Dorothy Parker once said “I hate writing, I love having written.” It wasn’t until I started writing semi-regularly that I knew what this actually meant. The process of writing can be difficult; you come up with a dozen ideas, select which one you want to extend, draft out the outline, go back and fill in the blanks, research some quotes to insert, tidy up all of the grammatical and spelling mistakes, find an appropriate image, upload it all to the internet, then realise it was a poor article with a weak argument to begin with so go back to square one.
Of course, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the words just flow; I call these first-drafters. These are the times when the words form in front of your eyes, when the argument is so clear and well-reasoned that you don’t need to think it through, you just need to get it down in print as quickly as possible so it will work itself out.
Over the past year or so I’ve not found the time to open myself up enough to either approach. Actually that’s wrong: I’ve not made the time. I never had the time available in the past, when between us Gareth and I turned out a different and detailed piece every single day of the week. No, we simply dedicated ourselves to doing this and the words just came; we made the time to find them and they were there.
Sometimes it was easy. Sometimes events conspired to put a story in front of you which you had a strong opinion about and which you were happy to mentally spark about until you could make a few minutes to note them down and flesh it out. Sometimes this happened more than once a day, meaning that evening you could prepare half a dozen posts and schedule them for coming weeks, bumping some of them back as more time-bound or urgent pieces came to life.
Other times though, it was hard. Ideas were there, but never at a time when you could note them down. Sometimes they simply didn’t stand up to more scrutiny; what was a pithy and fun one liner or introductory paragraph could actually go no further, so was filed away in the folder marked “things to finish”. Sometimes there was simply little to talk about, meaning you plucked random things from the air and practiced creating an argument for its own sake.
And of course, increasingly you had lots to say about something but knew it was not appropriate to be writing about it in public. Moving slowly up the middle-management ladder exposed me to things which I knew I could talk about, but which wouldn’t necessarily endear me to my workplace. Be it comments on government policy, criticism or support for the work undertaken by particular political parties or simply a view which was a little controversial and which showed up deficiencies in thinking or action at places I had worked or knew well; some things just raised flags.
This puts a real clamp on things, and forces you to second-guess yourself constantly. I found myself writing things which, in the good old days of anonymity, read really well and were perfectly balanced, but in the new era of writing under my own name could have things read into it which could make life awkward (rightly or wrongly). I’ve had posts which were entirely innocent in intent pulled up by senior staff who thought I was talking about them, their work or something they had said to me, when in reality it was nothing of the sort. It was a strange sort of paranoia, played out on both sides.
This knocked me out of the habit of writing, and that’s a hard habit to pick up again. The act of sitting down at a computer and typing thoughts, forming them into an argument and then putting it out into the wild is fantastic, but requires a degree of confidence and ego in combination with time and motivation if it is to be done well.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I also discovered a strange split in terms of content. I wanted to write about the sector in general, as well as about things I was learning in particular. I wanted to discuss things close to my work and areas of interest without necessarily relating them to work programmes I was delivering, though I was also keen to use writing as a method of driving thought processes forward internally as well as externally. This is a hard circle to square, as these each require subtly different approaches if they are to be both allowed to happen, as well as if they are to actually achieve anything.
I’ll be honest; when I began writing post this I didn’t actually have an end point in mind. Part of me hoped that it would turn into a first-drafter, that the argument would lead me, logically or not, to a pithy end point and conclusion, but I’m not sure it has. I suspect this is in no small part down to a lack of practice, that my writing-mind has atrophied somewhat through a lack of use resulting in this becoming something of a ramble, but I also felt that it was important to get even that down in words. It’s only by writing, and writing more, that I will bring it back up to speed and to a level where I am comfortable with doing it more.
I can’t say that I’ll commit to daily blogging ever again, certainly not in the immediate future. I can’t even commit to regular blogging at all; but I can commit to trying. I will be looking to write more regularly, both here and also through my new day job. Yes, in an effort to force me to keep fingers to keyboard I plan to write for my work a bit more. Some posts may end up being reblogged here if they are interesting, relevant and appropriate, but some may stay on our work blog. Who knows?
One thing I do know is that 2015 will see a lot more public writing from me, one way or another.
I apologise in advance.