How to doubt your writing

December 19, 2011 § 19 Comments

Use Twitter, for one. Use Twitter, and then;

  1. Assume that the best blogs need to be written in the Grad Student Voice because you follow a lot of grad students on Twitter and quite a number of them follow you, and so you to try to write like they write their blogs, because other grad students like it, and retweet those blogs, and;
  2. Assume that retweets mean something, and assign GRAVE IMPORT to those retweets, and become convinced that they not only create meaning about your worthiness as a writer but also assume that retweets are an indication of your worthiness AS A HUMAN BEING AND IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN RETWEETED YOU’RE JUST A FUCKING FAILURE, OH JUST GIVE UP ON LIFE ALREADY and then realising, in essence, sometimes retweets, i.e. attention, is like bird shit, sometimes you get splattered, and most days you don’t, really, because;
  3. Quite a bit hangs on spheres of influence, networks, and who knows you, who really knows you, and whether or not they’re influential in the blogosphere and the Twittersphere, and how;
  4. One day, if they decide to like what you write and say, “THIS IS AWESOME”, then all the people who are their friends and who want to be their friends or who are merely influenced by their tastes or opinions will also retweet what you wrote and say, “THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER, I LOVE HER BLOG”;
  5. And promptly forget about you or your blog the next time you link to a post or to something you wrote;
  6. Which you, being silly and foolish, will see as a sign of your failure as a writer or a blogger, and perhaps it is a sign of your failure of a blogger, if being a blogger means garnering page views and “hits”;
  7. After which you try to repeat your style, your writing, whatever it is that brought about that first bout of attention, and slowly realising:
  8. The influential grad students of Twitter have probably stopped paying attention to your blog, and they’ve stopped talking to you anyhow, and you’ve stopped talking to them, and the previous compliments and attention had really nothing to do with what you wrote, it just had something to do with you being there at the right moment, i.e. it’s all about whether the BIRD HAD TO SHIT AT THAT PARTICULAR MOMENT;
  9. And you realise that you’ve wasted a lot of time on really stupid self doubt and you’ve been a fool for not actually using your blog the way you promised yourself a year or so ago when you started it – to test out ideas, to write bullshit, to think through things, to write, to write in any way that comes to you without being hemmed in by the “right style” or the “right form”, and realising that maybe, just maybe, the grad-student style was never your thing because;
  10. You’re not a fucking grad student, and;
  11. You remind yourself that the things you write should not be contingent on retweets and attention, or maybe-
  12. In the digital economy and online spaces where you publish, retweets, links, and attention are exactly the factors that make or break a writer, except with the volume of writing that is online these days, you either get noticed or you don’t, and then you remember the people who have noticed you and who have taken the time to consistently remind you, even through emails and private DMs, that they read what you write, and that you tend to forget about them thinking about the people who don’t pay attention to you;
  13. And there is really no particular explanation or reason as to what makes people consider you good one day and meh the next, but then you realise this isn’t true, that there are perhaps complex factors about your “audience” and where you live and where they live, and that the politics of space, race, gender, sexuality, and class will also have a role to play online, both in the type of attention you get and don’t get, and the type of attention and validation you seek, and then realise you’re beginning to have a headache;
  14. Because does it, and if so, how?
  15. And you entertain the idea that far from erasing boundaries and limitations and constraints, Twitter really does reinforce “the power of place” and that maybe, politics aside, because you don’t know how to deal with the politics of digital attention at the moment, but you can deal with your Individual Feelings, so you deal with your feelings and decide that this is what they meant when they said be fearless and fail in your writing, when they said that if it mattered to you, you really should not care who else cares or who else does not care, and maybe this lack of attention allows you to fail spectacularly, in front of an audience, an audience that is present and aware but does not really care either way whether you write or you don’t, an audience that does not really pay attention to you unless you say something at the right moment, when circumstances are right, when people see what you say and feel moved enough to want to read what you wrote, which is essentially Twitter in a nutshell;
  16. And you learn to show up and write, regardless of who’s paying attention to your fucking tweets, grad students or no, and you suddenly think of Rilke, who will be shocked, and then embarrassed, at this woman who is sitting here writing, nay BLOGGING, about retweets and page views, a woman who will then comfort herself by imagining him repeat these words: “I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now.”*
  17. (And to ignore the little voice that won’t shut up, that wants to ask Rilke how to ignore the outside when the outside seeps into the inside, and the inside exists in the outside?)

* From Letters to a Young Poet

 

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§ 19 Responses to How to doubt your writing

  • [...] How to doubt your writing Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

  • Space Bar says:

    :-)

    18. And then read now-defunct magazine called Inside Outside hoping for some answers you suspect you won’t find.

  • Lili L says:

    graduate students are like breathing in this respect: the second you become aware of them, everything gets weird. also, #12 & #13: oof.

    • Subashini says:

      That is brilliant and so very disturbing (“grad students are like breathing”).

      I didn’t mean to pick on grad students so much, but I suspect that I’m largely upset that I’m not one and, and… well, that’s a whole other can of worms that I’m just not gonna open today. *grin* *sigh* *sob*

  • Oh this is so wonderful!

    I’ve spent the past few weeks hating my writing and wondering about how to justify it’s existence because not only does the amount of attention your recieve (or fail to receive) spin your head, but also being exposed to SO MUCH writing by other talented people starts wearing you down. I used to take part in this daily micro-fiction thing on twitter and kept thinking that this was proof that I couldn’t cut it as any sort of a writer.

    Really glad to read this, even though now when I re-read my comment I am cringing about what you will think about my vocabulary (limited) my grammar (confusing) and my ability to translate emotions onto words (the jury’s still out)

    • Subashini says:

      Many thanks for writing! I felt somewhat ashamed after posting this because it deals with all the ugly feelings of doubt and insecurity, and so I appreciate other writers telling me that they experience much of the same.

      I remember your twitter stories! I loved the ones I read, and so if I may be somewhat presumptuous and simply instruct you to never cringe again and continue writing more of those stories… ? :)

  • Yan Zhitui says:

    Funny, very, and true, oh yes. Your piece reminds me of this bit of writing by Tom Rachman: http://beingsakin.wordpress.com/2011/04/05/were-writers-the-first-tweeters/

  • d.hu says:

    thanks for writing this! in the interests of refinding this “inside” i spent the better part of today locked up in my house determined to do ‘only what i wanted to do.’ for a while now my writing project has been yelling at me to write it, which i resent since i already WANT to write it. so instead of writing, i sulk and feel helpless.

    but i think part of the internal conflict has been that every time i would think about it, like the previous commenter, i would immediately start thinking about it in various (real life and twitter) people’s hands, their paralyzing scrutiny.

    but after reading stone butch blues (talk about sticking to youe guns!) and your post and writing in my journal for a while i was able to come back to my intention to write, hooray. and i feel clearer about what to write now that i’m not so much in my fantasized audience’s heads.

    i’m so glad you took permission to write about your ‘ugly’ feelings.

    because sometimes, at least for me, it does feel like you’re writing to win some kind of love. i catch myself fantasizing a lot about an audience that is so in love with my brain that they’re delighted by everything that comes out of it, in whatever form it comes out. for this reason i sometimes resent editing, as though editing were some kind of admission that nobody is in love with me.

    i read in this zine recently, hoax #5, an article about trying to make the internet a safe space for writing. i oscillate back and forth on how much i like this concept. as my friend cat (@trying2endacct) once quipped, “i just want… a space… a safe space… WHERE EVERYONE LOVES ME AND I’M THEIR FAVORITE SON.” thinking about this desire made her a little sick, like green pastures forever sick.

    & yet…
    o i don’t know
    maybe the concept is partially repellent because it’s an admission of weakness/smallness? and we’re so used to fantasizing Good Writers to be tough and powerful and don’t-give-a-fuck (yet, somewhat mysteriously, also sensitive and emotionally nuanced). but maybe as writing communities increasingly play themselves out over social media rather than or in addition to real places we should start to attend more to each other’s weaknesses in this regard. or maybe it’s just the case that social media is kind of bad at allowing for this, that it’s only there to showcase and transmit the spectacular moment or exemplary encapsulation rather than affects that persist dully like the inability to write.

    anyways, as someone once said to me, emocritical embodied solidarity! & keep writing!

    • Subashini says:

      Thanks very much for your comment — it’s given me a lot to think about, not least in how you imagine online spaces (or writing communities that exist online) to be potentially “safe” spaces (if I may use that term) for writers to pay attention to, and perhaps nurture, each other’s weaknesses. I think the challenges online, specifically on Twitter since I left FB sometime back, is the fragmented form of communication. It doesn’t necessarily have to be, but it sort of lends itself to an easy blurb-ification of one’s life.

      I don’t know if I told you this, but I lovedlovedloved your ‘To Heartbreak Hotel’ piece and ever since I read it, whenever I have a hard time writing, I just sit myself down and remind myself about “THE WRITE WRITE JUST FUCKING WRITE MANIFESTO”. (Also appreciated the exploration of political/social/communal involvement, and how a lack of it can be the contributing factor to the so-called writer’s block.) It was just a great essay and one of my favourite reads this year.

      As for writing to win some kind of love — yes, exactly, and I do wonder if for a lot of us who started writing young, and were told by others that we have a “talent” or “flair” for it, it sort of becomes this method for gaining approval/validation.

      I’ve long wanted to read Stone Butch Blues! I should get to it. And thanks once again – “emocritical embodied solidarity” – I LOVE THIS.

      • d.hu says:

        oh yay, that’s sooo wonderful to hear! see, i feel like that’s a difference with online communities, it feels really good to hear feedback like that from time to time because if you hadn’t told me that you keep thinking about my piece i would’ve kind of assumed that everyone who tweeted it or whatever had just forgotten about it. thank you!

        maybe now that we’ve all met each other through twitter we should bring back message boards and poet there instead….

      • Subashini says:

        This is absolutely true. I’m wondering if most people don’t forget, or perhaps they do because there’s just too much to keep up with online. But if they don’t, I think they cease talking about it because attention has always shifted to the newest and the now-est.

        And interestingly, I have been getting nostalgic lately for the message boards of my internet past… :)

  • Autumn says:

    I just went to retweet this, and then stopped, because I thought the Internet might implode. But seriously, this is awesome.

  • Thanks for writing this. Perhaps I haven’t quite reached the level of introspection as you have, but I kind of stopped worrying about my writing. The ephemeral nature of Twitter and the internet itself today help with “washing away” older, not so fantabulous writing one has read and written like the tide washes away writings on the beach. Perhaps it’s got something to do with the fact I am a graduate student? hahaha! What is it with graduate students and their style of writing anyway?? I don’t really know! But then again, in the spirit of “Privilege conceals itself from those who have it”, maybe being a graduate student conceals oneself from the many perks and writing skills one develops from the experience. Perhaps.

    I’m not a particularly good writer. I just try to knock things out into writing to quiet the din in my head.

    • Subashini says:

      Alicia, no… I don’t think it’s a matter of “reaching” a level of introspection. I am tempted to say it’s an inbuilt fucked-up aspect of my character. Or, perhaps, everyone who puts their work out there deals with some form of self-doubt at different levels at different stages in their life? I think your approach, for lack of a better word, is healthy. I mean, it’s a necessary form of self-protection/thick skin that a writer needs to develop if she’s ever going to want to just get on with life. :)

      Yeah, I sort of regret my graduate student comment, because there are lots of them whose writing/blogs I love and respect. As I was saying to someone else in the comments, perhaps it reveals more of my neuroses than anything else. I meant to critique the sort of insular networks of blogging graduate students (or professors) — largely white, largely male, and largely American/British, but I don’t think I really got into it in this post because thinking about that is A WHOLE OTHER THESIS. And I think for those of us who are interested in theory/culture/politics outside of a particular mindset or framework, it’s really hard to have your writing noticed if you don’t move within those circles (and being brown, female, and from the Third World seems to automatically situate you as some sort of aberrant Outsider) — which is something brown women have talked about and grapple with in the academic setting, certainly, but it’s just depressing to note how these networks and insular social circles perpetuate itself outside of academia.

      “I just try to knock things out into writing to quiet the din in my head.” Yeah, absolutely.

  • […] ¬†How to Doubt your Writing (from Blog of Disquiet) […]

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