Monday, 3 October 2011

The urgency of nonfiction

Monday 3 October 2011

I can't imagine who would find this post interesting, but given the protracted break since my last one, I've been thinking about what motivates me to write posts; not in general, but what gets me to actually sit down and write them individually, and I wanted to put my thoughts down briefly. I'll probably cover them up pretty much straight away with something else I've been working on anyway.

I said in my maiden post, 'Lukewarm manifesto', that I wouldn't ever be apologising for any infrequency of posts here, because if you stumble across any random blog with three followers, chances are the latest post will be from 2007 saying, 'Sorry it's been so long since my last post, guys! I've just been really busy. This is just a quick post to say Braiden had his first day of school the other day! Promise to post photos soon!'

... No.

But the other day my friend Sam told me via Skype that he wished I'd post here more often, and my response was that how much I post here can be taken as an index of how busy I am, which is what's made me think. I haven't been posting recently because I've been so ridiculously, hyperbolically busy, but being busy hasn't always stopped me in the past.

It's a common refrain of the creative writing student that the time they feel most inclined to write is at the assessment-laden end of semester. They usually attribute this to some kind of constructive form of procrastination – they only want to write because it's an excuse not to be researching or studying – but I think it's more to do with the intellectual exercise the end of semester gives you. Activity begets activity, and the same goes for inactivity. So, often, my posts are actually motivated by busy-ness. Of course, there is something to be said for the relativity of 'work' theory as well – that when you've got no work to do, writing seems like work, but when you've got uni work to do, writing seems like fun. I suppose they work in tandem.

There's also what I think of as 'the urgency of nonfiction'. Not all nonfiction, of course, but a lot of the stuff I write here – commentaries and essays and so on – really needs a catalyst to bring it into being, and if too much time elapses between that catalyst and the post's completion, I feel like it loses relevance. It needs currency, topicality. If some idiot publishes an outrageous article somewhere and I can't get my response together quickly enough, it usually peters out into half-finished stagnation. That happened this week with a dissection of a poorly reasoned article advocating agnosticism written by Emma Jane that came out on the September 11 weekend. The dissection is now sitting in a nascent state in Tintin's purgatory, along with my review of last year's National Young Writers' Festival (which has, as of tonight, been lapped by this year's festival) and my 'Defense of Avatar'. So this pressure to publish posts while they're topical is something that motivates me to write them despite being busy. Both Miranda Devine articles, for example, were rattled off the nights before two assignments were due, and possibly published before they were refined enough to warrant publishing.

Arundhati Roy, Booker prize-winning author of my favourite novel, says that 'fiction dances out of' her, but 'nonfiction is wrenched out by the aching broken world [she] wakes up to every morning' (45). While it hasn't exactly been the aching brokenness of the world that has inspired me to write even when I'm so busy, it has been a similar process. Reading the baffling stupidity and hatefulness of a Miranda Devine article while everyone else is talking about it, at an end-of-semester, work-induced creative high is almost impossible to resist, no matter how busy I am.

(Image from

Arundhati Roy's 'Come September', in War Talk, 2003. South End Press.

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