Leo X. Robertson

News of my latest publications, events, and episodes of the Losing the Plot podcast!



Harsh truth 5 (of 8) for writers

You will end up sacrificing something for this

The first draft of this rule was just, “Quit drinking!” which was a bit more personalized than necessary! Though I’m guessing you understand what I meant by that. If not, I’m sure you know how important alcohol can be to others. But if drinking isn’t your thing, I recommend giving up whatever its equivalent is. I’m sure you’re picturing what that is now.

If you’re going to only sometimes use your spare time to read, or only sometimes write, we may never hear of you. If that’s fine by you, it’s fine by me. But don’t pretend it’s fine if it isn’t. That’s just making excuses.

This isn’t the same as saying, “Those of you with 80+ hour commitments per week elsewhere in life should forget about success.” That’s not the case at all. It may well take those people longer, and that’s fine. What I am saying is: commit, commit, commit, as best you can, however that means to you.

Writing is a sacrifice in itself, of course. We writers are wonderful people—but mostly because we write. In real life, lots of us are weirdos, incapable of formulating coherent sentences, with nothing to report of our own lives because we spent them in dark rooms with our imagination for company.

It tends to be true that the better the writer, the more boring a life that they lead; the more time spent writing, the weirder the person.

It’s a paradox I still haven’t wrapped my head around: how is it that these people who spend their time creating characters—that are if not likeable then at least relatable, and if not relatable, at least act in realistic ways—cannot function in public?

All that time spent alone can make a person narcissistic. It places too much weight on the person’s own problems versus those of others. It causes a person to exalt their own worth, given that they’re mostly what they know of the world and how it functions. Therefore, they wrongly assume they’re as important to others as they are to themselves. They spend too much time in their own heads.

When you do that, your head starts to eat itself. You’ll grow to hate yourself, and to talk too much about yourself, which makes the alleviation of these symptoms unattractive to those people who might help you the most.

That’s okay. That is simply the typical way in which writers are insane. I don’t think “insanity”, in my admittedly mild usage of the word, is avoidable. You can simply select the type of insanity you would like, or are willing to accept for the sake of some other goal. In this case, it’s the pain of narcissism for the sake of getting books with your name on them.

I read this interview with Matthew Barney, whose advice to artists was: “Making art is like quitting smoking. Unless you are 100% committed, it is not going to happen.”

Have you seen that guy’s work? It’s absolutely bananas insane. Look up his Cremaster series of films on YouTube, for example. I don’t understand them one bit, but I do know that you don’t get to do that type of work without an incredible amount of hard work and dedication to your vision.

Stay (blog equivalent of) tuned for a new harsh truth asap!!

Harsh truth 4 (of 8) for writers

You can’t do everything at once

I’ve thrown some daunting-ass figures at you, and perhaps muddied the water of what exactly your task is as an author.

Here is a short example of how I better identified/quantified my task as a writer.

I’ve become interested in science fiction of late, though it’s the genre that I find the toughest to write in. I’ve just never been sure exactly how much science I’m supposed to know, or use, or how realistic my stories are supposed to be.

Is the reader to believe this is possible, or are they happy for a non-existent premise if it reveals something new about the human condition?

(It’s a spectrum, is the answer—but I had limited knowledge of what that spectrum looked like!)

I started off by reading The Best Science Fiction of the Year. As I did, I thought about films and books I’d read growing up, and realised that my favourite type of science fiction was near-future, on Earth, and soft: Ballard, Lem, Clarke, Dick, Le Guin, Ellison, Delany.

(Very straight white American and male for sure, but we are talking the history of sci-fi lit…)

Having figured this out, I Googled “What life will look like in the year 2040.”

Surprise surprise, I’m far from the first person to have wanted to know the answer to this. There are whole societies dedicated to predicting technological advances and the like. They’re also willing to explain, through articles and videos, how these new concepts would work.

Finally, the more science fiction I read, the more I noticed technologies and concepts repeated by authors, and even between authors. They borrowed ideas from themselves and one another!

To summarize what I learned, then:

  • It isn’t my task, when I write science fiction, to invent every kind of future—rather, to imagine a particular type.
  • It isn’t my task, when I write science fiction, to invent every new technology that appears in the world or is made use of. Given the wealth of science fiction stories out there, of every variety, it’s very unlikely that I would even be able to do this, or have to. Rather, focusing on a small subset of technologies and how they influence the world (number depending on story length—one is fine for a short story), and introducing the rest as “window dressing” for world-building purposes, is the best way to go.
  • It isn’t my task when writing in any genre to even know how to explain that genre to someone else. Each original story, if it’s any good, will sufficiently redefine the genre that it works in. That takes a strong authorial voice, which knows its shit, demonstrates a wide breadth of reading. But not all-encompassing, because that’s impossible.

Somehow I wanted my task to be tougher than it is. In my weakest moments, I have a predilection for unnecessary suffering (nothing more pointless or less brave.)

It was/remains important for my own writing that I define the curriculum I use to learn what I want and need to know. Writers are much like PhD students in that respect—just as lacking in reward for our daily work, except with less chance of achieving something at the end.

I still need to be imaginative, of course—but not quite as imaginative as I thought I had to. Had I embarked upon the task without having done my research, it would’ve been more painful, and I would have been incorrect about how inventive I had been.

Writing to some extent is constant improvisation. It’s “Yes, and”—ing the material that already exists. To pretend otherwise is to be deliberately uninformed. The existing body of literature doesn’t go away just because you pretend it will.

This idea of using pre-existing conventions applies to literature in many other ways. For example, read litmags and you will find a plethora of three-act structured stories, list-based stories, multiple choice stories and, on occasion, those that seem to proceed with entirely their own logic. (Like “The Metal Bowl” by Miranda July. She’s clearly a genius.)

There are many, many successful writers out there who never deviate from traditional story structures. You might think that’s safe of them, but it can be just as tough to adhere to a traditional structure as it is to use one of your own

Dan Harmon, co-creator of Rick and Morty, uses his own narrative model that he created from Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces. Campbell formulated the hero’s journey narrative from his extensive research into mythologies from around the globe. The reason people keep using these structures is because they work. (Traditional structure is not the same as predictable. Or maybe the predictability of form is advised where wilder content is to be presented. Rick and Morty’s pretty wild, right?)

Decisions in writing, and life incidentally, are like a set of principles: there are actions that, if taken, will work over 90% of the time. That means you will mostly find yourself using them, but not always. But if you don’t use them, you need a reason not to.

You may know what that reason is or you may not. If you don’t, you’re rolling the dice and saying “I will implement Choice 4 here!” Where a master of the craft, in the same scenario, might say, “Based on my extensive storytelling skillset, I have devised that Choice 4 is the best way to proceed here.”

(You and the master came to the same conclusion in this example—but you got lucky! The odds are against you, and not her, next time!)

I’ve come very close to getting into exclusive mags a handful of times. But even when I submitted something else to the same mags, there was never a guarantee that the next story would fare as well. (Quite the opposite in most cases!) That may mean subjectivity blah blah, but what it probably means is, I haven’t always known what I did right.

Over time, I’ve accrued more acceptances and more rejections with added “please think of us for your next story.” I’ve been rolling the dice less and using my skillset more. It doesn’t mean I’ll ever necessarily be published by any particular venue, but it does mean I’m maximizing my chances of that happening.

Stay (blog equivalent of) tuned for a new harsh truth asap!!


Harsh truth 3 (of 8) for writers

You will spend a lot of time reading material that’s better than yours

Reading more fiction will make you a better writer.

To deny this is to deny the very purpose of fiction—it’s to deny believing in the thing you supposedly love and want to get better at.

Nebulous as fiction’s purpose is, one function is to improve thought, advance it, increase awareness of life. Alice Munro stories have been scientifically proven to make people more psychologically astute. Fiction works.

I tell you what’s great: reading the litmags you want to submit to.

Most of us don’t do this when we start out. We have what we believe to be good reasons for it at the time. We sought out the mags we wanted to get published in after writing the thing we wrote. We’re so very sure the thing is finished that we doubt reading the mag will give us any pointers at all. Or, we’re so assured that we’re better than the other authors in there, that we don’t think we have to.

(You shouldn’t submit to places that you think are beneath you—how great do you think it’ll feel when they reject you? Or even if they accept you?)

This kind of arrogance is pitiful. It occurs when we’re not well read enough to evaluate our writing’s quality, or anyone else’s. We pretend we know we’re good enough already. This protects us from the possibility of reading a story so amazing that it destroys our confidence. Well, then we wouldn’t submit—so that’s not to our benefit, right?

This wrongly assumes that the success and quality of other people’s writing affects yours—or rather, affects yours in a way that should be anything other than:

  • Positive, improving your writing, or:
  • Inspiring, showing you more than what you thought was possible—or, better than you can currently produce. (Not fun in the moment, sure, but ultimately for the better.)

You should read as much material like this as you can bear before it makes you feel completely incompetent. (It shouldn’t—no one ever wrote or will write the last story—but it does sometimes anyway.)

Writing more will make you a better writer.

To deny this is to deny journaling as a therapeutic tool, to deny that introspection produces insights. It’s to deny fundamental aspects of your brain and, well, existence. Writing more works.

Reading and writing may only work temporarily. I don’t know. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. What you’ll do is read and write so much, either every day or something close to it, that you will minimize those parts of reading and writing that are ephemeral.

Since we know other writers are better than you—at the very least at some aspects of storytelling (though quite probably overall!)—you have something to learn from studying their stories. Since we know other people are writing too, those stories aren’t going away.

I don’t know about you, but the way I act influences the way I feel and vice versa. If I spend a Sunday binge-watching Netflix, I feel like an anxious shut-in waste of space (because I am, that day at least.)  If I show up at work early and complete all my tasks, I feel important and confident (because I am, that day at least.)

We’re rarely worried/angry about what we think we’re worried/angry about. The emotions are real but the underpinning reasons often aren’t. So when it gets to the frustration with our own lack of progress compared to others, a spitefulness between one another, anything petty and time-consuming that’s beneath us, the real reason for all this disappointment is a failure to engage in the richest life available.

If you do rewarding work and are useful/generous/all that good stuff, I find that the worries melt away. There also seems to be an oversaturation of self-deprecating comedy in the culture, which is great for normalising all kinds of foibles–but because of how aware we are of how widespread the bad habits are that we share, I’d argue that we’re too reassured that they’re okay to have and not work on.

The writing equivalent is: you must keep writing. In doing so, you are acting as if there remain other stories to tell. In doing so, more stories become available for the telling. It’s self-fulfilling and can remain unspoken.

Stay (blog equivalent of) tuned for a new harsh truth asap!!


Harsh truth 2 (of 8) for writers

Other people are doing this

As you’re reading this, someone is writing right now. They may be finishing a novel they’ve worked on for 10 years that is about to blow the world apart. And maybe you’ve never even written a full poem yet!

Maybe you weren’t thinking about this. If you are now, somehow it still doesn’t bother you.

Good! It shouldn’t.

All but one person is a lesser writer than the best writer. They all do it anyway. That’s true for, by our calculations last time, 100 – 0.00004 = 99.99996 % of authors who aren’t George Saunders. (As we go, it’s becoming more absurd, I hope, the notion of there being a “best writer.”)

And that’s in terms of writing quality. If it’s to do with money made as an author, imagine how small a percentage that puts JK Rowling or Stephen King into. It’s very, very likely you will never accrue the wealth or fame that they have. It’s legitimately like winning the lottery.

You don’t act as if you’re going to get struck by lightning seven times every day, so you shouldn’t act as if you will never be happy unless you become that rich or famous. Rowling has more money than any other author has ever had in the history of time!

Something else drives writers.

One of the reasons is of course that they’re all writing different things. There is space for them! But surely even the top writers pray their favourite writers don’t attempt to write about the same subjects as them. (Sometimes.)

There is, however, a more comforting way to explain why you should keep writing.

Authors are inclined to give reasons for their drive, but I think the question is too big for them.

“Questions that are too big” are a thing I’ve thought about a lot recently. Sometimes when I get into discussions/arguments with people, they’ll throw these types of questions at me: “Okay, Leo, well if you believe I should take my feet off the table in polite company, can you explain to me how we know the table even exists? If you can’t, how can you prove I even did what you’ve accused me of in the first place? Gotcha!!”

I believe when a question is clearly too big (or evidently impractical), we’re absolved from having to answer it. We may give our answer on occasion, acknowledging that it may not be anyone else’s answer. But we can may choose to redirect our energies elsewhere, or reduce the scope of the problem that we’ll set about solving.

“Okay, maybe I can set about proving that the table exists later, but in the meantime, I’d appreciate it if, in mixed company, you keep your feet off the object that we, for all intents and purposes assume is there, and which we refer to as a table, while the pope is over for lunch!”

People write and they don’t know why. It’s so much bigger than them that they can’t explain it. All writers do, even in entire lifetimes, is chip off but a fraction of the block of the unknown, or of imagination’s infinite potential. It’s a compulsion, but a healthy one, and doesn’t really need to be questioned.

Something else drives writers, and they don’t even need to worry about what it is. The question—much like the literary world—is just too big for any one person to have much of a grasp upon it.

Stay (blog equivalent of) tuned for a new harsh truth asap!!

Am I doing the right thing? (7/7)

This is the last one in the series!

In the last post, I wrote about how we are what we mostly do. In this post, I’ll write about the ways in which we’re passively “running in the background” of other people’s lives. I find it a life-affirm-tastic exercise!

There are a complex multitude of ways in which we influence the world, and no one of them represents the entirety of our being. Pretending any one of them does is dangerous.

So many writers say, “Be kind to your fellow writers! Help them out!” In most instances I’d bet it’s because they don’t like the idea of someone being mean to them, or because they want help.

They say, “Celebrate other people’s successes!” Only because, I don’t know, it’s nice?

They say, “We’re in this together!” Are you in it while I’m alone in my bedroom staring at the ceiling? Nope.

I agree with all these statements to some extent, but want to expand on them a bit. If you help others, you have a personal stake in their success. It doesn’t take long to help one writer, and there are very few people doing it. So a share of someone else’s success is there for your taking. That might be a selfish way of looking at someone else’s achievements—but no matter the intent, it’s a net-good thing to help others anyway.

If your only takeaway from the world of writing are the times when you personally succeed, of course you’re gonna hate it! Because there are way more writers than just you, therefore the successes of others cumulatively dwarf yours.

If you read that and think, “I don’t have time to help others out!” uh, it’s happening anyway just by your existence. People are watching what other writers do all the time, therefore you owe it to yourself to acknowledge it and experience it more to your advantage.

Here’s an example of the most minor way in which I matter.

I recently noticed that this guy at work kept staring at me, day after day, every time I passed by him. I had no idea why—until the end of the week, when I saw that he’d shaved his head. His hair had been visibly thinning, and his head looked way better shaved. I could see in the way he sat and talked to his coworkers how much more confident he looked.

In case you didn’t know, I have a shaved head too, because my baldness became noticeable last year. I’m pretty convinced that my baldness acceptance empowered him to do the same. Pretty sure. (I’m taking it as a win anyway!)

Here’s a funnier one: as you may know, I have a podcast called Losing the Plot where I talk to various creative types about their projects and life. Sometimes I’ll invite someone and they’ll say, “Thank you so much, but I don’t know why you’d want to talk to me. I’m just a [putdown]” or, “I’m too shy” or “I don’t like the sound of my voice.”

I say, “I thought it would be fun but if you don’t want to take part, I respect that.” I leave them alone.

With a very high frequency, later on—never that late afterwards—that same person will post a link to an episode of a different podcast they made an appearance on. Not to me, just on their page or whatever. In the post, they gush about the experience, say they never dreamed they would be on a podcast. They were oh so nervous but they had a blast, wonderful community etc.

And I think, “Great!”

Because surely I have a share in that experience? It’s not the flower I expected—and it’s in someone else’s soil—but it’s still my seed!

The podcast appearance messages aren’t directed at me. They’re probably posted without me in mind at all. Maybe this person has completely forgotten what gave them the idea that they could be on a podcast in the first place. (And sure, maybe I had nothing to do with it!) But think of all the other ways in which what we say and do impacts those around us!

That’s just an example of my influence that I happened to catch. How many more are there that I don’t see, do you think? I’m gonna guess 9 per caught example. I chose a minor one to illustrate my point, but other guests who came on my podcast have gone on to start their own, make appearances on other podcasts etc. Sometimes I’ll get a story published by a magazine and see others submitting to it later. I like to think it’s because they trust my taste/ writing quality—though with some it’s definitely, “He got WHAT published WHERE?! Well if HE can…!!” I wish folk like that the worst, frankly. I want to read fiction by well-meaning people—but that’s another blog post, I think…

Hey, if you’re really feeling insignificant and want to see people freak the hell out, quit drinking! Everyone tells me they’re gonna cut back drinking themselves, run a marathon, lose weight, call an estranged parent… People treat you like you’re freaking Jesus. I mean, this is a few weeks after they’ve scoffed at you, treated you with hostility and generally seen your sobriety as a commentary on them and, indeed, a personal offence. But it’s still nice to know you set them off. (Plus they’ll feel stupid for reacting that way, even if they don’t tell you.)

There are endless, endless examples of influence. I hope you have many of your own now, or find more next time you look around. Consider all the many conversations you’ve had, interactions and people you’ve passed by and so on and so forth.

People are paying attention. We owe it to ourselves not to underestimate the influence and responsibility we have to others just because the successes that we see are the iceberg tip.

We’re so much more than just this handful of categories we unkindly obsess over. And when we do that, we don’t see the influence—if we could, it probably wouldn’t be that great because of this obsession.

I bet life is like 90% silent wins. It’s partly because we aren’t there to see all of it, and also—hopefully to a lesser extent—because narcissistic people like to hoard their favourite stuff and take credit for other people’s work. But have no doubt that you matter in a complex multitude of ways.

If this has helped you, I did a good thing. Certainly better than if I hadn’t written the thing at all. Therefore the time was justified.

Is this the best blog post that ever existed? It’s the best I could make it, on this particular topic, at this time in my life, without going overboard and not dividing my time appropriately between doing this and everything else I need to do.

Am I glad I wrote it? For sure! I seem to have needed to write it.

You’re welcome to tell me if it was useful or not—I can handle it either way 😉

Am I doing the right thing? (6/7)

In the last post I wrote about the complications of writers defining themselves as “writers”, because they probably don’t spend that much time per day actually writing. Is that what we are, what we mostly spend our time on?

As a 29 year-old, I’m treating this year as a dry run for the kind of adult I want to be in my 30s. One thing I’ve done, then, is reduce my social media time. I thought I was doing this to symbolically relegate social media’s relative importance in my life to the proportion of time I spent on it. But it’s not just symbolic, it’s the reality.

You are what you do. If you spend an hour a day comparing yourself to others on social media, you’re 1/24th a complete waste of time.

If your proportion is wrong, adjust it. Your body will make you keep doing stuff. You’re designed to do stuff! And you’re mostly designed to do stuff you enjoy. So if you minimise time spent on the stuff you thought would bring you joy but have since learned doesn’t, you will force yourself to find more enjoyable things to do.

Similarly, if you release yourself from thinking about things that are bringing you no good, healthier, nicer thoughts will fill your head.

(Letting go of crap friends makes space for good ones too. Though it might take you a while to find them!)

What you think of in your life as “an absence of that thing you have given up” is not an absence at all; the time is still there. You are still here. You will do better stuff.

The better stuff you do, the better you are as a person. Which, if you’re anything like me, is the goal encompassing the full subset of things you do day-to-day that express and manifest that. So it will make you happier, healthier, more fulfilled.

I’m doing my best to be my best and lead the richest life possible in the way that I define and redefine that.

In the last post, I’ll write about some of the nice ways in which we have influence in people’s lives, and why we really, indisputably matter.

Am I doing the right thing? (5/7)

In my previous post, I wrote about the danger of defining yourself purely by your career, and what a shame it is if people don’t recognise that they are so much more than that. The exact same principle applies to defining yourself purely by creative success.

To recap: if you’ve followed the logic of these blog posts so far (if there is one!) it’s that, if you define yourself as something, you’ll feel the need to do keep doing that thing and make continuous progress at it. How to measure progress is difficult and not all that intuitive, and the temptation to compare yourself to others kicks in. Others are doing the same, and in trying to validate themselves, are prone to lying about their productivity/progress. Which escalates indefinitely until everyone feels terrible.

Creating = Self

Who you are is to a large degree determined by how you spend your time. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer. But you don’t spend that much time doing it.

It’s not just you. So many great writers—Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Viet Thanh Nguyen to name the first three I remember saying something about it—openly acknowledge that the intensive mental energy required to write can’t really be sustained for more than a few hours a day.

When it comes to writers so prolific that they spend more than those hours a day writing, I imagine they write with their brains switched off. Their prose typically reflects that, and I wouldn’t consider it an accomplishment.

I also don’t believe you can game your biology into greater output.

I used to think that alcohol helped writing. Now I’d guess that it lowers inhibitions rather than assists imagination—it’s really not necessary, and in fact deleterious to the writing process itself. For example, I remember that when I was hungover I’d be filled with creative ideas—but maybe lose motivation for a week or longer, and my mood would be completely shot. Typically I’d be 2/3rds into a short story draft by Friday, plan to finish it that weekend, drink a lot, wake up Saturday and maybe get back to it Tuesday, having almost forgotten what it was about.

What about coffee? Writers are always yammering about that. Well, why not go full-pelt Philip K Dick mode, snort crystal meth and finish your novel by sunrise?

You know that’s not the point. (I don’t know you, but I hope you don’t!) And yet on many smaller levels we abuse ourselves in the hopes of levels of productivity that are not innate and inevitably come with larger penalties that slow us down overall.

So I’d say, sorry: you’ve got three hours a day maximum, you’ll probably only do two or less, and struggle during them. You might be a genius, but you’re a human genius.

Accept it, Leo and others! You can only do so much. And acceptance is your only option to maximise productivity. Anything else maximises it in the short term but minimises it overall. A marathon not a sprint, as they say.

Focus on the greenness of your own grass because your neighbour is either lying about his or using weird chemical colour enhancements that make his grass greener than yours today but dry it out completely by Tuesday.

In the next post, I’ll discuss whether or not we are what we spend our time on.

Am I doing the right thing? (4/7)

In the last post on this topic, I gave some examples of “work theatre”, common things that writers claim that are not as impressive or concrete as they at first sound. In the next posts, I’ll go on to describe some dangerous fallacies that are the result of people defining themselves poorly. The first is:

Career = Self

My day job is as an engineer. When I bump into other engineers, they ask me the following variation on a theme: “What project are you working on? What does your husband do? So you’re away from your home location: are you renting out your flat? How big is it? Where is it?”

I’ve been caught off guard by these questions thus far, which means I fall back on my go-to for such situations: the truth. Not that I’m ashamed of the answer to any of these questions, but were I more awake I might charmingly divert the conversation to something, anything, more interesting.

After I fill in my verbal report, the inquisitive civilian, satisfied that his self-assigned reconnaissance task is completed and evaluated, sighs with relief. His shoulders go down. He smiles at me, and rewards me by talking with me about everything that he considers to be more trivial.

At lunch in the cafeteria, when lost, I find myself asking those same questions. I do so because I know it’ll get the conversation flowing and it’s apparently okay, nay, polite, nay, interesting to ask them. I hope to use them as ice-breakers or jumping-off questions to something else, which works out sometimes but often not.

When this is the only information anyone is willing to share with me, it’s all I have to go on in understanding who they are as a person. If I were to guess, I’d add in a family that loves them (which most of these engineers have) and then, yeah, that’s about it. The hours not spent on overtime at the office or raising kids is spent watching sitcoms, doing house repairs, or skiing.

I’m not disparaging people like this at all. It’s admirable. Making money is quite a tough thing to do. And it’s important—in terms of all the things that having money infers: food, roofs over heads, opportunities, freedom. Someone has to do the jobs these engineer guys do. (“If not for me it would be someone else” is a legitimate excuse only if the thing serves some personal or social good. Otherwise it’s just a kind of empty and unjustified cynicism.)

Only people who have money are afforded the luxury of sitting about and pontificating on its apparent unimportance. So, let’s hear it for breadwinners!

We’ve become so aware of the dark side of safety, monotony and apparent mediocrity that we forget to cheer for people like this. But sure, there is a dark side to it. If you only do or think about one thing, it will become who you are. These people are largely described by the answers to the three or four questions above. As I say, it probably works for them, though it comes with immense sacrifice—whether they notice that or not.

After I’ve answered these typical questions, the idea of me “ending there” fills me with dread. I resent the idea that I do.

In the next post I write about the dangers of defining yourself by your writing/creative success.

Am I doing the right thing? (3/7)

In my last post, I outlined why it’s difficult to understand how well you’re doing at your chosen profession/career/hobby. I use writing as the example, because it’s the most confusing of my own habits, but it applies to most other work.

A big negative effect of social media is a near-complete dissolution of authority. Every opinion is seemingly equated, without the time or info to consider on what authority it is given. The information out there is in fact so inconsistent that I don’t believe anyone anymore.

Here are some typical things writers claim that are textbook examples of “work theatre” for writers:

“I worked on X for Y hours today.”

I don’t know how slow you are and I bet you rounded up.

“I wrote 5,000 words today!”

I got just five words for you, buddy: a a a a a.

“I’ve read X magazine/ Y author for years.”

Your mum bought you one of their books when you were ten and you read it last year.

“I’ve always written.”

What does that even mean?! Is your definition so loose as to include writing emails and birthday cards/ journaling/bad teenage poetry—in which case, everyone is a writer—or so narrow as to demand 3000 words out of yourself every day at penalty of disqualification from the title of “writer”? Unlikely.

“I always thought of myself as a storyteller.”

When I started studying medicine, my mum sent me a picture of me, four years old, playing with a plastic doctor’s kit. She was in awe at this early sign of my career proclivity. But I’m sure she had photos of me displaying early signs of wanting to be a civil engineer (marble run?!) videogame designer (game boy!) a butler (red plastic tea set from which I drank orange juice with raisins in it. It’s pretty good! I might have been onto something.) Romantic people like to carve traditionally compelling narratives out of their lives, and the lives of others, in retrospect. But at best it’s just one way of looking at life and at worst it’s a fantasy. (A year and a half later I quit medicine, tears, drinking etc.)

Maybe you did always know what you wanted to be. That’s wonderful. But I sure didn’t and continue not knowing. I won’t pretend otherwise nor feel like a lesser person for it.

If I was born to do anything, it was a handful of things and I’m living my best approximation of what those are. I sure as hell know what I was born not to do—that’s when my intuition kicks in. (And now that I have a decent self-esteem, I listen to it more often than not.)

At the heart of the need to offer these clichés are the central questions: what the hell am I, and am I any good at it?!

None of us know to such an extent that we’re comfortable—if we’re really thinking about it. Does that mean we get to stop worrying about it? Maybe “worry less.” I don’t know. I’m all for worrying less 🙂

In the next post, I’ll describe some dangerous fallacies that are a result of people defining themselves poorly.

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