and the from-creeping-to-sprinting fascism. You are not alone.
Second: It’s Okay To Look Away
You can see a pile of shit on the ground and recognize what it is without stepping in it, and rolling in it, and then eating it. You can see it and walk the other way. You can pinch your nose; nobody is demanding you smell it to prove it. You are not required to marinate in all that’s going on in order to understand it. I promise, in five, maybe ten minutes you can get caught up on the latest batch of dipshit atrocities going on and then go do something else. Go outside. Throw a ball for a dog. Smell some honeysuckle. Have sexytimes with one or several consensual partners.
Self-care is king. Said it before, will say it again: adjust your own oxygen mask before attending to the oxygen masks of others. You’re no good to us if you’re rolling around on the floor, frothing in undirected rage. Pick yourself up, eat a cupcake, read a book —
Then get back into the fight.
Third: Words Are Weapons
In the arsenal of resistance, we have many weapons. We can protest with our bodies, we have votes, we have work stoppages and boycotts, we have Molotov cocktails if shit gets really hinky — but we also have words. Words matter; you have to believe that, if you’re a writer. The entire world is made up of words, and you are good at adding words to the world.
So, do that. Use that. Form your words into weapons and let them fly.
We need to write letters to our politicians. We need to convey what we think over social media, en masse. We can write articles and blog posts, and yes, I understand that seems a very passive, safe form of resistance, but I assure you — words can go far, and can have great power. Art is a presence in protest, or should be: during the most turbulent tides of our time, we look to writers, comedians, musicians, comics, games, and so on and so forth, to help us understand what’s going on. To channel our rage. To crystallize our thoughts and contextualize the history behind us and what’s to come. To find empathy and to practice critical thinking.
Is it enough? By itself, no.
But it’s part of it. We all add to this in our own way, and this is, arguably, your way. You gotta speak your mind. You gotta say what you feel. If only to purge all that pent-up poison.
(And here I recommend following Celeste Pewter, who often has very good advice on directing your words to counter this fuckery.)
Fourth: Words Are A Door
Just the same: embrace the power of escapism.
We all need to escape, man. Every day I’m looking for a portal out of this donkey show and into something more fun, something so distant that I can’t hear the chaos through the walls. Nothing wrong with writing that escape, or seeking it. Use your own stories to provide an out for yourself and your readers; and read books, too, that give you that escape. No shame. Words can be self-care. They can be a doorway out, for a time. A portal to a Narnia where it’s not a circus orgy of sick chimps running around, on fire, throwing flaming shit at one another.
Fifth: Words Are Trojan Horses
Sometimes instead of attacking head on with FROTHY TWEETS and FOUL-MOUTHED LETTERS TO YOUR REPRESENTATIVES, you instead pack a book with a lot of ideas and then you trebuchet that book out into the world. Just as there’s nothing wrong with writing an escapist story, there’s also nothing wrong with taking all that you’re feeling and pumping it into something — a book, a short story, a comic, a game, a poem, a fucking fortune cookie, I dunno. Somewhere. Anywhere. Sometimes, to contextualize resistance for yourself and your readers, you need to enrobe it in the raiment of something else — fantasy fiction, or superhero comics, or literary spec-fic. Ideas sometimes need idea-wrappers: you dress them up in something other than what they seem. It’s like giving your dog a pill: first you slather it in peanut butter.
Sixth: Connect With Your Community
To go back to the beginning: you’re not alone, so now’s the time to remember that and connect with those around you. If you’re feeling fucked up about the world and about your authorial place in it, ping some writer pals. They’ll listen. Trust me. And you listen to them, too. And then signal boost each other. Help out. Form a community. You don’t need to be ronin-ninja-without-clan. You have people. The way we make it through this gauntlet-of-fanged-assholes is not by ourselves, but together.
Seventh and Last: Fuck It, Put Words Down Wherever, Whenever, However
Sometimes that’s all it takes. You don’t need a direction. You don’t need a purpose. You don’t even need an audience. You are a writer, and your tool is right in front of you. Make sentences. Express thoughts. Write a journal, or angry Post-It notes, or an email to a friend. Squeeze the world and let the words ooze out. Write about your hopes, your fears, your everything, your anything. Make words. It’s okay. Have a laugh. Be funny. Be angry. Feel things and put them onto paper. Promote your work because we want to read it. Write your books because we need books now more than we did before. Write of resistance. Write for the resistance. Just make the words happen. A few at a time. Or a lot at once.
It’s what you do. It’s who you are. It’s how you’ll survive.
* * *
DAMN FINE STORY: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative
What do Luke Skywalker, John McClane, and a lonely dog on Ho’okipa Beach have in common? Simply put, we care about them.
Great storytelling is making readers care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. It’s making your audience feel the tension and emotion of a situation right alongside your protagonist. And to tell a damn fine story, you need to understand why and how that caring happens.
Whether you’re writing a novel, screenplay, video game, or comic, this funny and informative guide is chock-full of examples about the art and craft of storytelling–and how to write a damn fine story of your own.
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18 responses to “How To Be A Writer In This Fucked-Ass Age Of Rot And Resistance”
These are indeed the times that try a citizen’s soul, to paraphrase Thomas Paine. Your points are very good ones. I think another idea is to try and connect a concrete action to whatever anger and frustration we feel. If one is prone to depression (as I am), all that unrequited rage needs to be defused before it implodes. Even if it’s a phone call or letter or signing a petition or dropping a donation somewhere, doing even one thing to push back against this amoral political clusterfuck is useful.
Maybe we can also look at it the other way around? Maybe the assfuckery of the age is precisely what will open a window, and give a voice, to strong new political themes in fiction?
THANK YOU. I’ve been feeling lost and rage-y and I so need this encouragement to keep on with the wordage.
“You can see a pile of shit on the ground and recognize what it is without stepping in it, and rolling in it, and then eating it. You can see it and walk the other way. You can pinch your nose; nobody is demanding you smell it to prove it. You are not required to marinate in all that’s going on in order to understand it.”
Ain’t that the truth!
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness – and a flamethrower is even better 🙂 Good writing can be a flamethrower: it doesn’t just provide illumination but spreading, infectious illumination. And flamethrowers seldom leave things the way they were.
So… Where to start…
Around two years ago I ‘gave up’ writing. I read my latest rejection from the big world of the fiction gatekeepers and I threw in the towel, gave up on my dreams, went back to my day job.
And then I didn’t.
I googled ‘I’m giving up writing’ and what should come up on top of the Google tree? A link to a Chuck Wendig blog post ‘so, you’re giving up writing.’ I thought – yeah, I am. So I read it. The blog piece was a rant of sweary geniusness. It told me to go ahead and give it up, but before I did to ask myself questions, about why I did it in the first place, why I was writing and also to stop dicking around and just write (which also included instructions to stop playing with my penis).
Long story short. I kept that blog piece. I’ve referred to it a few times. The final line reads – ‘and for fucks sake, don’t stop once you start.’ I kinda haven’t stopped since.
I went back and finished the book I was doing. I got picked up by a publisher a month after that, via the editor I hired to work on that same book. I now have seven books published (8 ready to go) and as I type I am the number one selling ebook in Australia (on Amazon.au). It’s done well in most other places too. This is not a boast or a look-at-me moment, but a thank you. Sincere, heart-felt and all that bollocks. I didn’t quit. I probably wasn’t going to anyway, but most importantly I realised at that very moment, after reading that piece, that I write because I fucking love it. You can’t stop doing something you love doing, and you shouldn’t. And the rejections don’t matter. I never started doing this to get published, I have no idea when this became the obsession, I started to stop the voices, to make something from nothing, something living and breathing and occasionally farting in a lift.
Now I’m much more relaxed about the whole thing. I know I’ll never stop. And I even take some time every now and then to play with the ol’ penis. Like I said – you can’t stop doing things you love doing.
So Chuck. Thanks man. You’re more than just a great writer. You’re a writer’s writer. And a sweary fucking genius.
Congrats on the book, Charlie! And, I guess, the penis.
(This is not addressed directly at Mr. Wendig (don’t know that we’re on a first-name basis yet) but simply as a general response to the topic and above.)
No offense at all intended, everyone reacts to stress in their own way(s) but damn, if you’re a writer and you feel that strongly, write something! If words aren’t your best tool to express yourself, do it some other way that works for you. Just don’t let it ruin your week, cry, yell, eat too much – and then they give up and go do something else. It’s not on “you” (anyone, individually) to put the world on your shoulders or start the revolution or whatever, just don’t internalize it and walk away. Words – written, spoken, signed or mimed – are still the strongest tool for communicating ideas, for change (put down your Molotov Cocktails for now, we’re nowhere near there yet,) and we (seems like we’re talking about U.S., Europe, and first-world Asia here) still live in a society where we can use them however we want: so take advantage of that, and your anger/resentment/helplessness/depression, and use it in a way that works for you!
I remember 10-15 years ago an interview with U2 when Bono was working with the World Bank or IMF or something and making political appearances to support positive change for Africa. The interviewer had made clear he believed Bono to be the second coming, and then asked the rest of the band if they felt that they weren’t doing enough to help the world and if they shouldn’t be more like Bono. I don’t remember the exact text/quote or anything, but The Edge responded that he was a guitar player, not a politician, and he would continue to speak and work through his guitar. If Bono felt that being a politician was the best way to take action, great for him, but the rest of the band was a band, and would continue to express themselves that way, because that was the way the best way they could. Well put, I thought.
Point is, I guess, don’t take responsibility for the BS other people have done, just don’t ignore it and walk away, either. Better yet, use it: this can be some powerful motivation, and maybe if you put it out there in your own way you’ll help a few other people (and/or make a few bucks) in the process.
(Again, this is not to knock the blog post as it is intended to do exactly that, I believe.)
[…] couple of days ago, Chuck Wendig posted a piece on his blog about being a writer and coping with all the terrible things going on around us. I posted a comment […]
I almost cried with the fourth one.
[…] if you feel you need some input on how to be a writer in this fucked-ass age of rot and resistance there’s some good advice there. I’m feeling I’m starting again a second career, […]
WOW this LIST is fantastic its very detailed, very informative and can surely learn a lot from here! I hope one of my known blog posts will do some of these: https://getitim.com/
Thank you so much for writing this. You put precise words around exactly what I was feeling.
Brilliantly said, sir, as usual. And goblin-dildo is definitely my newest favorite insult. Right on to ALL of this.
You have SUCH a way with words.
“That roiling, writhing middle like you just had a enema of Gaboon vipers and jagged driveway gravel? That’s anger.”
I am fighting back by writing frothy, fun, happy romances about diverse characters who are NOT being fucked sideways by the fascist pig-bitches of Babylon. And also by sending money to progressive campaigns and causes. Signing petitions. Submitting comments. Writing angrily on the Democratic voters’ survey about how some things are just IRRELEVANT right now in the face of a loud anti-civil-rights movement and to quit wasting our goddamned time.
I can’t do much on the ground, as it were, but … trying to do what I can.
This! This! This!
I needed this so much after the horrors of the last month. I love to write and have only recently gotten into the groove of doing it every day, but it’s felt very much like shouting into the void.
It means so much that I’m not the only one shouting.
And that the shouting might be doing something more than slowly driving me insane.
OK. Let me wipe the tears from my eyes before typing out a comment here. Not tears of agony or any other bad thing. But man. You said it right there, and you said it in a way that just had me in stitches half the time.
Immediately went and bought your book, Damn Fine Story. It, too, has me in stitches while forcing me to view things in another light. Perfect combination. If I could, I’d read it in one sitting, but sadly, between work, writing, doing minimal cleaning in my house and other stuff I dare not repeat here, I never manage reading a book in one sitting. Anyway. Gotta go. Your book is only half way.
Thanks, and enjoy!
WOW! I’m so glad I saw you pop up in my Reader.
Until last weekend, I’ve been hunkered down fine-tuning (hatcheting away at) one book while diving into the revision of the other. All the while trying to market old blog posts. (Pinterest is amazing for bloggers!) I’ve tried to stay away from the political noise since it tears me up inside. I think we as writers can use that angst in our writing. All of a sudden it’s not hard to come up with those intense scenes! I do believe we have to be proactive and plan to help get out the vote here in Boulder this fall.
I went backpacking in the mountains where there wasn’t a signal. Only the chirps of Pika and birds and the howl of the wind. Sweet Relief and lots of headspace!