This blog’s practically dead. Look at the date of that last post. October 2015.
(hums chorus of Atlantic City to self)
I keep reading things that put me off writing.
First: “Only write when you’ve got something to say”.
Sounds good, except often we figure out what we want to say through the process of writing. Writing and drawing are good ways to figure out what’s going on in your head. Self-expression doesn’t always happen in a linear order of sit quietly > have idea > express idea. That’s a common story we tell ourselves of how ideas happen, but it’s a bit of a myth.
You’ve realised this before. I’ve realised this before. But it’s easy to forget; this is just a reminder.
Second, here’s Bob Dylan, speaking in 1991:
BD: The world don’t need any more songs.
PZ: You don’t think so?
BD: No. They’ve got enough. They’ve got way too many. As a matter of fact, if nobody wrote any songs from this day on, the world ain’t gonna suffer for it. Nobody cares. There’s enough songs for people to listen to, if they want to listen to songs. For every man, woman, and child on earth, they could be sent, probably, each of them, a hundred records, and never be repeated. There’s enough songs.
Maybe Bob had been reading Ecclesiastes that morning. Maybe he was just fooling around with the interviewer. Whatever the case, there’s a weariness to this attitude that I find familiar. The world’s full of writing, pictures, music. There’s enough out there already. Aside from self-indulgence, what’s the point of making more?
Worse than that, by self-indulgently publishing your third-rate attempts at writing/drawing/music, you’re adding to the clutter of the world (read: internet), taking people’s attention away from better things. It’s not that there’s enough stuff out there already; it’s that there’s too much.
Two reponses to this. The first is cheesy, but true: everyone has a unique voice. Sometimes you need to work to discover it, but it’s there. It’s this uniqueness of people’s voices that makes the internet interesting. People seem to have no limit to the number of voices they want to hear. Indulge them; we all benefit.
The second draws on Mike Caulfield’s recent post on Choral Explanations, which is long but worth reading. For a shorter riff on it, read this by Alan Levine.
The basic idea is that textbooks aim to explain things in one definitive way. This falls short when a student doesn’t understand that particular explanation. Online resources can compensate for this by offering a wide range of alternative explanations, and we see examples of this on Quora, Stack Exchange, and YouTube. If you don’t understand the top-rated answer to your question, look at the other answers and you might find one that makes sense.
The diversity of voices available online is frequently overwhelming, because we try to take in too much of it at once. It’s easy to follow one more person on Twitter, but this adds one more unit of anxiety to our sense that we have to keep up with what’s going on in the world. Caulfield is taking a step back from this and reminding us that the wide range of voices is (potentially, and often) a good thing. This means that Bob Dylan is wrong. But Bob probably knew that anyway.
Featured image is Reflection at the René Magritte Museum – Brussels by The Grim Atheist.
Bob Dylan quote is from an interview with Paul Zollo in Song Talk, available in Dylan on Dylan.