To launch #ScotLitFest, Daniel Shand, author of Fallow, has written a little something on the challenges faced by young writers today.
In some ways, it’s a grisly time to be young. Chronic issues with housing, wage stagnation, and underemployment have created a generation of the perpetually skint, and as venues and clubs close in their droves, it becomes harder to build the concrete communities that supported our predecessors in previous times of hardship. It’s no surprise that we look to the internet for solidarity, especially those of us who choose to write.
I don’t want to argue that being online necessarily stifles creativity or stymies the writing process—a debate I’m probably two decades late for—but I do want to say that being online is easy and it feels good, and when things are easy and pleasurable we should be careful. I’m thinking here of those infamous rodents—the ones who self-administered opiates to the point of exhaustion.
While electronic distractions affect all age groups, the key difference is that young minds are being actively moulded by their relationships with technology, reformed by a dynamic that specifically caters to the brain’s most primitive desires. Every time your feed is refreshed and delivers something interesting or funny, the monkey-brain whoops in primordial excitement: YES! AGAIN! REPEAT THIS CONTINUALLY! REPEAT THIS FOR DAYS! Modern apps and sites are designed to continually pry at our psychological waistband and it takes real effort to refuse their propositions.
However, young writers do need to be online. When submission windows are announced and lost in the stream of a feed, when curatorial judgements are made based on an author’s built-in following, when resources flourish electronically, we need to be present. This muddies the waters—not only is it easy and pleasant to be online, but we can form a creative argument for being there, making it harder to switch off and write. It makes it harder to be alone and quiet and sometimes uncomfortable and probably not browsing yourself into a meme stupor or matching gifs to awkward moments.
Writing is an act of stubbornness against what is easy, against the mind’s natural proclivity to skip and skim. The human brain does not want to write a novel, it wants to drink Coke and browse listicles and generate anxiety-responses to harmless stimuli. Writing is the antithesis of browsing—it involves being alone and unconnected while deliberately paying close attention to just one or two things for a long time, often feeling uncomfortable, often feeling bored. By failing to give ourselves time to think, by allowing our free time to be swallowed up by entertainment, we may one day find all our attention has already been spoken for.
This is why events like #SCOTLITFEST are good for us. They take the machineries of distraction and form tools from their mechanisms. They become the hubs that the monetisation of public space has removed. Young writers must avoid giving in to distraction and remember the feeling of boredom. We must come together and—
[INSERT HERE: HIGH-QUALITY, EMOTIVE CONCLUSION.
TBC AFTER NETFLIX]