Shouting into the Void Fears of a Writer Header

Writing is a strange com­pul­sion to have; espe­cial­ly when you didn’t expect to be a writer or have an audi­ence in the first place. Writing is a deeply per­son­al endeav­our. A pas­sion­ate writer can’t help but pour some of them­selves into their work. When you pull from a place of hon­esty, a place of deep­est held belief, it leaves you vul­ner­a­ble, and your inner thoughts are naked to out­side judge­ment.

The fear of most writ­ers I feel is that their wis­est words won’t mat­ter, and their most bril­liant insights will fall on deaf ears. Their most per­sua­sive argu­ments will all be for naught. As writ­ers we fear our writ­ing will lay unread, com­plete­ly for­got­ten and alone. A wast­ed effort col­lect­ing dust on the ever grow­ing shelve of the inter­net. We fear that we real­ly are alone in our opin­ion, and that the world will reject what we have to offer up. We fear we will be seen as fakes and pre­tenders not fit to write a word.

Shouting into the Void Fears of a Writer Side 1Every secret author, every inter­net blog­ger, every pro­fes­sion­al writer feels some form of this fear. And at times it’s easy to see it in their work. We send our ideas off like babies into the lion’s den of the mar­ket­place of ideas. Persuasive writ­ing is, at its core, an inse­cure endeav­our. We wish to have more peo­ple agree with our opin­ion and val­i­date our world­view. The writer seeks accep­tance for their inner-self.

Journalists and op-ed writ­ers left unchecked can have glass egos, unable to stand back from their work and enter­tain the idea they could be wrong. This is a trap that can be easy to fall into when you have don’t have peo­ple to keep you ground­ed. The more self-aware yet unsuc­cess­ful authors may wor­ry about becom­ing a bel­liger­ent ass­hole. Letting the yes-men take over, and the idea of fal­li­bil­i­ty, fade away and your world­view becomes dis­tort­ed. You can lash out at the pub­lic for not respond­ing bet­ter to your work and lam­baste their lack of taste. You can become a car­i­ca­ture of your writ­ing per­sona. Beholden to more and more extreme ideas and posi­tions. I think we only need look at places like The Guardian for exam­ples of this in play.

It’s like Goldilocks predica­ment. Too lit­tle con­fi­dence and you can’t get your work out there in the first place, but stray too far into arro­gance and you end up a uppi­ty lit­tle shit unable to han­dle any crit­i­cism. It seems like a bleak choice between obscu­ri­ty and ruin­ing what made you want to write in the first place. Just engag­ing with crit­i­cism is a tightrope walk. You can’t pos­si­bly take on board everyone’s opin­ions, but you have to be able to absorb cor­rec­tions and dif­fer­ing points of view.

You have to rely on an inner strength, and be able to wall your­self off to an extent. You need the abil­i­ty to tune in and back out of the pub­lic dis­course. You have to make peace with the fact that you can play a per­fect game and still lose. You can tick all the box­es, do all the right things, and put your heart and soul into it and still fail.

That’s the ulti­mate tip, as well as joke, in writ­ing. You will fail and you will have to get used to it to improve. You have to be pre­pared to kill your dar­lings and move onto the next piece if need be. A ubiq­ui­tous but valu­able piece of advice is “writ­ing is rewrit­ing,” mean­ing your work will often have to go through many painful and some­times dras­tic changes on its way to being ready. Not every­thing you write is going to be a win­ner.

Writers who find them­selves thrust into the lime­light with­out expec­ta­tion can be over­whelmed by the sud­den rush of crit­i­cism they receive, even though it’s usu­al­ly vast­ly out­num­bered by praise. As humans we tend to focus more on the neg­a­tive then the pos­i­tive, and we fix­ate on it. Those who can’t pull them­selves away from the rab­ble of voic­es shout­ing in their direc­tion will inevitably retreat, or become con­stant­ly embroiled with coun­ter­ing their their crit­ics rather than mak­ing their own points.

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The inter­net can feel like a glass cage. You need to know when to stop putting your­self out there, and when you need to take time to your­self for recu­per­a­tion. Otherwise you can become a cir­cus attrac­tion, a laugh­ing stock around dig­i­tal water cool­ers. What the inter­net calls a “lol-cow;” some­one able to be wound up and sent on a tirade for amuse­ment, and milked for laughs. There is noth­ing sad­der than a come­di­an who can’t take a joke, or a crit­ic who can’t take crit­i­cism.

Deep down we fear by rail­ing again­st hypocrisy we can become the hyp­ocrite our­selves. The counter-culture can become the estab­lish­ment, and you become the prob­lem you were try­ing to fix. I’ve seen too many rich, aging hip­pies try still pre­tend to rail again­st “the man” in some form or anoth­er.

Rage is a great dri­ver of traf­fic, and an easy crutch to rely on in writ­ing. This is a the­me repeat­ed in my work often, and writ­ers who take part in activism and sup­port caus­es through their work can have a hard time break­ing out of that pat­tern.

What hap­pens when there’s noth­ing to get into a right­eous fury about? What becomes of the fire­brand when the fire goes out? We’re watch­ing a whole indus­try of writ­ers des­per­ate­ly try to keep the “wom­en are sec­ond class cit­i­zens in the west” fire alive when those prob­lems have large­ly been rec­ti­fied in the places of the world that ral­ly about them the most. Will the same hap­pen for writ­ing crit­i­cal of estab­lished games media?

I spoke in “Video games Are Amazing and Fun, The Culture War is Miserable and Boring” about those who’s entire rel­e­vance is tied to main­tain­ing con­flict. I fear becom­ing one of those peo­ple, reach­ing for con­tro­ver­sy where there is none because that’s what my audi­ence tunes in for (Editor’s Note: We’ll tell our writ­ers no before that hap­pens. You should see what gets turned down!). If I ever become a loud dem­a­gogue who’s out­lived their use­ful­ness and I’m mere­ly enam­oured with the sound of my own voice, I want you to take me out back and give me the “Old Yeller” treat­ment.

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The deep­est fear of the writer is that they’ll wake up one day and the spell will break. That they’ll approach the key­board and no words will pour out, doomed to stare at a blank page for all eter­ni­ty. Writing can some­times feel like mus­cle mem­o­ry. You just let your fin­gers go, and aren’t real­ly ful­ly con­scious of what you’re writ­ing until you read it back — you take out the fil­ter and inter­face your brain direct­ly with the key­board.

Call it Mojo, call it Je Ne Sais Quoi, call it fuck­ing super­pow­ers I don’t care. The best qual­i­ty writ­ing isn’t some­thing you can force — it’s like music or paint­ing in that way. It may not require the obvi­ous skill of sculpt­ing a mas­ter­piece out of mar­ble, but you can tell when a writer is phon­ing it in.

Any writer will tell you about that nig­gling fear when they have an off day. The fear it could just keep being like this. It can become self-fulfilling; the fear of writer’s block can make you scared to even attempt to write. I know a few good writ­ers who sim­ply get too worked up about the act of writ­ing and it crip­ples them.

Perhaps that’s why so many jour­nal­ists and authors are bit­ter and mean-spirited. They’re dead stars of cre­ativ­i­ty mere­ly con­tin­u­ing to squeeze out con­tent to make a liv­ing. Some of them may have been pas­sion­ate, good heart­ed writ­ers at some time, but they live with the crush­ing real­iza­tion that they had some­thing and lost it.

I hope some of them have the cog­ni­sance to real­ize they need to be doing some­thing else instead of mak­ing them­selves and every­one else mis­er­able. Take a bow, and exit stage left with dig­ni­ty. You don’t want to wake up one day and real­ize you’ve out­lived your rel­e­vance entire­ly; that you’ve squeezed every drop of resid­u­al fame from your glo­ry days and no one cares who you are any­more.

Once the ride’s over go ahead and hop off. I hope you enjoyed your­self. SweeneyOpinionOpinion,Shouting into the VoidWriting is a strange com­pul­sion to have; espe­cial­ly when you didn’t expect to be a writer or have an audi­ence in the first place. Writing is a deeply per­son­al endeav­our. A pas­sion­ate writer can’t help but pour some of them­selves into their work. When you pull from a place…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.