Two articles were
recently brought to my attention via the Twitterz: Amber Sparks’ ‘The Influence of Anxiety‘, and Kirsty Logan’s response at the Pank Blog, ‘This Modern Writer: Youth Is All’. You should all go and have a read, but if you’re of the busy-busy persuasion let me sum it up for you. Both articles* explore the anxiety and distress that can be caused by the relatively new world of social networking, as applied to emerging writers. Everywhere on social networks (herein known as the so-netz), people are boasting about their word counts for the day, how many chapters they’ve edited of their fifth novel, who they just met at the festival they were invited to attend. It’s enough to give an early-career writer a serious bout of self-doubt. And it does. Like every single person in the comments on Amber’s article, I too suffer from this constant self-evaluation, and the subsequent lacking I observe in my achievements. And the so-netz that I am a part of are veritable land-mines of success. Twitter is constantly feeding me the proclamations of milestones met by established authors and emerging/emerged writers alike. To be clear, I don’t begrudge them that. Just like Amber and Kirsty, I enjoy the interaction. But see, for example, my ‘about’ page and the publication credits therein. A handful of flash fictions, a couple of short stories. Compare that to the lists of the two amazing writers who wrote those articles. And they’re anxious about not having achieved enough? Fuck me, I should be practically catatonic with insecurity.
The whole discussion reminded me of the excellent article that Tracy Lucas wrote back in July, entitled ‘How to make 100% sure you never get your big break as a writer’. It’s uncanny how closely my thinking has followed Tracy’s. My quest for validation had much humbler origins: I set goals of favourites and comments on the art/social website deviantART as my first step towards being considered a ‘real writer’. From there it was publication in an e-zine, and then publication in a ‘real’** paper magazine, and then publication in a real magazine that had also featured one of my favourite writers (I haven’t met that one yet), and so on and so forth. Each validation didn’t seem like it meant anything. They still don’t, if I’m honest with myself***.
But the thing that struck a chord and motivated this post was that, for me, all this self-doubt and need for validation isn’t even limited to my creative writing. It is also evident in my thoughts about my education and skill set. I have always felt as though I am constantly behind the bell curve. I’ve tried justifying this feeling in myriad ways: I was never in the top of the class because there were real geniuses in my cohort, my Ph.D. project is a failure because it’s fundamentally intractable, I’ve been unlucky with circumstances beyond my control. But all these justifications feel like excuses for the fact that I am just not as good at this as other people. And, like the writers in the articles, my comparative youth is no longer an advantage. Honours students are getting published in A-star journals. Undergraduates understand the theory I use better than I ever have. Where are my advantages now? How can I compete with the next generation of smart, motivated, better qualified graduates?
This is my daily thought routine. An exercise in self-examination and, let’s be frank here, self-pity that I know I should be able to snap out of and get on with it. Tracy Lucas suggests checking yourself against the goals you set, making yourself accountable for your successes as well as your failures. That’s good advice, and I’m going to try it out. But there’s a flip side to it, in that I am fearful of what my reaction might be if I don’t reach the goals I set. Will I just collapse? Or worse, not care and just continue on not meeting my goals.What in the hell are my goals, anyway? Am I trying to be a successful researcher? Should I? Or should I step away and try and focus on getting a job that makes use of my writing skills? Will that close off any future interest in getting back into research? How do people make these decisions, if they make them at all? Or does everyone just take the next logical step without giving due consideration? Lots of questions. It could be the case that I’m reading way too much into this, but then, that’s me. That’s my way of doing things, just ask Louise. The number of times I’ve nearly screwed our relationship up by thinking too hard about it, well, it’s more than I can count on two hands.
I’ll be the first to admit that there are external factors contributing to all this. I’ve had to deal with a lot of emotional stress in the past couple of months, and that will always spill over into other areas. But this is something I’ve been feeling for years now, and so I tend to think that it’s a real thing that has been brought to the surface by the catalyst of pressure. Just like alcohol brings out truths, only less fun. Of course, there’s a possibility that this is all a product of me being a twenty-something, and all the uncertainty that comes with it. And I’m well aware that finishing my thesis will bring a lot of clarity to these questions–it’s hard to see when there’s a big chunk of blank paper waiting to be filled blocking your vision. I guess I just needed to get this out there. Writing is, after all, my catharsis. But if there’s any ring of truth in any of this, I’d love to hear your experiences and views on it.
*Yes, I’m calling them articles rather than blog posts. Get over it.
**I know, I know. E-zines are just as real as paper magazines. We all know this, don’t get in a huff, it was just my way of thinking back then.
***This is absolutely not meant to be insulting to those fine folks that have published my work. It’s just the way my brain works, please don’t take offense.