The original article can be found here on Baubo Bee
scott crow is an anarchist, public speaker, activist, and author of Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy and the Common Ground Collective (PM Press) and many other book contributions and articles. While he inarguably has published enough of his writing to be considered a “writer,” scott doesn’t identify himself as such:
SC: Being a writer is a label that I am reticent to put on myself yet. I’m still exploring writing as a tool for communication. Writing is something I’m compelled to do in sharing ideas, but really it’s not the most efficient way for me to do that. I like to talk to people and with them, sharing dialogue, and I see writing as a facet of that or a way to get to that.
scott wrote poetry and prose in high school, but his first published work was a letter to the editor when he was 15. Later the Internet happened, and scott started random blog posting on Indymedia.org in 2000. His first full article was co-written in 2004. He needed that support from another person, he says, to feel comfortable publishing his written work. Because scott sees himself as more of a speaker than a writer, he often prefers to be interviewed and has found that the prompts help him get to the ideas he wants to talk about most. He has used the interview method to create essays and books. For example, his book Witness to Betrayal came out of 20,000 word interview with Kristian Williams for Toward Freedom in 2013 and was published as a book by AK Press.
BB: So, how do you sit down and write? What’s that like for you?
SC: I try to write every day if I can, but I am very irregular about writing; sometimes I’ll write something because it hits me and write two or three thousand words at a time, usually because it’s either a topical subject that I am moved by, or it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Other times I slog through trying to write a paragraph with little success.
Writing a book is different than writing essays or articles, scott says, because the longer works require sustaining energy and focus for a much longer time. This effort is compounded when the writing is very personal, which scott’s often is. He often avoids committing to other writing while working on a book, in order to maintain his writing flow and focus.
During the five-year process of writing Black Flags and Windmills, a book largely about scott’s involvement in anarchist disaster-relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, he was working full time and was under intense surveillance by the FBI for political activities, which sometimes made it emotionally exhausting to create. Fact checking for the book in terms of confirming dates and locating contemporary media perspectives was the easy part, scott says, because had he lived through the original events and was able to draw on those recollections. But memory is fallible, so he went looking for the perceptions of other people who were there as well and sometimes synthesized their stories with his in order to capture the fullness of experience that he wanted to express.
scott had the invaluable help of two editors in the publishing process: one who looked at the big picture and one who taught him how to write. He noted that working with editors was incredibly valuable, having someone to ask questions that clarified his meaning and to analyze the structure and help him create a more coherent work. He says this process made him think more consciously about his writing and helped him develop his voice as a writer.
BB: How was it working with a structural editor?
SC: I really had to learn to write during this book and how to work with an editor. I love working with editors; I see working with a really good editor as a collaborative process. If I could, I would work with the same one over and over again. Many of the writers I admire, like Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, or Hunter S. Thompson, worked with the same editors for decades.
BB: How did you develop your voice in writing?
SC: Years ago I was told to find a writer or two you really admire and emulate their voice. Over the years I’ve tried on a couple of them, but the voice that has really influenced me the most is actually somebody who’s not looked on as literary figure, the person who was known as Subcomandante Marcos, from Chiapas, Mexico, as part of the political Zapatista movement. He comes out of a tradition of people I didn’t know before, like Eduardo Galeano and Paco Ignacio Taibo. I felt like he was very beautiful and eloquent, in what he wrote; also very political, obviously. So that was a starting point for me. There are writing elements that I’ve developed and incorporated into my writing over time, some that I developed many years ago that reappear in my work, like song lyrics, inclusive language [speaking in shared terms with the reader], unusual chapter titles, and writing that is poetic as much as political. There is no reason political writing has to be dry. Luckily in contemporary anarchist writing there are a lot of pieces with beautiful words emerging to capture people’s imaginations as much as their anger.
On the flipside, I wanted to consciously get rid of the political-writing world of old dead political language like ‘proletariat,’ ‘the state,’ ‘the struggle’ and all these words that don’t mean much to anybody outside of a small set of subcultures or historians, but are still used like they’re relevant. That kind of writing is so boring and alienating today. Another element I try to be conscious of is avoiding “anti-” language, which is popular in political writings. I don’t often write words like “anti-racist” or “anti-sexist” or “anti-capitalist” except in shorthand – I always try to think of other ways to say it instead, like “beyond capitalism” or “collective liberation” instead of “anti-oppression.” When we say words differently, it’s not just semantics… it actually activates different parts of our brains, and I think that’s really important and I want to challenge us to map our brains and social discourse differently instead of just being stuck in the reactionary politics or thoughts of negation. In writing, I asked myself along the way, are there other words we can use to get to these ideas and histories? These sound like small weird subtle or ‘writerly’ quibbles, but they’re not. I am fortunate in that my writing is seen as fairly positive.
Another thing I took from Marcos’s writing – which is very postmodern, it’s barely appreciated by literary critics outside of Mexico and Latin America – but the persona of Marcos allowed fallibility, he made a lot mistakes and has written about them and made mockery of himself. So that’s something else I’ve done, because I think showing fallibility, especially in the political realm, is really important, in writing about that and saying like, “I don’t have the answers to these things.” I can make fun of myself, and it makes it more real, at least through my writing, it makes me more real.
This year scott is working on multiple book projects including an anthology of his writings, Emergency Hearts, Molotov Dreams: A scott crow Reader (Dialogues Publishing); Paper Tigers: Memoir of a Target under the War on Terror (PM Press); a Spanish edition of Black Flags and Windmills (EL Rebozo Cooperative, Oaxaca); and Witness to Betrayal (AK Press), as well as his own publishing imprint, Emergency Hearts (www.emergencyhearts.com).