Over the course of the past few essays I’ve written, I’ve been coming to the same conclusion: I have a problem with validation. Maybe it’s symptomatic of the time, or maybe it’s more prevalent in me than others. Either way, it’s clear there are plenty of systems in place to feed this hunger of mine that you are also faced with.
Almost all the gamified mechanics I discussed in my previous essay work at the same goal: to filter-feed you prompts that can be easily & quantifiably addressed, to give you a sense of accomplishment. They’re systems meant to make you feel like you’ve done something, when you may have done very little.
Think about what it’s like to post a Tweet or share a link on Reddit or add a photo to Instagram. There’s a sort of sick rush we get when we check in later & see that someone has interacted with the content we either created or curated. It feels good to see how many people liked your thing, or responded to you.
That’s nothing to be particularly ashamed of; that’s what these systems are designed for. We’re somehow programmed to love watching the counter go up, seeing our notifications increase. THat’s the reward being offered to you in exchange for using a service like a social network, & generating ad (& sold data) revenue for Mark Zuckerbot (not a typo).
In ‘Good Gamification’, I discussed ways you can manipulate the manipulators to work in your favor. Things like maintaining streaks & tracking your progress are great ways to program yourself to receive the same reward you would from something perhaps less in line with your goals. However, even these have a downside, & one to be avoided dearly.
Many of you know that I’m working on a novel. It’s going, albeit slowly. While there are many things that have stood in the way of its completion, one of the most detrimental has been excerpts. I began sending around excerpts of chapters I was particularly proud of for various purposes & to various readers. This slowed my progress on the book to a near crawl for a while, a pace which I am only slowly starting to recover from.
(I tend to agree philosophically with Stephen King here, who said, “The first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months, the length of a season”. I’m going on a year+ right now. Although he doesn't remember writing a few of his books, so who's to say?)
Why? Because in sending out excerpts I was able to get some of the sense of validation I had previously only gotten in working towards the novel’s completion. I was able to feel like I was accomplishing something, & hear people tell me they liked where it was headed, without actually having to do the hard work of finishing the fucking book.
This lead to a downward spiral for a while, where no progress was accomplished on the book since I was able to pretend like I was doing something either way. It was only upon looking back at the parts I had sent out & realizing how far off they were from finished (& how much better my writing has become in even the relatively short time I’ve been writing the book) was I able to realize the destructive nature of these tendencies. I’ve since stopped sending out anything from or about it at all, & work has resumed steadily since.
I had a similar issue with a few of the feature length scripts I wrote. I would get about half of three-quarters of the way through the writing, & then end up telling someone (or a lot of people) about my idea. This scratched the itch in a sense, allowing me to tell my story without having to convert it manually to the proper format. I could just run down the plot verbally & explain the mood & characters & get the same sense of satisfaction. Now I don’t tell people my stories before there’s a draft.
Finally, I come to Monochromatic. A few of you (dear readers) have noticed & mentioned I haven’t been posting as much, or as regularly. Writing here, in both my short fiction & non-fiction sections has been a dream, & isn’t something I’ll be giving up anytime soon. But there is something to be said for checking in on my true motivations, as well as monitoring my own progress.
Of course, there’s a downside to this as well. It’s very easy for me to look through my Evernote notebook of story or essay concepts, pick one, & draft it out. Most of the time these writings don’t get more than a preliminary edit before I push them into the world. With that, I can post them & share them & watch the counts on social media & on my website analytics go up, & feel the excitement for a very low buy-in.
There’s dramatically less work that has to go into writing a new piece for my website than does for my novel, for any screenplay, or even with the photographs I take. Because of this, I’ve often opted for writing something in this format over working on something less immediately rewarding. This is quixotic advice coming from an essay on my website, I know, but this is what the system is set up for.
Because of all these factors, because of my recent pursuit into mindfulness & personal motivation, because of my desire for progress & completion on larger-scale projects, my output on Monochromatic has slowed. This is by design. By no means am I less interested in this platform, or the great opportunities it has afforded me. But if I ever hope to complete longform work, something has to give.
So if you only see one story a week, or I miss an essay or newsletter here or there, don’t be alarmed. I’m not going anywhere. I’m just taking a look at something different, working in a different sphere. I only have so much energy to commit to writing, & that means being selective about my output, more realistic about my motivations, & sticking to the most appropriate formats. Am I posting this because I think it’s important, or is a story I need to tell, or is it so I can collect internet points?
Anyways, this is a long post now, but that’s what I’ve been up to, & where I’ll be.
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Your faithful commander,
— Ian Battaglia