The writer’s task

A writer ought not to be an opinion-machine… The writer’s first job is not to have opinions but to tell the truth … and refuse to be an accomplice of lies and misinformation. Literature is the house of nuance and contrariness against the voices of simplification. The job of the writer is to make it harder to believe the mental despoilers. The job of the writer is to make us see the world as it is, full of many different claims and parts and experiences.

It is the job of the writer to depict the realities: the foul realities, the realities of rapture. It is the essence of the wisdom furnished by literature (the plurality of literary achievement) to help us to understand that, whatever is happening, something else is always going on.

Susan Sontag (2007) At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches quoted in a post on the beautiful, brilliant, challenging website Brain Pickings

Quotes like this both inspire and trouble me. IMG_3804

I am troubled because such wisdom humbles me (agonising over my tawdry romantic thriller) and because I don’t know if I understand.

I think Sontag is saying that truth is not absolute and to pretend otherwise is to collude with over-simplification of a complex world; that it is the writer’s job to deal with shades of grey and the general messiness of life – and the writer’s privilege to give hope (and instill fear) in a world of endless possibilities. But I’m not sure!


I am inspired because these thoughts help me see that although I may work with small stories from obscure corners of history I can – I should – nevertheless aspire to “depict the realities: the foul realities, the realities of rapture”. And because it helps me make sense of a question I felt compelled to put recently to one of my beta readers (a dedicated reader who is struggling with ambiguities in the central relationship): Surely love and lust can co-exist? 



About Hannah

Author of literary historical fiction set in the First World War. Revising my first book, writing the next, seeking representation. Mountaineer, gardener, traveller, off-road runner. Africa, modern history, coffee, roses, films, book and unrealistic romance. NHS midwife in a former life.
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