I have had a variety of attitudes toward writing since I began this blog over a decade ago. At the beginning, I was, simply, manic: I had an enormous amount to tell (my story), and although I had been telling it in a variety of settings, including my marriage, select friendships, my therapy, and my journal, I found something I hadn’t known I needed in the experience of telling it to an audience that was neither an extension of myself (my journal, my therapist) nor an interested or implicated party. Add to that, the fact that my audience was voluntary, that it opted to read my words, made it into something particularly powerful for me, particularly gratifying, particularly therapeutic. 

I carried around an enormous amount of shame back then, and even though by the time I started this blog, I was well on my way out of the shadows of that shame, I still had some distance to travel. Writing here, for my readers here, helped me profoundly in that journey.

Back then, I was writing a post, two posts, even three posts a day. Some were long. Some were short. Some confessional, others boastful, still others just pensive. At that time, writing energized me, and I felt an urgency that enlivened me. I would pop into a Starbucks just to dash off a post (I didn’t really start writing on my phone until much later). I accumulated dozens of ideas for posts, and would try to keep to a sort of “inbox zero” with those drafts, constantly working from the top of the list down to try to catch up with my fingers to the thoughts my brain had had. I never managed to attain “inbox zero.” I have over 600 unfinished drafts as I write this.

Over time, that urgency shifted a bit, as my motivations for writing shifted. After a bit, I transitioned from a powerful drive to express myself to something more narcissistic, more hungry: a drive to be read. I grew hungry for readers, for traffic. For links, for mentions. At times, this had a slightly prurient (or at least, horny) aspect, as I imagined (not incorrectly, it turns out) that with traffic might come some new playthings for me, whether distant or at hand.

My narcissistic hunger had other facets as well, though: I obsessively studied my stats. Who was linking to me? Where did my traffic come from? Who found me by search? And for what were they searching? All these questions fed a somewhat differently manic, more strategic, relationship to writing, as I would write not just what was on my mind, but what I imagined would “work,” would drive traffic, readership, engagement. With the benefit of hindsight, I see how Sisyphean all that was, how short-lived the vast majority of readers’ interest was – and, how constantly I had to feed the gaping maw of the internet to keep the spigot of readers flowing. And, I can see how my addict mind was working: I was chasing something fantastical, a sort of (let’s just call it) “fame,” that I imagined would somehow bring me… something? somewhere?

My experience of happiness, I’ve written 34 dozen times, is that it results not from things, events, achievements, or anything, really, exogenous to me. It has, instead, a sort of meteorological character, a sort of random ebb and flow that is, at best, only very vaguely driven by anything that actually happens in my life. Good things don’t produce happiness; bad things don’t prevent it. In the earliest days of the blog, my drive to express myself, my manic push to write everything down and get it out, all that was a sort of a symptom of a burgeoning happiness, as much as a cause of it. Even as it felt very much the other way around.

And then, as that narcissistic hunger for readers, traffic, recognition kicked in, my freestanding happiness ebbed, and as it did, I unconsciously, unwittingly, imagined that somehow there was a sort of grail I might achieve. In its most grandiose form, I imagined an agent, editor, or publisher would stumble upon this blog and tell me, “I can make this into a book!” Or maybe two, or three, or four books. I imagined that were I to reach that grail, “happiness” or some such would eventuate. The addict’s fallacy/fantasy: that just around the corner, one [blog post/sexual encounter/hit] away lies a sort of transformative, transcendent bliss. In that state of mind, I’m always either in the past (remembering some powerfully gratifying moment through the gauzy lens of idealization) or the future (telling myself stories about all that lies waiting for me around that next corner. Anywhere, that is, other than here, now.

Like candy, like drugs, any achievement of that grail (like when Playboy linked to me and I got thousands of hits, or when Fleshbot briefly took a shine to me and I got a sustained infusion of traffic) produced a high that didn’t last – the narcissistic equivalent of “empty calories.”

As the years passed, other motivations bubbled up: the sheer delight of writing; a manic defense not against low self-esteem or shame, but against death, mortality; a sense of obligation, whether to my readers generally, or to specific readers (usually women with whom I’ve been involved). This last one has a flip side: sometimes, when I’ve been involved with someone, I’ve found my writing constrained out of concern that something I write (usually about someone else) might hurt a particular person with whom I’m involved.

Nowadays, I mostly write when I want to write, when I feel the impulse to write, and when I can. I’ve been hamstrung quite a bit for over a year by looming writing obligations in other spheres of my life, but those, finally, are coming to a close, after some false finishes, in the coming few months. So, fingers crossed, I might just be about to embark on a writing jag.

One comment

  1. I couldn’t have summed up my experience writing any better. All these stages ring true for me, although not for as long periods of time. This is a great reflection!

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