Somewhere along the way, I think, I lost confidence in it all a little.
I did not write a lot in 2019. I checked the numbers – you can do this on WordPress, it’s really cool – and across 2019, I published 42 blog posts, totalling 34, 554 words, which is about half of 2018’s 60, 93 words across 99 blog posts, itself a considerable amount less than those halcyon days of 2017, when I published 240 articles. The numbers aren’t actually all that informative – I mostly post short excerpts of full articles published elsewhere, so I imagine the actual number of words written is much higher – but the trend, I think, says something.
There’s a couple of reasons why, none of which are especially interesting. I don’t have the regular Yahoo column anymore, that’s one. I moved to a different country (well, Wales, and only part time, but shut up, it sort counts), which was, in hindsight, probably a tad more disorienting than I ever really acknowledged at the time. But, in a slightly wider sense, I think I just lost track of why I was actually doing any of this at all.
I mean, it started out as a hobby, more or less. I stumbled into a job – it really only was a lucky coincidence that it started to pay, much as I insist that I’ve worked hard at it since – and efforts to turn it into a career have been elliptical at best. I think, sometimes, that I am quite good at writing; I am less convinced I am especially good at the things that would elevate it from a hobby to a career. Either way, it stopped being a hobby exactly – I am growing incapable of watching film or television without it feeling, at least a little bit, like work – and anyway, the money was never very good at all. Every so often, people on twitter will discuss their rates, the most and least they’ve ever been paid for an article – quite a lot of people’s least was much higher than the most I’d ever been paid.
And, I mean, that’s just the nature of it all, obviously. Journalism as an industry is shrinking: everyone knows print is dying, but look at digital too. BuzzFeed is one of very few actually profitable media outlets, and it laid off how many people this year? How many websites were bought and sold and mismanaged until they didn’t exist anymore? Staff writers are increasingly precarious, let alone freelancers. Everything pivots on how many clicks you can get, how quickly. I’ve freelanced for lots of different websites and publications over the years, but of the three outlets I worked with most, two of them have paid at least partially by the number of clicks I got for articles. (Which, yes, just the nature of it all, late stage capitalism, the Google/Facebook duopoly, I am not actually inclined to criticise either of those websites specifically, but in the general case this obviously is not conducive to healthy journalism. I mean, I wrote deliberately provocative stuff with a view towards getting higher views. Most of the time it didn’t work; one time, I ended up writing one of the most read Metro articles of 2017. That’s fine – well, ‘fine’ – if all you’re writing are relatively trivial hot takes about television, but as that sort of mentality starts to pervade and sweep across journalism more broadly, well, that’s not healthy for anyone.)
Which, you know, ties into the other thing. There’s a need, I think, for freelancers to start to develop a personal brand, to try and cultivate and grow that profile, because that’s the only way you’re ever gonna get those clicks. After a while it gets a little solipsistic, and you’re making spending a little too long thinking about constructed personalities and online artifice, and probably it’s all nonsense in the end anyway… but still. There’s a performance of Alex Moreland, Writer – because there has to be – and it’s becoming less a question of a creative voice, of a critical voice, but of a branded one, and there is something fundamentally very strange about trying to market your own constructed personality rather than your actual work.
I was reading a job listing recently, to be a political reporter – there’s a thought, how much value do I attach to entertainment and culture writing anymore, if I want to write is this still what I want to write – over at BuzzFeed. Not with a view towards anything in particular, I was just procrastinating. But anyway, for this job, you didn’t need a degree or an NCTJ… you needed to know how to go viral, you needed to have a lot of twitter followers, you needed to be good at TikTok. So I have a TikTok now, anyway. I’m not especially good at it. Hopefully eventually though.
And, look, I am probably being very silly about all this. If nothing else, I still lost confidence in the actual words as written themselves. This isn’t entirely about all the associated ephemera: there was a lot of good old-fashioned writer’s block too.
Still. Somewhere along the way, this year, it stopped being fun. And that’s a shame, if nothing else.
This is not an announcement of retirement or anything, I will still be writing stuff to an audience of tens, you’ve nothing to worry about there. But I guess what I am saying – for myself more than any of you, dear readers – that this needs much, much deeper thought going forward if I’m going to make it work. For one thing, I probably need to figure out what it actually means for “it” to “work”! And hopefully, maybe, I’ll be able to figure out how to make it fun again… because if I’m not enjoying it then, well, what is the point?
So – brief (!) prelude over – here’s the work I was pleased with this year:
- I started the year by interviewing Luke Davies, the writer of Beautiful Boy. It’s probably one of the best interviews I’ve ever done, so go take a look at that.
- I also reviewed Brexit: An Uncivil War, and wrote this piece about Star Trek: Discovery’s second season, both of which I was pleased with at the time and still think hold up fairly well.
- Something else I was involved in, quite excitingly, was Mira + Mei, a short film made by my close pal Alexis Parinas for the Barbican. He assembled a team of various talented artists, and I was also there too; at one point I held up some coloured gels next to a lamp, which was enough to earn me the title of Lighting Co-Ordinator. I wasn’t involved in his latest film, and haven’t seen it yet, but given my absence I assume the lighting was shit. (No, but really, it’s quite a neat little film, he’s very talented, go take a look at the trailer.)
- Much more recently, I was pleased with my review of The Two Popes, mainly because it had just been so long since I’d last written something to completion. So many unfinished drafts kicking around, about Veep and Years and Years and so on, never quite coming to fruition. I’m glad this did, in the end.
- And, of course, it’d be remiss of me not to mention three interviews I did recently – not the first I’ve ever conducted in person, but the first that were ever filmed and put online. Across November, I spoke to Aisling Francoisi and Sam Claflin about The Nightingale, and to Ed Norton and Gugu Mbatha-Raw about Motherless Brooklyn. I am yet to watch any of them myself, but I’ve been assured by discerning critics that despite my poor posture and obvious need for a haircut, the questions I asked were pretty good. So that’s nice.
And that’s that! 2019, drawn to a close. Hopefully 2020 will bring… well, I’ll skip the traditional targets, if only because it’s getting increasingly dispiriting to look back on them a year later, still unfulfilled.
Hopefully 2020 will be fun.