I am not particularly good with writing clear-cut opinion pieces, because I find that my opinions are never so clear-cut when I examine them closely. In my twenties, I used to think that writing should hone in on issues, like a torchlight in the dark. But realistically, I personally never quite liked reading those pieces that were didactic, that had a pre-existing agenda in mind, or an overweening goal to change people’s minds and ideas.
I know that I am are less likely to change people’s minds and preconceived ideas, than I am to change their feelings through my writing. But this has to be done in complete transparency. You can’t be sneaky about it, you can’t amp up the emotive barometer hoping that people will be moved. So for example, I avoid ‘making people feel’ anything for my characters, and I have to write in honesty about my own cowardice.
When feelings change, ideas are more likely to change.
Now I see the role of the writer – especially the novelist – as analogous to the role of cameras in covering a football game. Forgive the metaphor, but my team just won the grand final, and in watching the replay, I realise that the fairest and most objective path to the truth is when several cameras are covering the goalposts at the same time. So the role of my writing now is to have several cameras operating at different angles, at the same time.
Back in 2008, I did a writing residency and lived alongside a poet and Professor named Robert Cording, who taught me this:
“The reader must feel that he/she is making contact with a real human being, not simply with arguments and opinions. If the poem feels like it has sifted and arranged received ideas, then it will fail. The poem has to feel, I think, as if there is a real person struggling with real experiences that will not yield some handy lesson, but nevertheless are not entirely without meaning. The voice that convinces will always be the voice of an individual who the reader experiences as an individual and not as a spokesperson for this or that idea.”