Priya Guns on Writing in Times of Crisis


This first appeared in Lit Hub’s Craft of Writing newsletter—sign up here.

Writers in times of crisis must organize. Toni Morrison reminds us that it’s time to get to work. Get the coffee brewing. Sharpen your pencil to a point and try your best not to digress with unnecessary trite. Fair, there is a lot to say and ugly is best said beautiful.

Writers in times of crisis ought to take a pen and scream. How can anyone begin to articulate the spiraling travesty that is humanity? What is pouring your heart into a work for it to be misunderstood? There is a rejection in a misreading and it hurts.

If you have one of those minds that jumps off the line and distracts, and/or you are suffering, remember, Poetry Is (in fact) Not a Luxury. Keep your calm but drop those bombs on the page. A new affirmation on the wall: the role of the artist is to bring something to light. Literal carnage countering hegemony.

Writers in times of crisis must be realistic. We’re too sensitive and broke to start a new world order. Stay clear from black holes and new vices. It is said that hedonism may be the way forward, but no, the world is rotten. Find yourself a cave. Do not come out.

Writers in times of crisis stir up an uncomfortable dissonance for the betterment of society. Baldwin calls us Witnesses with great responsibility. Writers help imagine the new.

But why must I pain myself to spell out the obvious? This world is broken. I am just a worm. In times of crisis, I am a writer in crisis, with potential and a terrible sense of time. This chair, my fingers, my one eye that is threatening me with some sort of malfunction. Writers in crisis must get some sleep. They must eat well, and ensure they are getting sunlight and attention because we are needy creeps.

Writers in times of crisis must start a Substack, a hashtag, share an amusing observation or two. They must pressure others into feeling the same, and they must be well versed in short spurts of dance. They must be able to capture fifteen seconds of attention. Write three hours a day if you’re able to, half an hour at best. An hour or two on choreography. Put some honey and rosemary in a shot glass, pour in hot water. Twirl three times with a coffee in your hands. Say alakazoo.

They got you! You’re slipping. You think you’re completely alright? Bukowski said if you have to strain or twirl too hard don’t push it, or something like that. Life inspires, people break hearts, monsters kill babies. As if this existential disease in this capitalist hell hole isn’t enough, go ahead world, show us how much more disgusting you are. Try and diminish our urge to write through this depression. I know what you’re trying to do.

Writers in times of crisis must avoid becoming a “writer of our times” but focus on the times, before, during, after. Steer clear of developing a stiff upper-lip, sat in an office chair all day. Art is still only art. Literature is expensive. Get out in the field, on the ground, learn something about people and planet.

Writers in times of crisis need to take a few breaths. We write because of our own vanity. No one sees despicable like we do. Someone must document the insanity.

Yes! The writer in times of crisis holds a mirror to the world and stays irrepressibly hopeful when the reflection is ugly and the reception is poor.

Writers in times of crisis suffer with a broken heart and terrible social skills. On a regular day they’re unreliable. But together we can instigate a revolution. Writers are incredibly idealistic, they can’t even organize a piss-up in a brewery. Writers can inspire unimaginable change. Writers help make sense of the comic tragedy that is the human experience. But writers are flawed and hurting humans. Writers are not celebrities and who cares about celebrities?

Writers are strange and awkward creatures. No, when we have done it just right, we are the voice of the people. No, it’s never just right when our work is commodified. People speak for themselves. It’s an effort, a small drop from an untamed sprinkler. We’re being censored! Writers cannot die! If you see a writer in times of crisis, hold them tightly. Call them dramatic and throw a book at their head. Give them a couple dollars. Writers in times of crisis must write. The art is how we tell the story.


your driver is waiting

Your Driver Is Waiting by Priya Guns is available now via Vintage. 

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