What I Learned This Year

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For the purposes of self-reflection I have written this highly inadvisable blog post about what I learned this year. Most of it is about being a writer, as this is what I mostly learned to be this year, but it might be useful in other ways. If it isn’t just ignore it and scroll to something I wrote about a videogame or some other shit I wrote that might be less designed to humiliate myself.


1. There are lots of unlit bonfires out there and I need all my own napalm.

I automatically invest in most people I come across. I generally believe that everyone around me likes me and wants me to be happy, when this is not the case. It takes a constant beating of my mind with a hammer to bend it into the shape of ‘stop caring’, and every year that armour is bent in until it’s illegible because I cared too much and I start again.

This is not always someone else’s fault, but every year I come across someone who will gladly take my time and effort and give back nothing. This is fine in the beginning; goodwill expects nothing back. But slowly you come to realise that it isn’t just goodwill that you are displaying. It is a big sign written in brown bristles that spells ‘WIPE’. If you suspect that someone is a mat-maker, run from them. They will pierce you with bristles until all you do is flap around underfoot. And that way no creative work can be done. The only way to combat this is to read very carefully the signposts of who gives a shit about you and who would just like to suck the gasoline out of you to light their own flame.

Remedy: 1) decrease the amount of people you have to give a shit about 2) at the first sign of a less than shit-giving situation, remove yourself from the vicinity. Rinse, repeat until fabulous. Enjoy giving a shit about people instead of crying in bathroom with hair wet.


2. I fucking love writing and I have to recognise it more. The worries of what the publishing of an article might make my bank balance look like hindered my ability to take time, pleasure, confidence in writing what I liked, what I thought was important, or about people I cared about. This year every risk I took found an audience who liked it, no matter the doubts I had when I produced it. I have to think that now I can make more risky decisions without fear that I am putting a neon sign above my head saying ‘Trying Too Hard OMG Kick Her Out What A Fraud’.

Remedy: I know this sounds weird but I found smiling at my own words while I write makes me feel slightly more contented about my job. This is really weird when my housemate comes home from work.


3. I learned about others this year.

Remedy: consider that people who give a shit about you need more notice to go for fucking dinner.


4. Eventually, slowly, gradually, I came to realise that I expect far too much of myself. Though I am 28, much older than many of my talented peers, I am new to writing for a living, new to this arena, and breaking myself if I think that I can be at the top of my game without grasping the fact that I have done other very different jobs for eight years. Jobs that stretched me in other ways. Jobs, like teaching, or testing, or editing, or being a diplomatic assistant or a shop assistant or any other number of things that were not writing. You don’t get to Word Carnegie Hall by expecting to be playing Carnegie Hall. Just because I know what good writing looks like doesn’t mean that I can have myself do something I am satisfied with within a year of having to do it all the time.

Remedy: Take it easy, kid.


5. Capitalism makes almost everything into a fucking competition, and it isn’t, nor should it be, one.

A lot of my starting to think this way has to do with how my understanding of feminism has changed. This year I learned how to be a better woman and I think it’s a lot about the ability to refuse to stand on the bodies of other women. I think a woman knows when people expect her to be aggressive or competitive towards other women, and a woman should know that is what capitalism wants and then refuse to say yes to it. Instead, to point out issues to focus on, instead of people to focus on, is something that I personally could have spent more time on. Aggressive behaviour might sometimes be necessary in some circumstances (Mandela’s passing this year was a pertinent reminder of this) but being competitive is a side effect of capitalism, and really sort of denies the idea that difference and diversity might be valued, because it creates a monolithic virtue that we all compete for. And that’s bullshit. We’re all cool in different ways.

Remedy: Quit getting fooled into thinking you are competing when other women are competitive with you. This is fucked up behaviour on their behalf. Go get a latte and chill the fuck out.


6. I realised this year anyone can learn to be Ellen Ripley.

Though my main source of life satisfaction is knowing that the people around me are happy, I am not for support. I think I’m Front Line. I know this now because I became my own medic, my own soldier, and my own recon the moment I had to become a writer full time. I rely on my own instincts to make other people feel good when they read my stuff. I rely on my own critical assessment of my work. And writing for a living means I no longer have to support other creative people to do their best work. I just do my own best work. Although I love when I enable others to do something great, and I have the ability to tell them when they have done that, I’m also capable of producing things that other talented people think are good. I never knew this about myself before. I always thought I was a person who supported others. I always thought that was what I was good at. But this is only because I love the ability to make others feel good, and now I can do that just by writing something down that isn’t terrible for a readership of people who will wait for my verdict. Now I can stand in front of them instead of get someone else to do it. I could probably do it naked after Soupgate. I couldn’t give less of a fuck about being visible any more. In practically any way. It’s part of a power I gained somewhere. Probably from Soupgate.


7. I learned that comments really are bullshit. People always say this, but I realised it for real this year in one tiny moment. Someone wrote at the bottom of a typically great Simon Parkin article on Eurogamer, ‘This writer should be fired.’ That’s the moment I knew. All comments are bullshit.

Remedy: Join others in mirth over comments.


8. Pitching is the hardest thing. There’s a horrible retch in my stomach even thinking about pitches right now. It’s something I suspect writers who have a very sturdy ego don’t have: for me it’s the idea that I might not be able to fulfil the remit of my original idea that really makes my stomach churn. I’d much rather write something and see how it turns out organically than have any idea what it is I am going to write. I much prefer when an outlet comes to me and says, ‘We’ve got this really boring thing we want to cover, do you want money to cover it?’ and then I go away and come back with a really odd slant on whatever it is they thought would be boring. But this is not the way editors want me to work, they function on tight publishing slots and can’t entertain some weird renegade’s ideas about what coverage they may or may not need. And I get that. I’m just not really ready for that remit yet. I will get there.

Remedy: Carnegie Hall yada yada


9. People are really weird about glamour and success and I think the first creates an illusion of success and the second is not dependent on the presence of glamour.

You could turn up at really swanky places (and I have occasionally) looking the part and people think you belong there, but the reality is that you had a tin of beans for dinner and frankly the outlook for next week’s meals is not looking that much more exciting.

Your name gets on The Guardian and people think you work there permanently. Or you get published in a number of places and people are like, ‘you must be so rich! You’re all over the internet!’ when the reality is they didn’t pay anything to go to those websites, so what is the likelihood that I got paid anything good for it? Basically, some people know my name now, I even get recognised in some places, but frankly I am still eating beans and only just make my rent and no more. On the other hand, if you would like to pay me monthly the price of my rent for all my articles just let me know, because I need stability more than this volatile waterski fixed with roman candles.

I’m not complaining, I just think the next time you read a journalist’s words, even say, if they are Grace Dent’s, ask yourself if you really think they make a lot of money, or whether you are just equating their visibility with ‘success’, because they are not the same thing. It can become wearing explaining this, particularly to game developers who truly feel at the mercy of someone who could write a career-ending review of their game, but oddly only get paid less than $70 to write it. Twisted Metal guy, I am looking at you.

Remedy: Continue to ‘appear to be’ badass, pretend slim figure is result of ‘very strict no-carb diet’ instead of one Dorito every hour


10. I learned that all along all I needed was permission. If you need permission from me, just ask. I don’t feel qualified to give it, but if you want it, you can certainly have it.

Remedy: Write self strongly-worded permission slip.