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.