This is a story about losing my way...
I've kind of screwed everything up since my suicide attempt. Why did I tweet when I was really sick? Why did I piss my readers off by live-publishing the draft manuscript of my dreadful second novel? Why am I struggling to find my voice again, and reconnect with people?
It feels like there's a lot of pressure to write very profound and meaningful things, having cheated death. It feels like whatever I write should be a decent contribution to society. However, I'm missing the mark. I'm falling short of my own expectations. I feel like I'm letting everybody down.
I feel considerable embarrassment that my story does not have a nice linear progression. Why doesn't the tale read like a straightforward rags to riches fairytale? Why are there flies in the ointment? Why is there bad stuff in there, mixed in with what I dearly desired to be good? What's my message anyway? Where am I going with this?
Writing another novel took me down a peg or two. It was hard, and my arrogant belief that I'd be able to just sit down in front of the keyboard and crank out something decent, was a delusion that was shattered. I've had to face the very real conclusion that I've still got a long way to go if I want to produce anything decent. I'll need to pre-plan more. I can't just shoot from the hip and expect everything to go my way.
Writing these stream-of-consciousness blogs has become quite easy. If you do aspire to be a writer, writing needs to become a daily habit. I've developed the habit, but writing a journal, a diary or a stream-of-consciousness blog is probably the easiest option. Writing short stories is fun and not that hard. Dedicating even a mere 30 days to a single work of fiction, turned out to be very hard. I thought it would be easy, because my first novel came with little effort and I've managed to write this blog for two and a half years, but the construction of characters, plot, scenes... it's tough going when you get up to and beyond the 30,000 to 35,000 word point. It's not about the word count, of course. You have to write the right words, naturally. However, I can't understand why anybody would write the wrong ones. Just edit as you go.... except that's hard when you're doing creative writing.
I'm trying to recover my raw and uncensored voice. I'm trying to rediscover myself; my identity. I briefly thought I would own the moniker: novelist. I wrote "thinker" on my bio because I thought it would piss people off. Aren't we all thinkers? How dare I declare myself to be some kind of intellectual philosopher type chap. "Show me your certificate immediately!" people demanded. "Show me your credentials!" they screamed.
I'm backing down.
Although I hold a balanced set of opinions, have lived a varied life that's given me first-hand experience of almost every aspect of human society, and I can string a sentence together, I'm surely not entitled to write on whatever topic takes my whimsical fancy, and expect people to read it? Who the hell am I? What's my job title? What position of authority do I hold?
I think my readers are figuring out that I'm just a guy; just an ordinary person. These are not the words of a superstar celebrity CEO chairman chief lord god. These are merely words. Where are my citations? Why am I not quoting people you've heard of? Who the hell am I to hold my own reasonable opinions, and dare to express them as if I'm somebody of any import?
There isn't enough room in this world for the rich and famous, and the likes of us. Make room for the celebs. "SILENCE, PLEB!" scream those who are entitled to an opinion, because of their superior status.
It would be OK, but what the hell am I going on about anyway?
I feel like I missed my chance. The spotlight was on me briefly, but I choked. When I had the attention I craved, what did I do with it? I screwed up. I wasted my opportunity. When that chance came, I didn't have anything profound to say. It's time to shuffle red-faced back into the audience. It's time to shut up and let the stars of the show resume their performance, isn't it? Make room for the celebs!
I lost 2,000 Twitter followers in the weeks following my suicide attempt. I've lost 500 Twitter followers since getting a job. If I was cynical, I could argue that it's not very interesting to read about somebody who's succeeding; somebody who's safe and is probably going to be OK. Where's the drama? Where's the jeopardy? Where's the suspense? I'm not cynical though, so I take it personally: my message must be wrong. It must be something unlikeable about me. I must have changed. I failed to say anything profound and interesting when I was passed the microphone. I had my moment of fame and I've screwed it up. Next!
What frustrates me is that I know there is something profound to be found in my writing. I know that my story does contain an interesting and exceptional tale. I know that there's a message that can be teased out, and it might prove useful for other people who are going through hell. The odds were stacked against me - as they're stacked against so many - but what's different about me that's allowed me to pull through? Why am I alive when so many others would have died? I certainly don't want to piss anybody off by smugly declaring myself a success story - it's a different message from that... it's about what lessons can be learned, even if that's not an original thought or idea at all.
I've had to sit and listen to cult-leader type characters, while they talked about their spiritual awakenings in sweat lodges or in South American jungles, intoxicated with ayahuasca. I've had to listen to endless amounts of people who've wanted to share their stories of recovery. Nobody who's listened has been able to emulate them though. It's all well and good going on about your own success in recovery, but it's not helping anybody, is it?
There are a lot of very desperate people out there. My website is visited by the suicidal, alcoholics and drug addicts. There are millions of people out there who are looking for solutions to their problems. There's a temptation for me to start writing as if I've got the answers. I know that there's an eager audience for any kind of self-help material. I know that it would be incredibly popular, if I was to start writing a prescriptive guide for how to cure yourself of your depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse. I know that people are desperate and they haven't found anything that works.
Nobody's a done deal. Nobody is a finished article. It would be dishonest and misleading for anybody to write as if they've got the answers; they've found the cure.
During my treatment for mental health problems and addiction, I discovered a world of non-judgemental people, and people who will listen to your story. Your story is interesting. You deserve the chance to recover - every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. It seems as if there's a monopoly on storytelling - only the celebs get to tell their stories, and the rest of us should silently cower in a dark corner, filled with shame and regret; convinced that we're worthless sinners; eternally damned. I wouldn't be surprised if we discover that the secret to recovery is to allow people to recover, by allowing them to no longer feel as if they must pay a lifelong price for their shortcomings; by allowing people to revel in their own identities and their actions, rather than apologising and thinking of themselves as useless and flawed.
You may notice that there's rather a different code of morality applied to celebrities, than is applied to the general populace. You will see a great outpouring of sympathy for celebrities who are affected by mental health, alcohol and drug addiction issues. You will see that celebrities are celebrated for their faults - it makes them more relatable. However, the ordinary likes of you and me will become black sheep - scapegoats for the ills of society - if we stumble and err. Nobody's going to forgive our sins because we're not celebrities. Nobody wants to hear your story.
However, you should write like you're already famous. You should own your story. You should tell your story, because nobody else is going to tell it correctly. Nobody but you should own your identity. You decide who you are; you decide how your story gets told.
I'm having a wobble. Why are people disengaging? Why are fewer people connecting with me and my story? Why am I losing Twitter followers? Why do all my graphs trend downwards?
I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know where the hell I'm going with this. If I was going to be a writer, why am I not punting my novel manuscripts to every literary agent I can find? If I was going to be a writer, why am I not relentlessly pursuing a writing job? If I was going to be a writer, why am I not promoting myself through every avenue? It must be clear to my audience that I'm confused; directionless.
Often times when we're consuming content on the internet, we wonder what the commercial angle is. All those lovely webcomics that you read have usually got associated merchandise - T-shirts, coffee mugs etc. - and all those silly Buzzfeed lists that you love, are paid for by the advertising that's plastered all over the website. The deal you've struck is pretty clear - your eyeballs are being traded. However, what's my angle? What do I want from you?
I guess I need attention to feel valued; worthwhile as a human being. Without an audience; with nobody listening, who the hell am I? Who really cares whether I live or die?
My social media success is inversely proportional to my real-world connections. As I've made new friends, reconnected with old ones and impressed my new work colleagues, my social media identity has suffered. As my health, wealth and prospects have improved, my digital footprint has declined. I suppose I should be happy, but this blog and my Twitter followers provide me with a comforting safety net. If all else fails, this blog is something that would be hard to take away from me. This website - and my writing - is something that's inexpensive and provides stability; support; self-esteem. I suppose I could dismiss my virtual life as unimportant, and concentrate on real face-to-face human relationships, but I'm loathe to do that when I'm fragile; delicate. Why would I cut off one of my biggest sources of security?
A blogger friend has recently completed a year of sobriety, got herself a regular spot as a guest blogger and now has a boyfriend. Writing has been staggeringly successful for her, as a healthy coping mechanism. Blogging has been her constant companion, and she's proud of what she's produced. She's buzzing with the excitement of getting noticed. She's thrilled that she's achieved so much.
I remember when I started writing this blog, I suffered the usual thing that most bloggers do, which is to believe that I was writing amazing stuff that needed to be shared. I was a blogospammer. I would share my content as far and wide as I could. I exhausted every avenue, trying to get exposure. I wanted readers, like a junkie wants drugs. I obsessed over my stats; my metrics. I quickly came to believe that I was a serious writer, and that I'd produced a significant contribution to the literature.
Now, I beaver away in relative obscurity. I put very little effort into self-promotion. I cringe a little when I think about how I spammed every social media site I could, trying to get readers. Now, I'm passive - read if you want to... you know where to find me.
I'm still a bit hooked on my stats though. It upsets me when I have fewer readers this week than last week; fewer followers.
I imagine that I'm going through an important developmental phase though. To write every day for a year is necessary to develop the writing habit. To write for a second year is to prove that the first wasn't just a fluke. To write for a third year is to discover why you're really writing. What is it that I'm getting out of this? Where am I going with this?
It's incredible that there are some people who've read everything I've written here. I've written 770,000 words, which is the same amount as in the King James Bible, more or less - it's my next milestone, to have written as much as is in the Bible. Then, I want to write a million words, just because it's a cool number. How cool would that be, to say you've written a million words?
So, I don't really know what I'm writing about. I don't really know why I want followers; readers. I don't really know what I've got to say that's profound and interesting and useful and entertaining and moving and helpful and original and all the other things that I vainly want my writing to be. Why am I doing this? I don't know yet.
I imagine that people reach the end of these sometimes lengthy brain-dumps, and they think "that's 10 minutes of my life I just wasted". What knowledge have I imparted? How have I improved anybody's life?
I am going to find out where this is going. There is a purpose, I promise. I just don't know what it is yet.
Tags: #writing #socialmedia