How it often starts: with a rush of non-linked ideas. I want to write about flight and apophenia and knowledge in context and about data bias and nonconscious cognitions, and hybridity and speculative spaces, and the joyful upending of inequalities, and the pleasure in being thrilled when reading and discussing and writing.
I am holding in out-stretched, practising hands: assembled thinking about how we write and the overwhelming spaces of failure that re-visit us despite our best efforts, and about how writers fight for creative (head & body) space, and how the sun can shine and winds can blow and sometimes that means everything and sometimes the heaviness of mood continues on, unabated and unaffected by weather because it is its own storm system.
And yet we show up on the page, words arrive, and sometimes they are good ones, and our work thrills (ourselves, readers), agitates, falls silent, is in movement again, in conversation with, again.
Recently I feel things with an all or nothing response, and the space in between is not peaceful but entirely fraught and woolly and exhausted. When I am alert with joy and pleasure and attention, I note it, cherish it, because it is rarer than it used to be.
Two separate writing students recommended a non-fiction book that is currently buzzing against the novel I’m writing, as well as their own writing. It is a mind-flight and is immediately in conversation with other books and thinkers and ideas and emotions that ricochet through my body; there is grace in the author’s literary, ecological and technological arguments that remake life-long assumptions and help me craft a dynamic, potential form to some of the conceptual underpinnings for my novel. And yet sometimes this week as I try to write from this understanding my brain|body meets me with a vicegripped stillness.
I’m writing a book that will require a speculative leap – in the writing and reading of it – and close reading a few books has been useful here: Becky Chamber’s storytelling that shakes loose what tension is built from; Susannah Wise’s new, This Fragile Earth, with its vision of individual, collective, ecological and technological inter-leavening in an upturned future; Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist because of how it forefronts impossible concepts that are, nonetheless, key to our understanding of the imaginary made possible.
Many of us as writers are making attempts – with this powerful and imperfect toolbox we have – to write into the possibility of diversity and change. But it’s fraught, because we may be excited by how xyr|xe work on the page but then note how they have little momentum IRL. Or we note how effectively disruptive and satisfying the all-present she|her is in Leckie’s books but wonder if it changes how ‘she’ is viewed away from book, away from keyboard? IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinity Combinations) is a powerful fictional ethos that defines and drives Star Trek (and the kind, political, brilliant George Takei continues to carry this torch) and I have no downside for this; IDIC into infinity.
There is deep and continual urgent need for diversity in cultural spaces because they are where we go to understand how alternative possibilities might play out. They are places of the impossible and of learning, exchange and imagination. This is a truth that many of us as writers weave into every character and story and formal choice, and into every letter, punctuation mark and space we write. It is not enough, of course not. And yet, the worlds I carry from reading, teaching and writing do change how I am in the world, change what I understand might be possible. And crucially, they create a charged active hopeful space I need when my own optimism (fuel) runs dry.
We teach best what we most need to learn. It’s a phrase commonly used to undermine the skills of people who teach and it embeds within it the ridiculous idea that once you are an expert you stop learning. I call bull****. We should all be in a continual state of unknowing, where we are learning more, again and again, and being in active, continual exchange with other influences|resources|inputs. This is especially true when we are the writers of a texts that others come to as they are, as they need to, when they need to. For who knows how the places and possibilities we write might influence others. So even when it’s bleak, there is this. So it goes.
[Thinkers|writers referenced in italics: B Chambers, Star Trek, K Hayles, L Hejinian, R Benjamin, A Leckie, L Russell, K Vonnegut]
This article was brought to you by Elizabeth Reeder in association with Promotions.
Elizabeth Reeder (she/her) writes fiction and hybrid work. She is a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at University of Glasgow. She had two books published in 20/21: a novel, An Archive of Happiness (Penned in the Margins) and a collection of hybrid lyric essays, microbursts, which is an artistic collaboration with Amanda Thomson (Prototype Publishing). She is currently writing her next book, which is a literary speculative novel.
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