Why I'm doing this

January 1, 2019 (1081 words) :: Why I'm making myself write a blog post every day in 2019.
Tags: personal, mark-fisher, writing

This post is day 1 of a personal challenge to write every day in 2019. See the other fragments, or sign up for my weekly newsletter.

For 2019, my New Year’s resolution is to write a blog post every single day, on a different topic. Any length, any topic, as long as it’s something I actually want to write about, and the post is published before midnight in whatever timezone I’m in (currently, GMT-8).

This endeavour was inspired by Mark Fisher’s k-punk blog, which I’d only read bits and pieces of until Repeater came out with an 817-page tome featuring his collected writings. I read the whole thing and it kind of broke me (in a good way). I loved it, even though it was unpolished and uncurated and really just scattered bits and pieces in no particular order - snapshots of Mark writing on whatever cultural artefact captured his fancy on any particular day. It was a privilege to read his blog posts, no matter how scattershot or unfinished, because they offered a glimpse into the way he saw the world.

In the introduction to the collection, Simon Reynolds writes:

The exciting thing about Mark’s writing […] was the feeling that he was on a journey: the ideas were going somewhere, a gigantic edifice of thought was in the process of construction. You sensed, with mounting awe, that Mark was building a system.

I remember reading this and thinking: I want this. I want this feeling. Not just as a reader, either; I want it as a writer. In fact, the single most powerful force driving me to write is the desire for this sort of intellectual accomplishment, even if only in my own mind. All the dubious external rewards for writing of this kind (I don’t know - a bit of money now and then; occasional speaking engagements; fairly alarming instances of being recognised at left events) are worthless compared to that rush of feeling like you’ve figured something out through writing. Like you’ve filled in a formerly blank spot in your cognitive map, and suddenly something new clicks into place.

That’s the high that I chase when I write. Or used to, anyway. Writing’s been hard for me lately. I have a bunch of things I want to write but haven’t been able to motivate myself into actually finishing - as soon as I hit a conceptual snag, I leave it, unable to summon the energy to do the mental work needed to overcome that block. My list of things to write keeps piling up, while my actual publication list remains stagnant.

That’s been causing all sorts of anxiety for me. When I rage-quit tech, I had this idea in the back of my mind that I could become some sort of leftist writer instead. And somehow, over the course of the last year and a half, I kind of managed it: I started getting actual commissions, and I even got a book deal with my dream publisher. Everything I’d been working towards was starting to come true.

So then why the hell have I been barely able to write anything for the last four months? Isn’t this what I want to be doing?

I’m still trying to figure it out, but I think part of what went wrong is that I started (sometimes unconsciously, sometimes not) systematising my writing. I started trying to write articles based on what I thought would fit the publications I wanted to write for, in the pursuit of some nebulous goal of left publication bingo, at the expense of what I actually wanted to write about. And somewhere along the way, writing started to feel like more and more of a chore, and one that seemed increasingly easy to postpone doing.

So I guess what I’m trying to do with this a-blog-post-a-day challenge is to fix my nascent relationship with writing. I want to rediscover writing as joy, not as burden. I want to return to “revelling in the jouissance of writing”, as Richard Seymour writes in the latest issue of Salvage. Writing for actual publications with actual established audiences is obviously useful - not to mention pragmatic - but that can’t be my only outlet. I’d just feel too much pressure to be perfect, and I’m not quite ready for that yet.

I need a space where I can work things out. Where I can take a topic and run with it, even if it leads me in a direction I didn’t foresee and don’t fully understand. Where I can write about something that would be too niche or weird for an actual publication, but that I still want to write down in a public place, even one that’s barely advertised. It’s weird, but it really is different from writing for just yourself - the possibility of being read by another human being somehow forces you to make your thoughts more coherent than you would otherwise. It’s the threat of being misunderstood by the other that makes you work things out for the self.

Hence this self-created challenge. In 2017, I forced myself to read 200 books, which was probably overkill but quite an effective way to consolidate my personal political transformation. Hopefully I can apply those same principles to the production, rather than consumption, of content: occasionally prioritising quantity over quality, sure, but better that than creative sterility. Sometimes you just need to get the words out, no matter how half-formed or tentative they are, and see where they lead you.

So this is me trying to fill in the blank spots of my cognitive map, one casual & low-stress blog post at a time. Over the next 365 days, I’ll be writing short and mostly unpolished posts about pop culture, tech worker organising, left theory, and everything in between. Sometimes it’ll be a previously unpublished article that I couldn’t find a suitable home for; sometimes it’ll be an original piece that eventually becomes part of a longer article or my book. Hopefully this won’t be a completely self-indulgent exercise, and there will be something novel and interesting once in a while. We shall see.

I’ll end this with a list of writers I admire who have tried similar exercises, which you should check out if you’re thinking of doing something similar (or otherwise):

Tomorrow’s post will be a 2018 retrospective. After tomorrow, all bets are off.

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