Hopelessness and the writing life

Remember Wolverine in X-Men, shooting those wickedly sharp blades through his knuckles? ‘Does it hurt?’ Rogue asks anxiously. ‘Every time,’ Wolverine replies. Rejection is tough. It hurts. Every time. And of course, it’s your own fault, because you just keep trying. But there are things to be said, and it feels important to say some of them now, before the knuckles heal over.

The world right now is not the same place as it was a few days, a few months, a few years ago. It is darker and more brutal. Real people are being branded as murdering terrorists, real people are being denied autonomy over their own bodies, real people are having oil pipelines built through their ancestral lands – and real people are either wringing their hands and lamenting that they had no idea these things would actually happen if they voted for Trump, or posting crying-with-laughter emojis and declaring liberal tears their beverage of choice.

The Trump administration is turning against kindness, against tolerance, against autonomy, choice and support. And Britain is aligning itself with the US and turning away from its closer neighbours. We’re moving to a place where lies are alt-facts and reason doesn’t win. Where grace and dignity do not triumph. Where serenity is a luxury we can no longer afford. Rise above the bullies, we tell our children. Now we’re learning, hard, that if we rise above what’s not acceptable to us, we give it the space to grow. Our assumptions are being rejected. And it hurts.

Writers understand rejection. Years spent honing, refining, redrafting, listening, absorbing, trying again. And again. Succeeding a little, only to fail again. It costs, dearly, in so many ways. There are no guarantees, no safety nets, no insurances. For every JK Rowling, every Stephen King, there are thousands of us struggling silently, both published and unpublished. And yet the words go down. The stories are told. People are invented and reinvented, worlds created, battles fought and won, many times over before they even get to a reader. I’ve arrived, you want to think. I’ve arrived. But a writer who’s arrived is as rare as a perfect solution, and equally hard to define. Rejection – whether of your novel or of the belief in basic decency you thought was universal – hurts. The temptation to yield to hopelessness is overwhelming. But it’s part of the process – the process of writing, the process of living. The knuckles heal. There is validity in wrestling with an impossible dream, even when the investment of blood refuses to pay dividends. The point cannot be to win. The point is that if enough of us can just keep swimming – in our individual creative battles, in our belief in human decency – then the sheer force of our thrashing tales may eventually turn the tide.

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