Oct 27, 2014

Playing With Words

As you might have noticed, it’s been a bit quiet around these parts. This is for no particular reason other than perhaps inertia: I find it hard to recover motivation and get back into the habit of writing once I lose it, especially as potential blogging topics begin to pile up.

And yet I miss it, in a complicated sort of way.

Rohan Maitzen’s recent post, On Being Neither Fish Nor Fowl, really resonated with me, even though my circumstances couldn’t be more different than Rohan’s. I’m not an academic, nor do I have a demanding career. I wouldn’t even say I have a career in the strictest sense of the word — I have a job I enjoy and find meaningful, which is certainly not nothing, but due to circumstances too difficult to explain here I’m not currently able to envision any sort of progression for myself. And yet there was something familiar about what Rohan said: I too put aside vast expanses of time for writing on this small blog, and recently I’ve been wavering when it comes to how I justify this to myself.

For example, I feel slightly claustrophobic when I give any serious consideration to, say, trying for a chartership or pursuing job opportunities that would involve a long commute, largely because that would “cut into my writing time”. But what does that mean, exactly, and why should it matter so much in the context of my life? Why do I sacrifice things with more tangible benefits in the name of whatever it is I do here with barely any hesitation? I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to what, exactly, is the nature of my business with words. I’ve played with them for as long as I can remember, but I think that if there ever was to be a time when they’d become central to my life in more than this casual, haphazard way it would have happened by now. And yet the urge to prioritise what I do here, however small it is, somehow persists.

About a year ago I told a friend that I couldn’t make sense of my tendency to demand justifications of myself for writing in a way I don’t ever seem to when it comes to my other hobbies; that remains true to this day. I’m not about to become a Pulitzer-winning photographer, yet I don’t take myself to task for enjoying well-composed snapshots or devoting whole days to editing RAW files to my satisfaction. I’m certainly never going to win a cookery competition and go on to become a world-renowned chef, yet I enjoy trying new recipes and take pleasure in planning them. I don’t know why writing is different, or why the very obvious and sensible advice to just stop fretting and blog only when/if I feel like it, with no obligations or inner pressure doesn’t seem to work, but there you go. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that words feel essential, that I haven’t achieved enough with them to justify this feeling to myself, and that when I try to envision a life where I devote this amount of time and energy to more tangible endeavours instead I feel I can no longer recognise myself. (Dramatic, I know, but true nonetheless.)

Rohan says in her post that the only way forward is to do the best you can, but also that “it’s just hard to feel motivated to do this writing sometimes, when the rewards are so equivocal” — two sentiments I relate to and must somehow try to balance. To end on a less mopey note, here’s a list of things I will hopefully make myself sit down and write about soon to get myself out of this rut:
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
  • Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry
  • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
  • Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (book and author event)
  • Fair Play by Tove Jansson
  • Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
  • The Likeness by Tana French
Also, I wanted to use this quick post as an opportunity to touch base. So hi — I’ve missed you and I hope you’re all doing well.


  1. Hello yourself. I don't comment as often as I'd like I, but I'm always happy to see a new post, and I hope you're doing well. And I most definitely know the feeling of going back and forth with yourself about whether the energy you put into your blog is being spent appropriately.

    Thinking of you, and looking forward to whatever you feel like posting!

  2. Hi! As usual, I don't have much wisdom to offer. I'm glad you know that you don't have to justify your wish to prioritize writing any more than you would any other hobby. It's your time; it's about what gives you joy.

    On a more pragmatic note, if there are ever things you'd want to do a buddy post about, let me know! We read many of the same things, and I think you are smart and awesome so I enjoy talking about books with you.

  3. I have tried to give up blogging multiple times with many stops and starts over the past three years. I often ask myself why I can't just stop. But I can't answer the question satisfactorily and I can't stop blogging. Some days the stress of commitment outweighs the benefits of expression and community; then things turn around for awhile. I've come to accept that I need it, that it makes me feel like me, even if the benefits aren't as obvious (to others) as other endeavors I should be pursuing.

  4. Oh, I know exactly what you mean! I go through this every year when planning diversiverse - is it worth all the time and effort that could be spent doing other things that probably would pay off more? I don't know. I admit that it often doesn't feel like the balance is right. Especially when blogging begins to feel more like a chore than anything else...

    I have a very long commute to work myself and am happy to discuss the pros and cons with you :). And about being at a job but not on a career path. I went to business school, so pretty much all I ever think about is career paths ;). Not entirely sure that is the way one should approach new opportunities, but I always like to weigh points in different directions!

    And, as Jenny said - also always up for a buddy read!

  5. aw yeah. I know what you mean. I've just now been forcing myself to write some things and it sort of reminds me of my early reviews, but gosh I'm just so rusty. But I also don't really I can fully let it go just yet, sigh.

    anyway, always good to hear from you!

  6. Hey :) we'll wait patiently. And totally agreed that it's exhausting to watch the books pile up on the side of the desk and have no intention whatsoever of starting a review! Looking forward to what you thought about Fair Play.

  7. Your post and Rohan's resonate with me, too. I've recently been publicizing the fact that I don't want more than a part-time job, both for practical reasons (including the fact that if my job were full-time, they'd expect the work of four people out of me, rather than the current two full-time jobs I feel I am holding down) and because I want time to do my own writing. And when I say that, "my own writing," I wonder how I could defend it if anyone went on the attack.
    Perhaps it's best to go on doing what gives us some kind of satisfaction--perhaps some of the unease is simply caring what others think.
    I think I would miss your writing if you stopped writing here.

  8. You know how I blog rather haphazardly, without planning, sometimes disappearing for months? It's really not the same thing at all, but in my case, I always feel this vague need to blog, but not the time/energy it takes to really do so, and sometimes I try to stay away, because I'd think I'm not adding much to the conversation on these books anyway, so what's the point? (Other than the fact that I just need an outlet to rant about them, having none IRL)

    During all that time I'd feel a bit guilty just reading other blogs, but yours is one of the ones that I would ALWAYS visit nevertheless, and I've always a bit amazed with your posts and the work that go into them. And seeing new posts from you always make me happy. I've recommended your blog to my customers. That said, you're under no obligation to make anyone other than yourself happy and/or at ease, so whatever you feel like doing, do it :)

  9. I know just what you mean about so many of the things you say here. I spend a lot of time on my blog (and reading books for my blog) when I could use my time for other purposes with more obvious rewards and more clear benefit to society. And as the blogging world has grown and shifted, I feel like my blog has a smaller and smaller place in it, which makes the time I spend on it harder to defend--not that anyone is asking me to defend it, but I do sometimes feel (largely self-imposed) pressure to spend more time on other things. Sometimes I think I continue with blogging because it feels safer than the other stuff I might try, but even if that's so, does it matter if it makes me happy and is doing no harm? That's what I tell myself, but I'm not always convinced.

  10. This writing and blogging thing is hard isn't it? I've been at it eleven years and every year I wonder why I keep going and the answer is always because I enjoy writing about books. I promised myself a long time ago that I would stop blogging the moment it ceased to be fun and since it continues fun I continue blogging. But yes, it does take a lot of time and sometimes it is a struggle because of it. But I know for myself, I am the one who imposes the schedule of five days a week. Recently I have been experimenting with four days especially if the week is turning out hectic and it has been nice to cut myself some slack and not feel guilty about attending to other things. It's always a balancing act. I hope you find your balance.

  11. I'll reply to your comments individually very soon, but in the meantime I just wanted to say thanks so much, everyone. Being able to have a frank discussion about these struggles is a great help.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.