Allergy to pressure and success

After a slightly longer than normal break from blogging, I am back.

You probably don’t care why I haven’t been visiting this corner of cyberspace as much as I wanted to and it’s likely that most of you didn’t even notice my absence, but I want to tell you about it anyway.

Of course, there are all the usual excuses. I was busy with work and I had problems in my personal life. Rather than excuses they are quite simply statements that don’t even begin to explain the mess my life has been in the past few months, but these are problems affecting all humanity surely, not just me. Even professional journalists, reporters, bloggers, writers have job and personal related problems… but somehow, they manage to keep writing. Why didn’t I?

Rewind the tape of time, and you’ll find me in the library working at my thesis when I received an email saying that an article I had submitted to the Guardian and Wellcome Trust Science writing prize got shortlisted, out of a huge number of excellent other entries. Now, I’m not a writer. Seriously, I’m not. English isn’t even my first language. Who am I trying to fool? For days I kept thinking there must have been a mistake.

September came and in the midst of the last few weeks of thesis writing, I went to a science writing workshop that all shortlisted writers had been invited to attend at the Guardian headquarters in London. Now, this is the kind of event that most normal people would find exciting and motivating. I mean, you should feel privileged, shouldn’t you? However, I have never claimed I was a normal person and something weird happened to me that day that put me off writing for weeks. Could it have been the general sense of competition that was invisibly suspended in the air? Or maybe all that “success talk” that I am so allergic to. “Write like this, don’t write like that, be more witty, be more funny, be concise, be bold, be nice, be brave, be lovely, be original, be precise, be organised, be simply bloody brilliant.”

Alright, listen, I am not half of those things. If I have to wait to be all those things before I can write again I might as well give up and get into gardening instead. It took me more than a month to realise how much all that talking, which should have been inspirational and motivational (and it probably was for most people) actually prevented me from writing again.

Ah yeah, I’m sure that in the list of things to do and not to do I wasn’t supposed to write about a non science subject in my science blog. I should have a personal blog for this.

Oh well. I’m not paid to do this. I write and I always have in life for the simple pleasure of it, so I’m going to go back to that. I’m not going to write for the busy londoners who only read the first half sentence of your post before moving on. I’m not going to write for an editor, for other bloggers or for science experts. I’m going to start writing again for my family and friends, like I always have. And yes, I will write about something even if it’s not fresh news anymore, my family and friends won’t know about it anyway, ah!

Glad I got this out of my chest.

If you still feel like reading something that is vaguely science-y, you can have a look at the edited version of the article that I submitted for the Guardian and Wellcome Trust writing prize here or read the other shortlisted articles here, including the two prize winners. They’re all excellent. I hope you like them and I will be back here very soon this time.

3 thoughts on “Allergy to pressure and success

  1. I suffer from the same problem. Hate all sorts of “success talk” for the confusion it produces. I am just allergic enough to not take any advantage of it, yet I don’t dislike it enough to dissmis it completely. As the result, I end up somewhere in the middle – overly conscious that “I am not doing stuff as it is supposed to be done” but at the same time refusing to do it “the way it is supposed to be done”.

    These guys seem to be much better in giving non-nonsense artistic advice than all sorts of London-based big shots:

    Here, Lev Yilmaz shares his favourite artistic advice (should work for writing as well):

    and here’s Gavin Aung Than’s take on Ira Glass’ storytelling advice:

    The main idea seems to be – produce your rubbish work in large quantities and you’ll be just fine. Yep – you heard me – rubbish. Can’t call your work good after reading just how allergic to pressure you are, right? (Lemme whisper though… that being a great fan of Verne, I enjoyed reading Cyanobacteria and Smarties very much…)

  2. Kuba, you always give the best pieces of advice you know?

    Both the video and the comic want to encourage the beginner, but do it in very different ways. The comic seems to put pressure on the beginner, whereas the video tries to do the opposite, to relieve some of that pressure that our own mind (and society) puts on us. The video made me smile, the comic made me a bit anxious. But they are both right. A combination of the two might be the key to (no, I refuse to use that word!)… to… freedom of expression!

    Well, that’s great news, because a blog is like a diary, it’s like your sketchbook, it’s like a hot shower, it’s like your own room, where you can write and draw and sing and dance like crazy and no one will really care about judging you too harshly (or at all). So let’s get out sketchbooks out, let’s dance in our rooms, sing under the shower and write on our blogs, where we feel no pressure, until we grow wise enough to realise we should never feel any pressure at all when it comes to creativity. The best things we will ever do will be the spontaneous ones. They will be genuine and authentic.

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