Truancy Writing

behind the scenes: romancing the robot

study hall digest: romancing the robot

This (paywalled) piece went through a lot of iterations; the editorial team and I chipped away at it over three different drafts to uncover the angle most interesting to Study Hall's "inside baseball" audience. Generative AI is a source of writerly unease, and with good reason. We cut a separate discussion of algorithmic curation already happening in publishing, via Wattpad's machine learning tech - I'll post about that soon.

Also cut from the piece was a brief discussion of what ghosting means to me as a writer. I figured I'd go more into that here, since it's a discussion more suited for the blog anyway.

The Sydney Review of Books published a round table about the late Mark Fisher's blog k-punk. In it, Carl Neville wrote:

I think k-punk’s obsessive depersonalisation/anti-facialisation/desire for the collective was one manifestation of this desire to speak and be heard but not to be seen, to be central to something without being the centre of attention. I think, generationally, to some extent, the idea of selling yourself and networking are anathema to the sense of how a person ought to operate in the world and blogs also represented a way in which people could escape the increasing impingement of neoliberal selfhood.

When I was younger and attempting a career in journalism, I struggled with idea generation. To establish oneself as a writer and to make money, you have to have either a well-defined beat (I didn't) and/or the ability to see potential stories everywhere. When I was going for it, about nine years ago, I had to generate pitches constantly. I had the hope of placing one or two of every ten-ish pitches. Each pitch had to be developed enough to potentially be a whole story, so it would sell, but not so developed that it would keep me from crafting additional pitches. I was catastrophically bad at this. When I found a story that interested me, I wanted to go deep and work on it long-term, not just dip in, pitch, and back off. I had (still have) a very focused curiosity. I do one thing at a time.

At the start of my career, I didn't have enough to say to establish a voice and brand at the pace online media demands. I write my own work well, but I write it slooooowly. My individual idea development requires hour-long runs, hours-long walks, shocking numbers of drafts, thousands of words written and crossed out to develop what I'm actually trying to say.

The slowness is related to the what, not the how. Collaborative writing allows the deployment of the how while offloading the psychic weight of the what. My skills are applied to my partner's ideas. I'm responsible for elevating their existing concepts and creating something satisfying and coherent on page, and once that task is completed, I step away. It's like an architect working on client's dream house. I design it, I oversee the building, but I'm not the one who lives there. As a result, there's much less pressure on my own work. I work on my own projects at my own slow pace, and I can take the time to cultivate the what instead of struggling to pitch a half-assed clickbait personal essay to make a few hundred bucks.

As Neville wrote, I'm central to the project, but not the center of attention. I separate the what and the how but of course they're not a perfectly delineated dichotomy. Traces of my voice always end up in my collaborations; my sensibility and my skills make up the scaffolding. There's art in the work projects and work in the art projects - stay tuned for updates on both.