That moment when I hit “post”, “tweet” or “publish” – I never know what the response will be.
Some of my most laborious works have been put out there with only the most meagre amounts of attention paid to them. Other times, what seemed like a passing thought has been whipped up and shared widely. Well – much more widely than my average.
Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve felt a tension between writing what I want to write and what I think people want to consume. Of course, there has to be a balance between these two. The frustration comes when I’ve written something I think people would enjoy but then don’t read. But that feeling of frustration isn’t the problem. It comes, it goes. Something didn’t work. I shrug. I move on.
The problem is the feeling of fear: You’re doing it wrong.
You’re doing it wrong.
You’re doing it wrong.
It’s not a well-articulated fear. It doesn’t say, “You’ll never be successful if you carry on like this.” It doesn’t say, “This slow rate of progress is unacceptable.” Maybe it knows that those arguments don’t wash with me so easily. I bit the bullet a few months ago about how I was and wasn’t going to measure success; it’s a complicated thought-process but my ego and my impatience died a death along the way.
The fear doesn’t actually criticise my work either. I mean, I know that not all my posts are as tight or well-written as they could be. Maybe some of them are a bit like preaching to the choir. But the fear doesn’t criticise my work, doesn’t say that I can’t write, doesn’t say that what I’ve done is worthless.
It just says I’m doing it wrong.
So what does “wrong” mean then? I think it means I’m doing something that other people don’t like or don’t want.
As someone who’s struggled socially since I was a child, I was frequently met with rebuffs about what I could and couldn’t do or say. But I was also met with silence a lot of the time too. That kind of awkward silence. Have I offended? How? How badly? Gosh, the worst was when people told me three years after an event that I was now doing better. Three years. Couldn’t they have said something at the time?
But people don’t speak. And I think part of that is because my behaviour created confusion – and when people are confused they don’t know what to say. Others probably didn’t know how to say it. Others still probably did know what to say and how to say it, but they were gentler and more subtle than I realised. Maybe they’re part of how I grew in those three years and I didn’t know it at the time.
Now I know I’ve hurt people. I know I’ve made mistakes. I know I’ve spoken in public saying one thing and have now spoken in public saying something quite different. But the regrets that stay with me are the ones I made when I was trying to fake my way.
The times when I tried to be someone I was not. When I was just copying other people, thinking they had the formula to success and popularity. The times when I knew what I was doing was hurtful – but hey, everyone else was doing it. It was always about approval.
The thing about these times is there is no, “Yeah, but I was just trying to be liked.” I know that. But the excuse doesn’t wash. It never will. Maybe my offence is forgivable but that doesn’t mean I don’t need to be forgiven.
So the reason why I hate this fear, this fear that says I’m doing it wrong, is because it’s trying to tear me two ways at the same time.
On the one hand it’s taking the silent response and saying, “Look, people don’t like or don’t want what you’re doing. You’re repeating history. You’re being clumsy and hurtful and weird. Again.” On the other hand it’s saying, “You need to be someone different if you’re going to go anywhere.” In short, it’s saying that I’m walking in the mistakes of my younger awkward self, but the only way out is to fake it again – to be how I was when I made the mistakes I most regret.
And maybe I haven’t found my formula yet. Maybe I haven’t perfected my technique. I recognise that if I want my work to be read I need to think about your readers’ desires and needs. At the same time… I need to be me. We say we need to feel comfortable in our own skin; in a similar way, I have to feel comfortable within my own writing.
That doesn’t mean I will never wrong anyone whilst I’m being true to myself. I will. It’s inevitable. But I think the hurts will be less frequent, less severe, and ultimately easier to live with. And when the time comes that someone responds and says, “Yes! This! Thank you!” – that moment will be real.
I wrote previously about my blogging journey in New profile picture: grey places and the art of Siku