I started writing a post the other day with this title, but it got lost in the ether. I don't mind, on reflection, as it gave me more time to think about it. You sit around with ideas in your head and you can just let them rattle around, or you can express them. For me, as a writer, it's often a good idea to express them, even if expressing them makes you look a little, well, odd perhaps.
Anyway, this isn't a flounce. It's not one of those 'oh, I've had enough, I'm taking my ball away' things. Not really. Although you may see it that way, which you're entitled to do, and that's fine. But it isn't. And that's the problem, sometimes, isn't it? I can sit here until the end of time saying "Look, I promise you, the place where this thing that I've written comes from isn't where you think it's come from, and I should know, given that I wrote it," but sometimes that isn't enough. Sometimes people will say "No, I know where this thing you wrote came from, even if you deny it came from there," implying that I'm being either knavishly misleading or naively obscuring the truth from myself. Either way, I end up coming across as a dick, don't I? But the thing is, if I write something, I reckon I have a fairly good idea why I wrote it and how I wrote it and what it means.
You may disagree, and that's fine. But it doesn't make you right. At the very least, it gives me a slightly better chance of being right than you are. It's not to say some people don't write things that are wilfully misleading (me included) or occasionally fool themselves about what they're trying to get out of a piece, because I'm sure that happens too (and I'm sure I've done it); but, in the main, I reckon I know what I'm doing.
God, how miserably arrogant this all sounds already. But I am resisting the temptation to drag the cursor back to the beginning and start again. Having lost this article once, I don't want to lose it again. (If it's any consolation, the first draft was probably more fun than this, and had more jokes. But we'll both have to muddle on through.) And I don't want you to think this is about you, unless it is. You're not so vain, unless you are. Maybe you're really lovely, as most people are; it's just that some people aren't. Why am I writing a long letter to them, then, the lovely people ask, and not us, who are lovely? It's not that; it's just that I need to explain about the non-loveliness, for the benefit mainly of the people who are lovely, since the people who aren't lovely don't give a shit anyway, and it's almost entirely unlikely to change their behaviour. Not that I want to change anyone's behaviour, or foolishly think I am capable of doing so through anything I write anyway. But still.
I should get to the point really. I dread reading comments. Dread, dread, dread. Like a sickness that sits in the pit of my stomach. I hate it. I hate knowing that there are comments underneath the things I write. I dread even moderating the own comments on my own blog, most of which are largely lovely and supportive and wonderful. I don't read the ones under my New Statesman blog, because that's a largely depressing experience. I wrote something for Comment is Free the other week which was fun to write, but I made the mistake of looking in the comments. Bloody hell! It was like being slapped in the face with a rubber fish, time after time after time.
There's a sequence in Stewart Lee's Carpet Remnant World show (which I saw the other day, and enjoyed immensely) where he changes the lighting and reads out online comments about him. I won't spoil the show for the benefit of those who are yet to see it (and you really ought to, if you're anything like me; but if you're not, don't) but it was pretty strong meat. You find yourself laughing, but you realise that it's a strange kind of laughter. I found myself laughing because of the casual hatred of the abuse, I think, because it was something familiar. Lee hates Twitter ("a celebrity Stasi policed by willing idiots" or something like that, he called it, and "a bunch of rats in a ditch, fighting over some piss") and while I don't on the whole, I do feel that way sometimes. I have an increasing amount of sympathy for that worldview. You write something, and you end up having 100 conversations about it, with people who hate you, hate what you wrote, despise you, despise everything you stand for and wish unpleasantness upon you. Luckily I'm not as popular as Lee so I only see a tiny fraction of what 'someone off the telly' gets, but I know a sliver of how it feels, to have people wish pain, injury, violence and death on you. (It does happen to men too.)
Boo hoo, you might say, you know what you signed up for when you decided to get a photo byline and payment rather than sitting around in gleeful anonymity. You're part of the metropolitan liberal elite and you hate the masses! You're sneering down from your smug plinth over the unwashed scum, whom you regard with contempt, because you've decided you're set apart from them, and better than them somehow! You're just like all the other so-called lefties who secretly hate ordinary people! And so on. Say that if you like. But it doesn't make it right. That's not where I'm coming from at all, and, as I said earlier, given that I'm writing this and you aren't, there's a chance I might know what I'm on about when it comes to my own writing.
I mean, by all means, do the 'liberal elites hate the masses' thing if you want. It's a nice, familiar narrative and there are people who make a career out of repeating the same thing, in slightly different words, all the time. Bring class into it if you want to try and engage with a different audience, because everything has to apparently be about class at some point. Oh, it's all about class! The political classes! The chattering classes! The ruling classes! All about class. Not liking comments is about class war! Well, maybe, or maybe it's about something else. But by all means, as I say, if you'd rather you tell me what I'm thinking rather than hear it from me, you be my guest.
I'm sure there are people who hate comments because they are snobs or elitists, by the way. I'm not ruling that out. I'm not even ruling out the notion that it might have something to do with how I feel. But suppose I actually know my own mind, what would I put it down to? I think you get ground down after a while. Some people love comments, and I envy them; it must be a delight for them to open up an article and scroll down through it all. Lucky them. But I am not like that at all, and I'll explain why, if I can. It doesn't matter how many positive reactions I get to something, I end up focussing on the negative most of all. This is a good character trait in many ways, and ends up making you try and ensure that you improve what you're doing; but it has a rather deleterious effect on your soul.
I think it's probably good to write something in the expectation that you're going to face scrutiny for it. That's fine too. Quite right, too. It makes you a better writer to know that people are going to pull you up on your mistakes, if you make them. It makes you more determined to get rid of them from your output. Good. That's the positive aspect of criticism, and it's one that's really important. You become a better writer by anticipating people's arguments against you and ensuring you've addressed their points; you make sure you don't give your opponents an easy 'out' by heading them off. So that's all positive.
What isn't as positive is when people just read the headline, and decide they'll fly down to the comments box and tell you you're a cock. Or when people read a sentence or two, then tell you they only read a sentence or two, and didn't read the rest, but they've decided they know what you've written. Or when people just tell you you're scum. Or a cunt. Or whatever. That's not so much fun, in my experience, but your mileage may vary. Or when people so wilfully get the wrong end of the stick of what you're saying that you face the choice of ponderously explaining the same tonal shift to 100 different people in a row on Twitter, or you just go out for a long walk and leave your phone off. Christ knows I try and do the first thing, but I want to do the second one so much. It's not anyone's fault but mine if someone misreads something, by the way, and I don't mean to imply that it's anything other than poor communication; but on the other hand, not all communication of a message relies on a literal reading of certain sentences from a text in isolation, through the prism of intense rage and aggression. That's not the best way to read something, sometimes, in my opinion.
There's the other thing where I think I've become a worse writer since I've started writing with comments or commenters or other people in mind. I end up saying 'in my opinion' or 'perhaps' or littering my articles with a hundred thousand caveats. It's messy and needlessly complicated, and I know other writers have told me off for it frequently - and they're right. It's cleaner and better to just say what you think, and know that you can only get to so much of the truth in a 500-600 word blogpost, and just fire it off. I need to do more of that. It might mean that a few of the perhapses and the maybes and the possiblys go missing, but that will probably make it better. They stem from awkwardness, from a lack of conviction, from a lack of certainty.
I can write (and frequently do) endlessly meandering pieces full of contradictions or complications and maybes and possiblys and caveats and whatever, but there's something unsatisfactory about them. Not intellectually, because I find them to be a better representation of what I actually think; but they're never as popular as when I come out all guns blazing, arrogantly and bombastically telling people this is what I think, and this is the way it is. God I wish the mimsying, dithering, dawdling stuff was as popular, but it simply isn't. Many other writers, I suspect, have come across the same thing, and been faced with an unavoidable conclusion: cut the crap, say the controversial stuff, and shake off the abuse that's going to come with it.
Where does this leave me now, then? Well, as I've said, this isn't a flounce. I think it means for this blog, where I moderate the comments myself, I'm going to have to leave it to less controversial subjects. They'll all be covered at the other place. This place is going to be for things I can enjoy discussing. Genuinely enjoy discussing. You'll forgive me if I only put myself in the stocks when I'm getting paid for it. It's the only way to keep me relatively sane, I think. As for interacting on Twitter, it's something that I know troubles a lot of bloggers. Look, I love it. I love speaking to people and having random people telling me they've read the stuff I've written. I'd rather it was read than not read. But I don't know if I can really go through endless debates on Twitter. I don't have the time, and I don't have the ability, and I don't have the personality to do it. I know for some of you, fighting on Twitter is a right old laugh, but for me it isn't. It just leaves me empty and sad, and I hate it, and myself.
Anyway, that's all I wanted to say. If you like, you can just say that I'm a stupid privileged liberal elite arsehole who thinks he's above criticism. I don't have a problem with that. But I do have a problem with discussing it for hours afterwards. I don't have the energy, and I don't have the time, and it's not for me. I'm sorry, but there it is. I hope my writing gets better, and less stuffed with caveats, and more confident. If it does, that might mean it upsets more people, but I can handle that if I don't have to moderate the comments as well.
And that's that.
No related posts.