Year 1 Progress Report
It’s been a year since I started writing again. The process has been revealing, liberating, exciting, frustrating and at times deeply uncomfortable.
I was recently on a panel at the Roundhouse talking to the young people they work with about their creative careers. One of the pieces of advice I gave them was to develop a daily writing practice. Not necessarily a daily publishing practice - something I’ve realised through the process of writing this blog is definitely not for me (I don’t like rules).
Writing is an amazing way of understanding what’s going on inside of our complicated and overflowing brains. That’s why Twitter feels like the universe’s complaints department - we need somewhere to put it all. Yet I’ve found the same sense of relief that comes from getting it out on paper can be achieved by writing for yourself. By learning what’s just for your own understanding and what’s to share publicly.
At first I started writing about work. I thought this was because after 15 years of working in the arts and music industries I have so much to say. Which I do, but the underlying truth is that work is quite a safe subject.
When I first started writing about music years ago, blogging was widely mocked: who were all of these self-entitled bloggers sharing their uninformed opinions on the internet by publishing their own work and how dare they? People like us were called “tastemakers” with a milder version of the disdain reserved for today’s “influencers”.
As a music blogger, I could circumvent this question by justifying it with the work I was doing supporting emerging and independent artists. And I did. But I also built an audience by sharing my taste and opinions and producing events, and I really enjoyed it.
To a certain extent I’m still shying away from that question by setting limits on what I write about here, even though this blog carries my own name and I’m not forcing anyone to read it.
A writer is someone who writes.
It sounds like the kind of advice I would give. Yet when trying that title on myself at times it still feels as audacious as the idea of showing up for a meeting in Cardi B’s stage wear.
“A writer is someone whose work is published by other, far more qualified and important people.” - The imaginary critic in my head.
I saw a brilliant play by Bryony Kimmings called I’m a Phoenix, Bitch in March, and she played audio excerpts from the imaginary critic in her head. He was a middle aged media executive working in TV, and he spoke with a devastatingly cynical sneer.
The imaginary critic in my head is a well respected 40ish male DJ/ producer who plays vinyl-only sets, his trainer collection would buy you a decent car, and he’s incredibly critical - especially of people “who don’t know their shit and just get opportunities because they have loads of followers”. I can think of a lot of people who fit this description, it’s no one specific I assure you.
Anyway, he says awful things about bloggers very loudly in my imagination whenever I try to hit publish and we fight it out. Mostly, I win.
Regardless of how much I disagree with his unhelpful perspective, I’m not immune to caring about what people think. This is not just imposter syndrome - the belief that you're not good enough. This is fear of the build em up to knock em down culture that awaits so many people with fragile DIY wings who dare to fly too close to the sun.
In the past year due to writing this blog, I’ve been asked to; make a speech, sit on a panel, teach in different countries, coach, write for/allow other publications to republish my work, and start a podcast on a large broadcasting network. There have been offers of jobs and the offer of an introduction to a publisher.
People I barely know send me messages and regularly come up to me in the street to talk about something I’ve written and how it relates to their own lives, which is beautiful. But it’s also scary. My last post How To Leave London was my most personal by far, and a dizzyingly high number of people have read and shared it.
When things start to accelerate, I tend to freeze for a time like a deer in the headlights. In this case, I had temporary writing paralysis, and so in the interim I moved towards something else that felt creative and familiar - starting a playlist.
At first I enjoyed it, it felt like the old days when I had a great reason to dig for new music. Then, it began to remind me of what I didn’t enjoy about my proximity to the music industry in the past. Artists and industry folk pretending to be friends, people copying what you’re doing whilst pretending not to, snarky comments - generally from people fitting the description of my imaginary critic.
Of course, those were some of the most minor negative aspects of working in and around music. I left it behind for far more serious reasons, but it was enough to remind me that I have no desire look back.
It’s incredibly hard to kill your darlings, to recognise what’s not taking you in the right direction of travel, especially if it’s taking you down a familiar path. For now, I’ve decided I need to stop the playlist, my apologies if you’re a subscriber.
*Fellow playlisters, I still urge you to take up the challenge of making your playlists gender balanced.
So what’s next?
I’ve written a lot about the importance of having a life outside of your career, how important it is to take breaks, to figure out what you enjoy that you can’t monetize, yet I rarely write about what that looks like.
Making a life about much more than my work is something I’ve had to learn and am still learning, and a lot of people I speak to in the creative industries feel the same way. I’ll continue to write about work, but I’m also really interested in exploring what using your creativity to make a life looks like.
The format for that is something I’m still working out, but I am working on it.