On December 4 Alice Wong and I co-hosted the fourth #CripLit Twitter chat, Resistance Through Writing. The whole thing is now up on Storify. It’s long, but if you have time I can recommend it. You might find some useful tips on how to sustain yourself as a writer in difficult times.
Here, for your convenience, is the essence of what I said broken into ten paragraphs to reflect my answers to the ten questions.
I’m Nicola Griffith, your co-host. I write novels. The latest is Hild. I also write essays, articles and blog posts to explore inequality and its solutions. Today I have a lot to say. More than usual. But I want to listen, too. To hear who’s here and what we all need. If I don’t read your words tonight I promise I’ll read every single tweet in the Storify of this chat tomorrow.
What we’re up against, most immediately, is the Trump administration. The first people to suffer will be those who are already marginalised—including crips. Power and privilege in this and many other countries is rich, white, male, straight, and able-bodied. The fewer of those identities we can claim the more marginalised we become. I’ve spent my writing life centring and making visible the Other, showing we exist, we matter. Stories make culture. If we want to be visible in this culture we need our to see work about ourselves written in our own voices. We need to find each other. And coordinate. And support. Maybe a once a week coordination-and-support chat? I can’t think of a good hashtag… [Someone suggested #CripLitOT]
Here’s some work that’s made a difference to me. Nonfiction about crip representation: the work of David Mitchell & Sharon Snyder, history of disability representation, like @KatharineQ’s (Katharine Quarmby) Bringing Down the Wall. Nonfiction helps me think in new ways. But what moves and motivates me is fiction. I need fiction with crip characters! If anyone has recommendations, please send.
We are writers. We must write. We must use hard and honest words. Not ‘alt-right’ but white supremacist. Not ‘religious exception’ but homophobic hate. Not ‘thoughtless’ but ableist. Call it what it is. A writer’s job is to tell her truth, loud and clear. Sometimes our first audience is ourselves: we need to hear our truth, too. Sometimes our truth is overt, sometimes subtle. Different audiences can hear different things. Our job, no matter what? Keep telling that truth.
Writing will be a large part of my resistance; writing is part of my life, always. In the next year I’m planning to write not only change-the-world nonfiction but apparently (but not really) non-political fiction. I will continue the story of Hild, with as many non-conforming characters in the past as I can—women, crips, queers, people of colour and different religions and different social status—because we have always been here. I’ll do my best to name things as they are, not let people hide behind weasel words, not let what is just and right shrink to nothing.
My work will be aimed at everyone: Disabled and non-disabled, queer and straight, POC and white, women and men, oppressed and privileged. As well as novels I’ll write academic essays and opinion pieces. And I think it’s about time to nail down that dark fantasy novella about MS. It won’t be as good as I’d like, because I’m still wrestling with my identity as a crip, but I have to write it anyway so I can move past it. I’ll write some nonfiction for non-disabled people, like these Guidelines for Non-Disabled Writers, some for me, like Coming Out as a Cripple, and some fiction for all of us, like the second Hild novel, Menewood.
My advice for other writers about how to get their work out there? Simple, though rarely easy: write. If you don’t write no one can read your work. So the most important writing advice: don’t stop, even when it’s hard. Write. Then be brave: submit to editors, risk rejection. Also, accept criticism; it’s the only way to learn.
Our job is to write our truth, not second-guess what a reader will do with our work. But one thing I know for sure: if you don’t speak out nothing will change. Last year I wrote a blog post that led to the creation of a new $50,000 global writing award for women. Gender bias in publishing had been bugging me for years, so I spoke my truth, loud and clear. Someone was listening.
These are difficult times. It’s vital to sustain our sense of self, to find joy where we can, and to be kind to ourselves. I’ve written a little before about what sustains me: The Dozen Daily Delights, which include tea, chocolate, wine, sex, conversation, trees, fresh air, reading… Another thing that keeps me sane is to take long breaks from social media—except for this community of course :)
We must support each other. But remember those pre-flight safety messages: in the event of an emergency, adjust your own oxygen mask first. You can’t help anyone long term if you’re not safe. So ask yourself and your community, What practical things can we do to keep ourselves, and then others, safe? (Transport help? New locks? Better health advocacy?) Then consider expanding y/our visibility. Ask: When are we ignored? In what ways does invisibility reduce us? And only then set about changing others’ minds. These things are connected. We need all three: safety, visibility, and outreach. They are prerequisites for sustained bravery. In difficult time being brave once is not enough to create change. To create change in difficult times we must be brave over and over. As writers we must keep speaking our hard, clear truth.