On art and literature, and why it’s not just “content”

Forgive me in advance for the incoming salt, but this is a rant I’ve been sitting on for ages. A tweet I saw only cemented my need for the aforementioned rant, so here we are.

A bit of context first. I worked at a bullshit, huge corporation for almost 6 years; after that, I’ve moved on to a corporation that’s way smaller and involves some actual work rather than bullshitting for 5 days a week, but it’s still a corporation. That’s a background experience I’ll be relying on, mixed with observations of the absolute hellhole that LinkedIn is, with a sprinkle of mainstream media attitude. For the sake of clarity, I usually refer to art and literature as “art”, but I’ll be using art&lit in the post. With that out of the way, LET’S DIVE IN.

If there’s one thing that’s aplenty in every corporation, it’s the amount of self-affirmative spam you receive every day. Department status updates, newsletters no one reads, trainings and videos to watch, and so on, and so forth. And it is, regardless of the corp and the type of spam, called “content”. It’s an apt name for it, because it’s neither art, nor anything useful. Just a barrage of words some poor soul had to put together. Oh, I’m sorry, not a poor soul. A content creator.

I can say I’m a content creator at my day job. I write software documentation and manuals. It requires some thought and some effort, it’s not a bullshit job I could ignore without any negative consequences to me or the company or the world at large. But it’s not art I create there. It’s content. It’s got no artistic value whatsoever except maybe for explaining concepts in an easy-to-understand way. The companies themselves have got no qualms about calling that type of fruit of their employees’ work “content”. That at least doesn’t bother me. “Content” is an adequate term for repetitive, artless form of work that require creating something out of nothing.

But when the same term is applied to art&lit, when artists and writers are called “content creators”, I grow spikes like a porcupine.

I understand why it’s easy to use those terms. They’re easy, umbrellous enough, and carry their meaning well. It encapsulates people who don’t do art&lit, but dabble in education, design, what have you. But the results of their work isn’t content as it’s seen at its core and at its roots.

You churn out content daily and often without effort. Those instagram accounts posting variations of the same photo every day? That’s content. A book written for 3 years and edited for the next 2, full of gorgeous prose and magnificent storytelling, or a painting that took weeks to finish? That’s not content. That’s art. And people who let it into the world by effort of their hands are artists.

That line of thought brings me back to that tweet I linked earlier. “Media consumption” is just as dehumanised, nebulous term for experiencing art&lit as “content creation” is to refer to the act of writing and painting/drawing. It assumes the interaction with content at the speed and rate it’s created. Which is: fast. Then faster. And faster and faster, until both you and artists end up in an ever-rushing cycle of more, more, more. (I already ranted about streaming and the effect it’s got on media, so I’ll stop myself from doing it again ;)). But, FOMO, anyone? I’m sure all of us have experienced it at least once at some point. Corporations and mainstream media have got a way of slithering into our lives and taking terms and things that make us happy for themselves. They also tend to flatten nuances, limit imaginations, and produce countless iterations of the same trope if only they realised it was popular. (Side note: it’s very obvious in traditional publishing when agents and editors seek stories centred around a motif for some 5 years after the first book with that motif made a breakthrough. That’s something to talk about for another time, though.) And after all traces of what made an idea unique and brilliant, after art&lit have deteriorated into simple content, then both terms truly become equivalent.

I don’t think that simplification is something we as a society should condone. 

On the transience of modern media, an observation

Unless you’ve been living under a rock¹, you must have heard of Squid Game. It was everywhere to a degree that even I noticed it². Or you know what? Replace Squid Game with a title of another series with all episodes immediately available to watch. It’s there for one hot second only to be gone in the next, another one taking its place, ready to be binge-watched and immediately forgotten.

This is something I’ve been thinking about (and discussing with friends) for a while now. Before I delve deeper into the matter, I’d like to reiterate these are only my observations. I’m not a scientist, culture studies weren’t my focus at university, but I remember what TV series and fandoms looked like before the streaming era³, so I thought why the hell not try to put it into words.

And so, here we are.

One of my best friends is a Trekkie. Her tumblr, like any other person’s, is a collection of reblogs, a great deal of it being Star Trek posts. There was a explosion of gifsets from the latest series, but it didn’t last long. Sooner rather than later she was back to the older series and movies. And it’s not like she didn’t like the new show! On the contrary: she loves it dearly, but somehow the blogs she follows post mostly about the olden days.

Meanwhile, I’m not a Trekkie. I’m a Star Wars and Stargate fan. Stargate, being dormant for years, isn’t a useful example, but Star Wars is⁴. I was amazed that the mouse decided to release The Mandalorian on a weekly basis rather than all at once, but it was a fantastic choice. All of a sudden, there was an influx of people interacting with the franchise. There were theories, new merch, new fascinating characters, new story that finally felt like the old Star Wars. And most of all, there was a build of anticipation leading to the climax—the kind of anticipation you can’t obtain in a series that’s available to watch in one go.

Do you remember Game of Thrones and the hype around it⁵? My gods, for years every Monday morning at work consisted of my co-workers huddling together and discussing everything there was to discuss about the new episode. Take Stranger Things as an example of a different viewing model. Yes, there was some degree of hype. Yes, they were discussing it for some time—I think it might have been about 2-3 weeks?—and then, silence. It was as if the series never existed.

I see this pattern often on twitter and tumblr. Something blows up, consumes everyone’s attention, and then it’s gone after a laughably short period of time only to be replaced by something newer, shinier, different.

On the other hand, you’ve got still thriving fandoms of shows years, sometimes decades old. When you take their age into consideration, they’re not that inventive or ground-breaking. On the contrary, I’d say: there are so many filler episodes sometimes, which from a storytelling perspective serve only to showcase the growing bond between characters and show the world at large. Stories structured like that presented to an audience used to binge-watching everything they can get their hands on would probably fail. Hell, I’m convinced The Mandalorian didn’t solely because it’s Star Wars.

All this rambling brings me to my main point, which is: the gradual build-up and continuous engagement with a book/TV series/films create fan communities. Series with all episodes available at once may result in hype, but it blows out too fast to result in a lasting fandom.

It’s the emotional engagement, I think. As story progresses over time, you get attached to it. You start wondering what happens next, start counting days until the next episode (mid-season hiatus, amirite 🙃), and moreover—especially if you happen to encounter other fans—you form an even greater emotional connection in the fandom’s echo chamber. But it needs time and constant nourishment to form. Without them, there’s a momentary burst of hype that doesn’t prevail.

Is there a point in all of that? I admit, I’ve got no idea. However, I do think we have to put conscious effort in not letting something we love fade into obscurity if we want to see it thrive in attention and its fans’ affection, especially when there are so many new shows constantly popping up everywhere. I also think that the streaming model instead of weekly releases is harmful, even though it fits perfectly into the current trend of more, faster, constantly, MOAR.

It does take an audience to keep a thing going.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! And thank you for reading my ramblings 😅

___

¹ Please don’t think I’m looking down on people who don’t follow modern media. I don’t. Everything I know comes through osmosis on the internet. And gods know you’ll have trouble finding someone who lives under a rock as big as mine.

² Noticed doesn’t equal watched. The easiest way to ensure I won’t watch something is for it to be everywhere. I’m petty like that.

³ With the lovely addition of being a few years behind with every show and movie, because this is what growing up in Eastern Europe in the 90s before widely accessible internet was like.

⁴ Episodes 7-9 aren’t Star Wars. They’re Disney’s very expensive fanfic that doesn’t even make sense, therefore I pretend they don’t exist and the Expanded Universe hasn’t been retconned. I’m not taking criticism at the time. Or ever.

⁵ Before it self-destructed and imploded, that is. Lol. That was one hell of a dumpsterfire to watch. It should be taught everywhere as what not to do with a story, be it your own or something you’re adapting from one medium into another.

My short story collection is officially out!

Hello everyone! 

Today is the day my book, Seasons, sees the light of day :D. It’s a collection of four character-driven short stories representing a broad range of speculative fiction.

  • You and Me, at the End of Our Time: In a faraway corner of the universe, a man who has lost everything finds love where he least expects it-only to lose it.
  • Gradations of Loss: In the modern world, a woman learns to live with her grief after she realises letting it go is impossible.
  • Your Heart, a Fire: A princess of a kingdom on its way to ruin braves her fear and goes on a quest, knowing its fulfilment means her death.
  • It Burns:In the wake of her grandparents’ death, a woman scratches the surface of an ancient mystery in a world where old gods have never been forgotten.

It’s available at my Kofi store and at Smashwords.

Happy reading! ♥

How to build confidence in your writing and yourself as a writer

All craft has its difficulties; writing is no different. We pour ourselves into the words we put on paper and hope we’ve given voice to our ideas. And then, for some of us, comes the next stage: showing it to other people.

And that’s a terrifying thing that only gets easier over time. Or so it should, which is precisely when confidence comes into play.

Confidence: when do you need it?

The answer is simple: if you aren’t writing only for yourself, then all the time.

If your story will forever remain only between you and your document, you’re probably at the height of your confidence. You wanted to write something, and so you did. In this case, you are both the creator and the audience, and as such, you have satisfied yourself fully. Congratulations. You have created something out of nothing; doesn’t it feel great?

But if your intended audience is bigger than just you, then writing itself is only the first step. As much as daunting the idea of taking those remaining steps may be, it is something you must do.

Unfortunately, there is no wondrous recipe that works for everyone. There is also the matter of cultural aspect (hi there, patriarchy; hi there, forced heteronormativity) which is a whole other topic that requires thousands of words—and it’s something I won’t be covering in this post. This is about you as a writer who may eventually need to work on your courage and confidence (if it’s something you struggle with, of course. But I imagine you wouldn’t be reading this otherwise.).

From 0 to small amounts

Start simple: are you comfortable showing your work to your friends and/or family, whichever are closer to you? This step is usually* the easiest.

(*I say usually, because I know a person who wanted to become a published author, but didn’t even want to show the first draft of their book to their significant other. If that was already a problem, how did they expect to cope with strangers reading it? We’re not in touch anymore, but they never got published, so I assume that answers my question.)

So yeah, start with baby steps. Find someone supportive of your endeavours, because having a person who cheers on you—or even reminds you you’re not wasting your time by pursuing something you think worthwhile is incredibly important. It can even be a stranger in your writing community if you join or form one. The most important thing is to never hear “you shouldn’t bother, you’re not good enough” even before you had time to improve, because that shit stays with you, and it takes years to overcome it.

(Trust me on that one, I know it from personal experience.)

Acknowledge that there will be setbacks. You will have to put a lot of work into your writing—as everyone does with everything they do, be it a job, sport discipline of their choice, or art/craft of any kind. Experience is crucial to building your confidence. It’s a constant cycle of development fuelled by writing, editing, reading, more writing, more editing, more reading, and so on, and so forth.

That, however, may bring a desire to compare yourself to others, which is actually the bane of our existence.

From small amounts to your comfort levels

In chapter 2 of their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Dr Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski cite a study saying that the awareness of being compared to other people is likely to negatively impact your creativity. Now how much greater that impact may be if the person doing the comparing is you?

There are stories that make me want to put down my pen and/or close the computer and never write again, because how can I possibly come close to the sheer perfection of that prose? Comparison is the starting point of a vicious and fast trip down the lane that will most likely damage your confidence. And this, I believe, is where the earlier stage of building it up comes into play. It’s easy to irrevocably destroy something budding and barely there, but when your foundations are solid and you know you still have a story you want to tell, the blow your confidence might take is significantly smaller.

Envy is real. I daresay that at some point we all felt it with regard to another person’s writing style and/or storytelling skills. We’re only humans, after all, and no one is above weakness. I can’t tell you how to overcome this—not when I struggle with it myself—but I may gently nudge you towards that one project you’ve always put off in favour of writing something else, or an idea that always seemed to wild to indulge in. The point is to have fun with your writing and remember that at the bottom of it all lies your desire to tell a story. There will always be other people telling their stories, but there’s only one yours. And only you can tell it.

The importance of having an audience

Unless you’re writing stories you plan to never show to anyone, you will, eventually, have readers. And this can go two ways: fandom writing is usually much more direct with the reception (kudos, comments, etc.; you know the drill), while original writing is much quieter in comparison. Regardless of what you’re writing, you will encounter both positive and negative feedback. The former will make you soar, the latter will be what sends you plummeting to the ground.

Both are something you have to learn how to accept. This, too, can happen only through experience. There are tons of advice on how to deal with unsolicited critique or anonymous hate, but only experience will show you which of those work for you and which don’t. Will it have an impact on your confidence? Of course. If you bear the brunt of negativity too early, it may just as well shatter your budding sense of self-worth as a writer. Time gives you mental tools to properly process the impact, though. Which brings me to the last point.

Let yourself grow at your own pace

No one develops their skills and mental strength at the same pace. Some writers take the dive at the very beginning and are fine with it. Others need years of slow grind forward, hindered by two steps back at every corner. Then there are all the shades in between—and they are all good. Everyone’s strategy is different, just like all writers are different. What works for others doesn’t necessarily have to work for you too.

Confidence is a skill you have to develop like any other. It doesn’t magically appear overnight, especially when you’re sharing the fruit of your labour with the world. Don’t despair if you feel you’re taking longer than others, though, or if your journey seems more difficult. You are building yourself as a writer from nothing, which is a gargantuan task.

That you’ve undertaken it is already a tremendous achievement you should be proud of. This, perhaps, is the part that required the largest amount of confidence.

Announcing: Seasons

Four themes, four stories, one anthology.

Summer will tell a story of coming to terms with life, autumn of making peace with the choices made, winter of moving on from grief, and spring of hope. Join four characters on their journeys to know themselves in four different, unique worlds.

Coming in the first quarter of 2021 as an ebook to Amazon, B&N, and directly from me to you should you desire so. More information coming soon!

Of fandoms and fun

Or lack thereof.

A few days ago, inspired by a tweet that briefly crossed my timeline, on my fandom-oriented account I posted this:

Fandoms are supposed to be fun. If they become tedious, stressful, or frustrating, it might be a good idea to reconsider the level of involvement you’re comfortable with, or take a step back and look back towards what brought you to it in the first place. It shouldn’t be a chore.

A pretty obvious thing, isn’t it? Should be, at least; or so I hoped. Imagine my surprise when that tweet had gone viral within the first 12 hours, and snowballed from there. As of 25th of September, its stats are these:

Those numbers are wild (to me at least, which I know is subjective), but they’re not the point of this post. What matters about them is with how many people that tweet resonated. 496 quote retweets, and all of them are along the lines of “This!”, “A reminder for myself”, etc, etc. That, the level of engagement with that tweet, and the post that had inspired me to write it made me realise that what I considered a thing so obvious that it shouldn’t be said, in fact isn’t.

Which brings me to the point, and that is: fandoms and fun—and lack thereof.

We all know how it starts. We watch a show or a film, read a book, see a theatre play. Some we forget, others stir something in us to the point of looking for more: art, transformative fiction, a sense of belonging to a community that comes with interacting with fans loving the same thing we do. Some of us create, others passively consume, and both sides are equally important in order to make a thriving, supportive fandom.

(Let’s pretend for a moment that antis don’t exist; ’tis neither the place nor time for that particular can of worms.)

What prompted that tweet of mine was a post from a content creator, it’s my own perspective as well, and so this will be the focus of my musings. Please keep in mind that I’m writing about my own experiences and attitude towards engagement in fandoms, and by no means do I assume it’s universal for everyone (as my tweet proved, actually). Well then, we’re good? Let’s go.

So you like something. A show, a book, it doesn’t matter. For the sake of this post, let’s call it The Thing, and you – The Creator. The Thing brings you so much joy that at some point you decide to create something for it. You start drawing fanart or writing fanfics, and it brings you joy as well. If you share it with others, it may bring them joy as well, which is fantastic. The feeling of mutual screaming in joy over The Thing—it’s truly amazing.

When does it stop? And why?

I’ve seen so many people apologise for being unable to participate in all days of fandom events (or at all). I’ve seen people drowning under a bunch of stories in progress and real life responsibilities. I’ve seen Creators grinding out work after work until nothing’s left in them but burnout and distaste towards The Thing that once made them happy. As someone who suffers from and is currently getting help with occupational burnout, I know perfectly well how horrible that feeling is. And I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would do this willingly to themselves.

Fiction can serve as means of escapism. This is perfectly fine; it’s one of the roles stories have always had. But when The Thing stops being fun and slowly morphs into an obligation, something has clearly gone wrong. When, at the end of the day, you take a step into the current fandom of your choice and everything you see brings you frustration, why do you keep doing it? It’s one thing to debate and analyse, to discuss The Thing under a critical lens with someone who approaches it with the same level of maturity. It’s something else altogether if there’s a wall between you, over which your words can’t go but theirs do, and they are so warped that you produce hundreds upon hundreds of words of analysis the other party will never care about. The wise and obvious way to approach this matter would be to mute and/or block keywords, tags, and people that have soured your experience. I know that hate-reading is a thing, but damn if it isn’t an exhausting one.

You can like The Thing and never venture past that. It’s fine. You can like The Thing and create fanworks and/or meta for it, and that’s also fine. It still brings you satisfaction. But when a hobby and a cool way of spending your precious free time turns into something closer to yet another job wearing you out, that satisfaction is clearly gone. And if it is, what’s left to keep you interested?

The limit of the engagement with The Thing and its fandom before it becomes a chore clearly differs for everyone. Sometimes, it’s difficult to put The Thing behind us; at other times it happens on its own when the fire goes out. But pushing for interactions and continuous creation when the mere thought of it makes you nauseous, is simply, at its core, harmful. Keeping up with what doesn’t appeal to you anymore perpetuates the cycle of frustration. And there’s so much frustration we deal with in our everyday life that adding more can’t be a good idea.

It’s all right to step aside. It’s all right to look at what you used to love and realise you no longer do. It’s all right to realise you might still do but participating in the fandom of The Thing at large may not be a good idea. And it’s fine. The Fandom may be just you and The Thing, because at the end of the day, the most important aspect of it is that you have fun, that you have something that helps you unwind. The Thing isn’t a job. The Thing is there to bring you joy. Never forget that.