The Politics in Writing

Trouble in the Galactic Senate...

Trouble in the Galactic Senate…

Okay, okay – everybody is talking about politics lately. Kinda hard not to, right? The world is freaking out, opinions are being expressed, people are upset, and so on and so forth. So what’s a writer (or any artist in general) supposed to do, here?

On the one hand, I have the advice of Kevin J Anderson, who told me and the other guests at the Writers of the Future workshop a few years back that political discussions by an author were unwise. “There is no sense,” he said, “to alienate half your audience.” He suggested we stay out of it. Do our talking through our writing, essentially.

On the other hand, we have a cadre of very politically vocal authors such as John Scalzi, Chuck Wendig, Kameron Hurley, and others besides. Notably, I recall a tweet from Ann Leckie who said, essentially, that politics is present in our lives and in our writing, no matter what we think of it. To ask that an author alienate politics from their public discourse is to ask that the author alienate a significant part of themselves. What are the odds that if you don’t like my politics, you are going to like my writing, anyway?

In balancing these points of view, one has to admit that Anderson has a point: why alienate potential readers if you don’t have to? Of course, it is notable that Scalzi, Wendig, and the like are hardly suffering as a result of their political opinions. One might argue that for every person who puts a book down thanks to politics, another picks it up for the same reason.

Because this was *just* about robots and humans fighting in space, right?

Because this was *just* about robots and humans fighting in space, right?

It’s Leckie’s view that sticks with me, though. How do you even avoid politics in writing or in social media? The avoidance thereof is, itself, a political statement. Your writing is going to espouse political viewpoints, no matter how apolitical you seek to be. Politics is important. You ought to have opinions about it. Lack of opinions about it signifies privilege, which is a side-effect (or even a goal) of particular political views. So, okay, sure – you can tiptoe around this stuff for years on end and act like you have no opinions, but you do. We know you do, you know you do, and we can even find your opinions in your writing no matter what you think. So why not just be honest? Speak your mind. Will it piss people off? Sure. But they probably weren’t going to like you anyway.

Now, for my own part, I have tried to keep overt political statements off this blog. I haven’t always been successful (I’ve had one or two people ragequit over some idle quip here or there), but I think I’ve made this a fairly “safe” environment for fans of my work to read what I have to say on the subject of scifi, fantasy, writing, and other geeky endeavors. But on Twitter, I just speak my mind. Because if you’re following me on Twitter, that implies you want to know me, not just read my feed for book ads. Now, back before the political world went batshit insane, my Twitter feed was a pretty dull, sedate place. These days not so much. You don’t want to know my political opinions? Don’t follow me.

Of course, if you wind up reading my books or stories, you’re going to get my political opinions anyway. You just might not realize it, I guess. In thinking about this post, I debated whether or not to discuss or reveal what I feel the true, underlying meaning of some of my work is in a political context, but I eventually decided against it – Foucault’s author function and all that. I will point out, though, that everything in scifi and fantasy has contemporary political meaning, whether you like it or not. There’s the obvious ones, sure – Star TrekStar Wars, and the like. But then there’s others, too. Game of Thrones is about us and our political systems, not the middle ages. The Walking Dead, likewise, is a story about our own political terrors. The Martian? Political, though indirectly so – a love letter to government workers and federal systems, to international cooperation and technological advance through capitalist means. The Expanse? Obviously. Colony? Hell yes. Even American Horror Story is rooted in political discourse. You can disagree, but it’s all there. Even the MCU can’t escape. Books, comics, movies, video games – they are caught up in it.

This is because politics is the stuff of life, like it or not. We authors (and artists) are engaged in the study and exploration of life and, therefore, we are inevitably drawn to discuss politics. So, yeah, I guess I could be all coy about it and resolve never to speak a political word in public, but then I’d be wearing a mask over my true self. I’ve never been much good at that; neither have a lot of good authors. Will it hurt my career to be so open on Twitter? That remains to be seen, I suppose. I just can’t fully imagine being any other way, though.

This, ironically, would probably make me a poor politician.

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About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on February 1, 2017, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I favor Anderson’s viewpoint myself, but not just for the reader alienation factor (my library contains both Rothfuss and Correia, two VERY opposing political views). I don’t care so much if an author has a political standpoint and expresses it online, it’s actually when it’s present in their books in a preachy, tedious way that I object and will stop reading. So for example, Lenke’s book I found unbelievably tedious about pushing the whole gender thing, so I stopped reading – but I can read Rothfuss’ novels without complaint. It needs to be subtly done. Another great example is the most excellent Bujold’s Vorkosigan series – she is of course devotedly liberal, but at the end of the day, she writes good books that are fun for me to read and if there’s a passing bit here and there I disagree with, that’s okay. For me, I read to escape – so I don’t want to read not-so-obscure political commentary, I want to read a good story. As long as it’s a good story, an author gets a lot of leeway from me.

    • Yeah, I also dislike preachiness. (I don’t particularly think Leckie was terribly preachy myself, but ymmv, of course) The story needs to come first, naturally. But the politics are always there.

  2. Oh absolutely – different folks will of course have different tolerance levels – I am QUITE confident some people will absolutely hate Correia’s libertarianism/conservatism – which definitely comes out in his writing. I tell you, the author who is the absolute master of this is Jim Butcher. I still don’t know where he falls on the political (or religious spectrum) since he has characters voice all different kinds of opinions and does a pretty darn good job of representing them fairly.

    • Yeah, Butcher is really impressive in that way (among others). Look, even if we do have die hard political views, it’s always important to portray all characters with sympathy (even villains).

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