There are several other things I should be doing this evening, but I’m at the stage where I want to try to make regular contributions to this blog a habit. I’ve just had my spirit steeled by this infuriating but unarguable jeremiad), so I’m bashing this out quickly before moving on to clearing up the flat.
By rights this should have been the first post, but because of my sudden surge of activity on New Year’s Eve, I’ve managed to vault that obstacle. But it remains the case that I’ve started a blog and I’m not yet entirely surely why. This is not a promising start. A word of explanation is called for.
Like many of the verbally-minded and over-educated, I have always fancied myself a bit of a writer. Like many of the procrastinating and uptight, I have always struggled to persuade myself to sit down and actually do it. Fully aware that the simplest way to find and hone your own technique, style and voice is to get on and produce, I routinely fail to follow this straightforward advice. “Why don’t you start a blog?” friends say – and already we’re running into self-imposed difficulties.
What the hell have I got to say which someone might find interesting? There’s lots that I know a bit about, and a few things that I know a lot about, but on any given subject there are going to be hundreds of people out there who know more about it than me, and at least one of them is already going to be maintaining a blog.
There’s no single issue or thing that I feel sufficiently obsessed about to make it the sole subject of a blog. I am (in no particular order): a man, single, British, an ex-civil servant, a history graduate, a mature student (Masters in Archives and Records Management), a sufferer of Crohn’s disease, fructose malabsorption and Vitamin B12 deficiency, a (marathon) runner, a music obsessive, an amateur DJ, a sceptic (or skeptic if you prefer), an atheist, a (male) feminist, politically broadly on the left, a former rowing cox, a rowing club committee member…
But none of these is currently something I want to tie myself down to writing about exclusively.
As yet, I have no great faith that my writing style will be compelling to anyone. I’ve been told I write clearly and once, many years ago someone told me I had a ‘nice turn of phrase’ (it perhaps says something that I still think about that even though I’m pretty sure the person who said it has long since forgotten).
A small digression here for a lovely story which I think I read in Neil Gaiman’s “Don’t Panic”.
Douglas Adams was notoriously self-critical of his writing and also a great procrastinator. Whenever he was feeling particularly bad about progress on his work he would remember that at school, his English teacher, who always marked very harshly, had once given him 10/10 for an essay. However bad things got, he could always say, “Ah well, but I did get 10/10.” The sweet punchline to this story is that his teacher was subsequently criticised, I guess by an assessor or his head of department, for never giving out full marks. It turned out that Douglas Adams was the only pupil to whom he had ever given 10/10.
But to me, my style is always far too constrained, tortuous and leaden. And you’re never more than a sentence away from a however, nevertheless or moreover.
Given all of the above, who exactly is supposed to read this stuff? I’m not really doing a very good job selling it. The solution? Ultimately I am writing this blog for myself, as a focus for taking my thoughts and turning them into prose. That being the case, none of the above really matters and if I choose to care about it, it becomes an excuse for not doing anything which really just takes me back to the start.
A favourite quotation of mine is from Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” I like it for a number of reasons, but on this occasion it points a way forward. Initially at least, I am not going to constrain myself by subject. I will write whatever I want to write about, and as such reflect on multiple aspects of myself. I won’t worry about who if anyone reads it and I will try not to obsess about quality. Instead I will try to focus purely on keeping it going. With that in mind I was going to call the blog “I contain multitudes” but friends have persuaded me that, in the UK at least, the reference is too obscure – so I’ve gone instead for “Will the real James please stand up.”
Right then, with that out of the way, let’s make a start.