No. 16: Pointing your way... an update from me, advice for uninspired writers, my favourite 2Pac song and more
Hey folks! Welcome to issue 16 of my newsletter.
The first draft of this issue was written in the middle of the week. A lot of editing has since gone into this one as so much has changed in such a short space of time.
I considered including a section on the disgusting decision of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, but there’s no amount of anger I could communicate that hasn’t been said better by others whose voices are far more important to centre.
One such voice is Jia Tolentino, whose article for the New Yorker, “We’re Not Going Back to the Time Before Roe. We’re Going Somewhere Worse”, is a must-read for anyone who isn’t caught up on what this decision now means as well as its future implications. If you read only one thing in this issue I’ve linked to, I’d make it this one.
Returning to this week’s issue, you’ll notice I’m trying out a different approach once again with the newsletter. The reason for why is in the writing report…
✍️ WRITING REPORT
In Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon talks about how “In the beginning, obscurity is good”. The reason obscurity is so valuable is that nobody is paying attention to you whilst you fuck up and constantly reinvent yourself. You get to experiment with different ideas and drop things that aren’t working for you without consequences.
Once you lose your obscurity, that’s when the real pressure comes. Or as Kleon better puts it:
There’s no pressure when you’re unknown. You can do what you want. Experiment. Do things just for the fun of it. When you’re unknown, there’s nothing to distract you from getting better. No public image to manage. No huge paycheck on the line. No stockholders. No e-mails from your agent. No hangers-on.
You’ll never get that freedom back again once people start paying you attention, and especially not once they start paying you money.
So, I’m embracing my obscurity and throwing a lot of shit at the wall whilst I continue to discover more about myself as a writer.
To be clear, I’m aiming to make the shit as good as possible, even if none of it sticks. I’m aware that there are several of you are watching, but what I hope is that you’ll bear with me and enjoy the ride as much as I will.
I wrote earlier this week on my blog about testing different writing processes to see what breaks and what I can fix. Right now, I’m in a phase of trialling lots of things and seeing what works for me. Hopefully, what I’ll find is a way to get more stuff out there and we can all appreciate the mess together.
📝 ADVICE FOR UNINSPIRED WRITERS
Haley Nahman who writes the Maybe Baby newsletter has some great advice for writers in need of inspiration (emphasis mine):
The best (non-industry-related) advice I can offer for lack of inspiration is to pay close attention to your life. For a long time, I thought I needed an extraordinary, tragic, or funny life to have something extraordinary, tragic, or funny to say. But there’s so much to say about ordinary things we take for granted. Even writers with dramatic stories to tell need to locate what makes them relatable, because relation is what makes art moving. Don’t assume that because your life looks like a bunch of other people’s lives that you have nothing interesting to offer. Instead, think of your shared experience as a foundation upon which to build.
Anything is interesting if you’re honest enough. Anything. I cannot stress this enough. You could tell me how you decided what to eat for dinner last night, and if you did it with the right combination of lucidity and fearlessness—unpacking the little idiosyncrasies behind why you think the way you do and the backstories that led you to there— it would be interesting to me. Most quotidian decisions we make every day are loaded with interesting history and neuroses. A lot of them are unspoken. I know sometimes it feels like everything has been written about, but it hasn’t. A thousand little things happen to every single person every single day. There are always new connections and observations to make.
The full issue is worth a read and includes other thoughts, including why America’s fetish for heroes is harmful. (Britain is equally guilty of this.)
Speaking of paying closer attention to your life, though, I’d advise keeping a daily journal…
📝 WHY YOU SHOULD KEEP A JOURNAL
What should in an ideal world define someone as a writer isn’t that they publish books, or give talks at literary festivals or wear black; it’s that they belong to a distinct group of people who — whenever they are confused or in distress — gain the greatest possible relief from jotting things down. ‘Writers’ in the true sense are those who scribble — as opposed to drink, exercise or chat — their way out of pain.
This is how The School of Life defines a writer in their article on why you should keep a journal. It’s a definition I identify with. I also like that it puts emphasis on the act of writing rather than the act of having written.
I write near enough every single day. Often, it’s just writing in my journal. I cannot recommend it enough.
Here is an extract from The School of Life’s argument for journaling:
The act of writing, especially in a journal or diary, is filled with therapeutic benefits. So deeply do certain ideas threaten the status quo, even if they ultimately offer us benefits, the mind will ruthlessly ‘forget’ them in the name of a quiet life. But our diaries are a forum in which we can raise and then galvanise ourselves into answering the large questions which lie behind the stewardship of our lives: What do I really want? Should I leave? What do I feel for them?
We may not quite know what we want to say until we’ve started to write; writing begets more writing. The first sentence makes the second one clearer. After a short paragraph that was summoned from apparent air, we start know where this might be going. We learn what we think in the process of being forced to utter ideas outside of our swampy minds. The page becomes a guardian of our authentic elusive self.
Here we can make vows and attempt to stick to them: No more humiliation! The end of masochism! Ordinary life can seem to have no place for stock-taking and moments of grand enquiry. But the page demands and rewards them: What am I trying to do? Who am I? What is meaningful for me? We’d never get away with such things at the dinner table, even among people who claim to love us — but here they make sense.
I recommend reading the full argument.
🐦 TWITTER TREAT
A Twitter user, who goes by the handle @funnycats22, used the GPT-3 language model to generate 4chan greentext stories. I discovered this via Ryan Broderick’s issue of Garbage Day titled “Twitter invented a Clippy for cyberbullying”, which I’d recommend reading in full.
Some of these greentext stories are hilarious, and as Broderick notes: “[it] really just goes to show how hard it is to tell the difference between an average 4chan user and a racist automated language model.”
✊ SOLIDARITY WITH THE RMT
The right-wing press has ignored the reasons why the RMT voted to strike this week and instead went into overdrive to paint the rail workers as selfish. I’d recommend Ronan Burtenshaw’s article for Tribune if you want to understand why the establishment has so much hate for the RMT.
To be clear, as Aaron Bastani wrote for Novara Media, the rail strikes that took place this week were entirely justified. And watching Mick Lynch bat away the media’s pathetic attempts to smear him and the RMT has been refreshing to watch.
We should all support the strikes. As Shon Faye shared on her Instagram, we have quite a lot to thank trade unions for — from two-day weekends and eight-hour workdays to maternity leave and holiday pay.
▶️ THE ‘COST OF LIVING CRISIS’ IS A SCAM
📝 JEREMY CORBYN ON THE ESTABLISHMENT CAMPAIGN TO STOP HIM BECOMING PM
In an exclusive interview with Matt Kennard for Declassified UK, we get the most candid interview Jeremy Corbyn has ever given, covering everything from the British media, UK military and intelligence services, Israel, Keir Starmer, Julian Assange and Saudi Arabia.
From the get-go, we get a glimpse of the Prime Minister we could have had and the kinder Britain we could have lived in:
“I had my first speech outside Number 10 as prime minister all planned out,” Jeremy Corbyn tells me. “I was going to announce homelessness in Britain ends now, next week no-one will be sleeping rough.”
Whether you’re a fan of Jeremy Corbyn or not, I urge you to give this interview a read. It offers an insight into what Corbyn was up against as Leader of the Opposition whilst remaining a principled socialist.
And if you think Labour lost the 2019 General Election because Jeremy Corbyn was simply unpopular, you need to interrogate where that narrative originated and why the media was insistent the British population not trust him.
🎂 A HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY TO TUPAC SHAKUR
Tupac Shakur should have turned 51 last week on 16th June. In honour of his birthday, I’m sharing my favourite song of his: “Dear Mama.”
(See also: 🧵 Twitter thread with video clips showcasing Shakur’s anti-capitalist politics.)
🔗 STRAY LINKS
Self-documenting and self-branding are becoming basic to all forms of work
White supremacist Richard Spencer listed himself on Bumble as politically “moderate”
Sarah Kane’s Cleansed is notorious for showing torture, assault and gore on stage – but a new Sydney production is handling it with extra care
Nieces of journalist killed in the Amazon pay tribute to their uncle, who sent frequent and funny emails about life in Brazil
Calendar Collective is a living archive of alternate calendars
Thank you so much for reading!
I love putting these newsletters together, but they do take hours to write. If you enjoyed reading then I’d love it if you could share it with anyone else you think would enjoy it, too. And if you’re not yet subscribed, you can do so below.
I’m always open to feedback and would love to hear from my readers. Feel free to leave a comment or get in contact with me directly at email@example.com.
Until next time!
John Wesley Stammers
P.S. ICYMI: the previous issue of this newsletter included images generated by AI, why grading is a scam, the Notorious B.I.G.'s creative process and more.