I’m still struggling with getting back into the writing habit again.

I think the last two posts have been something of cranky old man posts because it has been difficult to force myself to write anything here since I got back from Portland. The vacation shine came off a little, but it is more just anxiety about feeling like anything I write isn’t worth hearing.

One of the things I’ve been working through since I started group is trying to be more comfortable with my skills and abilities as a person and professional. In the past whenever I would get a compliment or praise about something I did, I would either:

  1. Find some way to minimize the quality or the skill required to do the thing I did. “Oh that isn’t that hard to do!” “I guess I look ok, but not as nice as you do.” That sort of thing.
  2. Or go in the opposite direction and focus on any negative at all that is tangentially related to the subject at hand. “I made a bad read and got lucky on the river.” “Yeah I clean up ok, but my shoes are all chewed up and smudged. I really should get them shined.” “Yes, I did this report from scratch that gives you all the information that you needed, but it’s kludgy and not very clean in how it shows the information off.” You know the drill.

(Yes, that’s a work related statement. If I ever have cause to utter those words in casual conversation to any of you for any reason, do the humane thing and Ol’ Yeller me in the backyard for the love of the FSM.)

I couldn’t begin to pinpoint just when it was that I started being so uncomfortable with people being high on the things I do or say, but I know that at one point the reflexive self-derision was getting pretty damn ridiculous. I don’t know why, it definitely did me no favors. The only person I can think of off the top of my head who has made a serious career out of self-effacing behavior is Woody Allen. And I have no interest in sleeping with my adopted step-daughter.

I also don’t have an adopted step-daughter. So I guess I’m way ahead of him on that score.

In all seriousness, though, I struggle with putting anything down here because the very first thing that comes to mind once I’m two or three paragraphs in is, “Somebody else has probably already said/written that and done so better than you can.” And I struggle with trying to find something singularly unique about the post subject that the previous statement can’t be applied to. And I wind up so deep in minutiae that I stop giving a damn about the subject, or actually listen to the negative voice and just shut the shit down completely.

Not terribly productive.

Lately I’ve been trying to keep a passage in mind I read in Chris Kluwe’s Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies (side note: best book name ever).

When trying to write, many people never go looking for that primal act of creation, that tiny spark amid a roiling sea of black. Instead, they shut out the world within them, drown it in the glitzy flash of blinking lights and empty noise, banish it beneath the harsh glare of outrospection. Someone sits down to craft a novel, or a movie, or even a Tweet, but he gets distracted by the mundanity around him, the sheer overwhelming chaos of it all (which is not to say that you can’t write while listening to music or whatever; I’ve just noticed that when I do that, it’s a lot harder and the writing tends to be more about the influences around me).

Or, worst of all, someone stops writing because he listens to that tiny voice that says, What you’re writing isn’t any good because someone else has already said it.

Well, you should listen to that voice, because while it’s partially right, it’s also wrong. The stories we craft, the webs we weave, they are all drawn from the same common threads scattered throughout our shared histories. There’s no such thing as originality in the components of a story – our distant ancestors saw to that long ago with those ancient fireside tales.

No, the originality comes from what you bring to the table, the perspective you look out on the darkness with, the way you wrestly that fog into a shape no one has ever seen before.

So the next time you’re stuck with a though, trying to tackle a concept, or just want to explore your own mind, let yourself. Turn out the lights and go in a direction you never saw coming. Go traveling.

What you find in the dark may surprise you.

(Italics in the original, bold is my emphasis.)

This may seem like a non-sequitur, but I do have a point in making a jump right now.

When I was writing for Quirkee.com, I found myself in awe of the idea of having this big (well I thought it was and it may well have been big but I’d never know it) audience full of people who I had never met. It was awesome, scary and thrilling all at once. The throw into that getting the SXSW Film Passes for two years and my mind was officially blown.

Here I was, getting to not only see movies by the bushel, including a lot of obscure stuff trying to find an audience/distributor/whatever. Finding gems in there that I loved was like finding a secret treasure that only I knew about. Sharing those treasures was an amazing privilege. And then add that into the mix that I got to talk to some of the filmmakers.

Even better, some of them would geek out with me and respected and appreciated my perspective on their movies and on movies in general. I admit it feels weird just writing that, but I know absolutely and without question that this was true. I never took a journalism class, never worked for a publication in high school or college. But I knew what I thought were interesting stories and threads that came out of either the movie or the making of it. And I knew how to get those people talking about that.

And I liked it. I truly enjoyed myself even if I was ready to drop by the end of the festival. It was one of the best kinds of tired ever. But I gave it up after two years and pretty much blew Quirkee off. At the time I said it was because I was tired of spending my own money and time supporting what felt like someone else’s hobby. I wasn’t getting paid or a per diem. I was burning my own vacation time to go, burning my own money to eat and drink at these things.

But the reality that I can see now is that as much as I loved it, as much as I wanted to keep on doing it, I never got one iota of feedback as to whether I was doing good or bad with any of it. If I was getting better at it over time, I never heard from it. And I’m not talking about comments or reader feedback.

I mean the editors at the site (such as they were by the time the first SXSW rolled around) just took whatever I gave them and threw it up on the site without so much as a “nice job” or a “you could stand to work on this”. It was like my blog but with only the same feedback I’d get from my own circle.

And given that I know now just how much I bent over backwards trying to get the approval of others and overweighted that external input over my own self-assessment of my abilities…that’s pretty fucking useless. And downright devastating.

Because intrinsically once you get beyond my self-confidence bullshit struggles, I still need some kind of input to know whether I’m doing the job good or bad. Even if I was in the habit of downplaying positive feedback then, I still needed that feedback to downplay.  Without that, or even negative feedback for my messed up ego to overreact to, I found myself wondering whether anything I was doing or saying really mattered.

Which if any of you have heard me whinge about my dating life or the relative lack thereof, you’re hearing a very familiar whinge in that last line. And I find myself realizing right now just how that whole coincidence of zero feedback environments (writing and dating) may have fed each other into the worst of my self-loathing to spin me into therapy in the first place.

Which makes me wonder if I can pay myself for this post somehow as a therapy session. I really have to figure out a way to monetize this shit. I digress.

Some of me also feels like social media, specifically Facebook also fed to the negative constructiveness on the writing more recently. It’s one thing to throw up some pithy comment on my FB status and get a bunch of likes. There’s that brief juice of a burst of likes and it feels good in the moment. But it amounts to a critical sugar high, no sustaining power and nothing I can build a body of work on.

Twitter is slightly better for that, amazingly. There’s the challenge of trying to get that concise idea trimmed down to 140 characters and then get the zinger out there. And if it strikes the right note, favorites and retweets make me feel good in the brief moment. But I don’t have the first damn clue what it was about it that really worked. Although there’s at least some positive feedback in that if people I have no contact with retweet something I’ve thrown out there to know that the idea had some universal appeal. I went absolutely nuts the first time Jenny Lawson retweeted me.

Which makes me worry about myself a little bit even if I do still feel good about that. Ah well, it’s a process.

But jumping back to the Quirkee days for a bit, I do recall at one point sharing something I wrote for Quirkee with Brea to get input and a proofing. And I remember her telling me, “It’s ok, but to be honest…there isn’t a whole lot of you in there. I read that you liked it, but I don’t really feel how much or why.”

Contrast that with the post I threw up the other night about 2001 and what I felt and what it made me think and…I can see really freaking clearly where I went wrong. Why I stopped writing and why I let myself lose faith in anything I ever wrote.

In the end, I don’t know if this is something I can ever do for a living or if I’d even want to. Maybe writing will always only be a hobby for me. But it’s not much of a hobby if I don’t put more effort into it. I think I’ll be able to do more with it now, because I think I’ve made real progress in not being afraid of the silence any more. And in having faith in what I can do whether people are listening or not.

The voice that matters the most in this space is my own. Everything else can be constructive whether it’s positive or negative but it ultimately has to be backup to my work as solo artist with these fucking words.

So let’s turn out the lights and see where the journey takes us tomorrow.

1 Comment for this post you say something?

  • 31 August 20133:59 am Eugene

    About fucking time you’ve given me something to read.

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