• Paul D. Wilke

Back into the Closet

I’ve noticed an unfortunate shift in my writing habits over the last few months. When I first started this blog, I wrote anonymously for the first six months or so. I didn’t really have the confidence to put anything out there for people to read. Plus, I wanted to toil in obscurity for a while to see if I had more than three or four ideas bouncing around in my head. Of course, the blog was public in the sense that anyone could visit, but I did nothing to promote it, so visits were close to zero. During this time, SteelSnowflake was more of a personal journal than anything else. The theoretically public nature of it made me put some effort into the quality of the writing (structure, formatting, aesthetics, etc.), though honestly, how it looked was never my overarching concern.

Looking back, I’m amazed at how much I wrote during those first few months. I published over thirty articles, many of them over 2000 words long. I would spend entire weekends writing, researching, and fine-tuning essays. Then, when it was all said and done, when I hit that ‘Publish’ button, I would bask in the glow of accomplishment. ‘Here,’ I thought, ‘is something I had created.’ For someone like me who has always seen himself as a bit of a dull and plodding oaf, this was a new and wonderful feeling. I, me, yours truly, Mr. Constipated Emotion himself — had actually created something! Afterward, when I was done glowing with all that positive energy, I’d move on to the next project. Those were good times.

Part of what was enjoyable in the early days was that I wasn't writing to appeal to anyone else's tastes but my own. I didn’t try to impress anyone, or get likes, or be overly witty, or do anything else to tailor my writing to the reading public. I wasn't writing to serve any customer, but merely myself. Writing like this, I found much to my surprise, was a great way to finally get out of my head; it was fun, immersive, expressive, even a bit therapeutic.

I reached a point, however, where I wanted to share what I was writing with the world, or at least my modest 120-something Facebook friends that made up my social world. After a while, I sort of wanted to impress people and be read. Maybe it was ego, but I felt that I’d reached a point where the quality was decent enough for public consumption. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but back in February of 2018, I launched. The initial responses were encouraging, with most of my FB friends at least checking out the first couple of articles.

And so it went like this for the next few months. Once or twice a week, I’d put out another piece. Some were more popular than others, but my output remained steady. The ideas kept coming and I kept writing. Slowly, however, I noticed that I started to self-censor, with essays or poems staying stuck in draft mode because I felt the subject matter was too personal to put out there to people who know me. I’m not sure when it started, but it did, and it was a kind of creeping corrosive for my creativity.

Tabling ideas like this would never have happened when I was just writing for myself. However, the thought that colleagues from past assignments, or old girlfriends from high school, or anyone else that knew me as Mr. Constipated Emotion, would get to see inside my head, well, that was a thought that bred second thoughts, which in turn spawned second-guessing. I had an image to protect, or so I believed. So that old self-consciousness began to return, and I gradually retreated back into my head, worried too much about the judging public, tiny as it was.

Along with the self-censorship came the realization that what I was writing was garnering less and less interest as the months passed. This was a worrisome trend to me since it implied that my ideas were either poorly written, uninteresting, or…gasp…both! I remember the feeling: I’d publish an article and feel that glow of accomplishment, go to bed, and then get up the next morning to find that my website had exactly zero hits, meaning no one had even bothered to click on the article. The sound of silence was deafening.

Over the next few days, some likes and site hits would trickle in, but usually less than ten. This cycle of write, publish, and then worry began to take a toll. Maybe I just needed to find the right audience, I thought. Perhaps that was the reason why the interest was dwindling to the middle single digits. Wrong demographic. Or maybe, a little voice in my head said, ‘Maybe your writing just sucks, Paul! Did ya ever consider that?’ I did, but wasn't ready to throw in the towel yet.

So, around Christmas of last year, I decided to double down and join Medium.com. Medium’s a blogging website for aspiring writers to write, publish, exchange insights, and interact with one another. I wanted to try a new venue to break out of the event horizon of my FB friends. Instead of writing to a small audience with a minimal interest in many of my topics, I would be able to target those interested in the same things. I could write about what I wanted to write about, and to people who might be interested. This seemed like a great way to break out and get some recognition. Why not give it a try, I thought?

I began to re-work and re-publish some of what I thought were my best articles. Early on, I was cautiously optimistic that I’d found my writing tribe, finally, and that I’d get some fellow writers to read what I’d written and the. provide feedback and vice versa. Sadly, this did not ever happen. I read a lot of articles, commented on the ones I liked and hoped for a little reciprocity. In the end, only one dreary poem (of all things) written during one of my periodic bouts of extended sadness, ended up garnering enough response to earn me a whopping .02 cents. Everything else was almost entirely ignored. But, hey, my consolation was that I’m finally making money through my writing, so, yeah…

For the last month or so, I’ve existed in this in-between space. Every idea now gets throttled in the crib by the voice in my head that now seems to be in control. “Why? What’s the point? No one gives a shit. Why waste your time? Go play some X-box.” Medium's appeal has diminished as well. Reading other writers on Medium has been both exhilarating and depressing. Exhilarating since Medium showcases some talented writers I really enjoy reading. Depressing because Medium is a saturated market of aspiring writers, with everyone competing to stand out. They all just want to be read, just like everyone else on there.

When everyone’s trying to stand out, they all mostly end up blending in and sounding the same. Some of the most popular articles on Medium are about how to attract clicks, or how to format your writing so that people will continue reading. (NOTE: My long-ass paragraphs which I consider to be totally normal-ass paragraphs are way too long for Medium articles, apparently, or so the Medium writing cognoscenti tell me. But I digress...and digressions are bad too, and semi-colons too; aw fuck it!)

And then it dawned on me. Why not just go back to the way it was before? Maybe I'm the problem. I became too wound up in trying to get my ego stroked. That's not what this hobby started out as, but that's where it has ended up. Time for a reboot. I’ll write for myself again, and only when I have something to say. I've been putting it out there long enough to know that most people just aren’t interested. That's okay. My interests are quirky, a bit niche, and not for everyone. I’m not going to sweat that anymore. I’ll do it for my own pleasure again, quietly, anonymously, just like any private hobby. Just like in the good old days.

Having written over 70 articles now, I've learned things about myself that I would not have otherwise. I find real value in this as simply an exercise in self-reflection. If nothing else, writing is a way to articulate my thoughts in my own words, rather than just taking in other people's thoughts. That's something. That's good enough. It has to be.

9 views0 comments