On Writing (part two)

Write for compliments. Write for critical feedback.

I’m conscious that I have two writing minds. I have the me mind, that one that unlocks occasionally, pulls out of his rut and performs wild feats of imagination. He is me, obviously, but he is also a wider part of my personality that I can only access when I detach from the actual thinking part of me. Like breathing or locking in to a groove, the more you think about it the harder it gets. But when you’re in a flow state and there’s something drawing the really active part of your imagination away from itself, this imperceptible subcutaneous shift occurs and the writing gets effortless. This is the writing that I do for me, from me, to me. It’s occasionally self-critical, but generally wonderfully pragmatic and I disappear in to a voice that sounds like the me in my head. In sounding like me I can talk to myself in a way that’s much more permanent than the self-talk I indulge in mentally. It’s on the digital page after all, and the digital page is forever.

My other writing mind is the us mind. It treats my body as a collective. The socialist state of being me. There are myriad stakeholders within this mind, this voice, this outlet. There’s the me part of us of course, the part that is hoping to express itself with utter clarity and emotion and a flow state, but there’s also the me as is known to the wider world, the me that other people see, the me that creates art for others. There is a massive overlap between these dualing writing minds. They are both me after all. But the me mind inhabits a secluded quiet place and the us mind runs rampant through the rest of the body. The us mind is the one clamouring for coffee on a Sunday morning, the one binge eating chocolates on a lunch break, the one indulging in sad folk songs when the world is a happy place. Through the collectiveness of us, this version of my writing mind succumbs to man’s weakest desires and writes the most acceptable version of me. There is less keen edge in us, there is less focused achievement, there is less flow state. This is fine of course, if all the mind was me and flow and a secluded inner space, I would be performing endless Vipassana meditation in a yurt in the mountains of Mongolia. Instead I inhabit a neat little section of the world, my atoms pushing out just enough to meet my friendship group, to find myself occasionally at gigs, to make myself go to work when my alarm tells me to. This is the us version of my writing that makes this happen. Turns out socialism as a collective state resonates with the way I create art, and in this resonation I find a way to get things done.

My problems arise when I start to examine the writing put forth by the me and us minds. When I write for myself I feel authentic. I sound the way I want to sound. There is a joy to the way words arrange themselves on the page. This is the writing I want to put out to the world. This is the writing that sparks joy in me, so this is the writing that I’m most proud of, the writing I want to push out to the wider world. Of course this is also the writing that is most personal, the writing that cuts closest to the keen edge, and because of this I can’t allow it out into the world. Imagine a world where people truly know what I think. Imagine a world where I lay myself bare and allow the world to gaze upon my creative spirit. This is troubling, even for someone who has spent most of his life as a creative being, putting himself and his thoughts and his art out there.

When the us mind writes, we know that this is work for public consumption. Us as a collective does its best to create something palatable, something the wider world will love us for. It’s mostly decent work, for I’ve honed enough of my skills to consistently create something that’s not crap. But it’s not the best of my work. It’s not the work that makes people want to stop in the street and engage. in a sense its lowest common denominator art, the art that the us mind assumes people will find interesting. Naturally some people do find it interesting, but at the same time I’m losing part of my audience because I’m not creating work that is heart-stunning and mind-blowing and all the descriptors that I want people to heap upon my work.

Here is this double edged sword where the me mind creates some creative work that I’d love to release because I know that the wider world will stop and swoon over it, but instead I release the work that the us mind has slapped together, because the socialist collective assures me this is the wiser choice. If I take the me route I risk public humiliation or an internal devastation when the world doesn’t engage in the work I’m creating. If I take the us route, the route that I generally travel, I create work that does engage some but also often falls short of the mark because it comes from a place of what will the public want rather than what is authentically good and coming from a place deep within me. It’s a puzzle, something to ponder. The simplest solution is to embrace the me side of my writing, and just hit publish on everything that me creates, but this happens rarely.

I’m conscious that I crave critical feedback. Much more than compliments. Much more than pats on the back. Much more indeed than recognition. For some reason, critical feedback has been instilled in me as the be all and end all of creative reception. I constantly throw work out to the world with the small hope that people will like it, but more often with the much larger hope that people engage with it, talk about it, throw me back their thoughts. I really want to diverge from the ‘artist creates art, everyone else looks at it’ mode of expression towards a more ‘artist creates art, long-form discussion ensues, art evolves over time’. I would guess this comes from a point of not being good at editing my work. I am very good at blasting all the ideas out in the first place, but I find it hard to critically read back through it and bash it in to something good. When someone else engages in the work and gives me an alternate viewpoint, the work becomes stronger and my writing becomes stronger to suit it. It’s a fine conundrum, and ties neatly into the socialist us version of my writing mind. If I was a wiser man I’d employ an editor to proof my work before publishing. Instead I keep throwing it to the internet and wondering if its good and wondering why no-one is engaging with it and wondering why my career keeps stalling at the emerging career. Every writing competition and every grant application and every festival has a little box where you’re meant to mark your career level (emerging, mid-career, established) and I keep hitting that emerging button, even though I’ve been battling away at this thing for ten years now. I wonder what the point is where I shift to mid-career and if I’ll ever get to the established phase. I guess the reality is that I’m already mid-career and I’ll probably stay here until I die and then someone will retroactively mark my last couple of works as fine pieces of art and put me in the established column. Of course by that point I’ll be dead and there will be few if any chances left to apply for writing competitions. Until that stage I’ll just keep depositing my creative works in to two separate camps: the collective socialist us version that the wider world gets to see and the individualistic me version that I’m much prouder of but keep tucked away out of a sense of shame or worry or disquiet.

Fridays with Friends! Episode 12! Trad Jazz! In a room with Phoebe Lindner! Watch it here!

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