None of which, as the alert reader will have noticed, is an answer to the question "why am I doing this?"
I am more of a consumer than a producer. I read loads of books, I look at stuff on the web, I enjoy going places and talking to people and seeing things... but I don't make very much. I have a lot of words and ideas in my head, but very few of them ever make it to the outside world in anything more than fairly ephemeral forms. Maybe that's not a bad thing. I don't think the world needs more content. But part of the point of these exercises -- the writing and photography, that is, not the physical exercise (which is purely for general health and fitness) -- is to see what happens if the words do get outside. To see what happens to the words (because often they look quite different in the light), to see what happens to the world (not much, but sometimes it gives me positive feedback, and so long as I'm not making the world a worse place, on balance, I reckon I'm okay) and to see what happens to me.
Producing things makes me feel happy. I don't know why. I don't know if it makes me happy because it is good, or if it is good because it makes me happy, or both, or neither. I don't exactly feel "proud" of the things I've made; that's not really the point, any more than the point of going for a walk on a sunny day is (necessarily) to get to one's destination. The point is the journey. The point is the process.
So why am I sticking all this stuff up here in public, if it's only for me? Partly accountability: if I tell people I'll produce something every day, I'm more likely to do it. (One of the most useful things I have learned about learning is that I'm more likely to get somewhere if I have somebody else to answer to, even if they're only paying attention because I've asked them to.) Partly the possibility of feedback, though I don't want to emphasise that aspect because I don't want to make people feel obliged to comment! But mainly, I think, it's a way of fighting the perfection-paralysis that usually stops me doing anything. This isn't some kind of backhanded arrogance ("I wish I could bring myself to get all that imperfect writing out there like you do, but I just can't publish unless it's perfect"); it's more like a fear of commitment. Forcing myself to meet deadlines means that I have to commit, I have to click 'Submit', even if something isn't as polished as I'd like. It forces me to overcome the fears that if I put an idea down on paper,
- I'll 'use it up' on something other than a 'real' or 'polished' piece of writing
- other people will steal my ideas
- I'll have to find out whether my ideas are any good or not.
Time for some debunking. First, the thing about using ideas up? Nonsense. If things are any good, I'll be able to reuse them. The young Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a song called "Kansas Morning" ("I love the Kansas morning, Kansas mists at my window...") which would have been forgotten forever if he hadn't later spotted the decent tune underneath the rub words and reused it as the hit "I don't know how to love him". I am not Andrew Lloyd Webber (nor was meant to be), but the principle's sound.
Second, the thing about people stealing my ideas? Arrant, arrogant nonsense. I'm not a professional writer; I'm not relying on making a living from this stuff. If any of my ideas are worth stealing then you're welcome to them (and "you" in this context is "my actual and potential readership", ie the entire internet, ie THE WORLD). Go and use them. Make them into something good. Credit me if you're feeling generous. :-)
The third, though, that's the killer. It's reducing something from the ideal/potential to the imperfect/actual; taking the risk of finding out that that wonderful poem that's slouching towards LiveJournal to be born -- the one that will surely slice like a sunbeam through the fog of indifference, etching the outlines of angels in lines of fire on the grey morning sky -- is just another internet limerick, trying to get as many adjectives into the last line as it possibly can.
But in the end, holding those things in my head is just one step away from inventing names for my band without ever picking up a guitar (guilty), or writing that Booker acceptance speech in my head (guilty, guilty), or fantasising about how my yearning verses will move the object of my affection to tears of extasy [sic, lovesic] so that they melt into my waiting embrace (guilty, guilty, guilty as sin). It's daydreaming; and while daydreaming is entertaining (what if they did read that poem? what if they were moved by it? and what if our band, Steel Metropolis, actually got into the top 40 with their epic post-progtronica hit 'Pig Fly'?), I reckon it's more satisfying in the long run -- for me, at least -- to do something real.
What is real?
It's whatever you want it to be.
It's not about succeeding or failing; it's about overcoming the idea that success and failure are all about the outcome. Sometimes, to speak is to succeed: to breathe life into a word is to become a kind of god (and what kind of deity would jealously guard the potential for creation in its own head while the void stretched to infinity on every side?). I've imagined glittering success and earth-shattering romance, and lost hours and days to rich imaginings; but I've found more satisfaction in the minor real successes, in the genuine love (and no less genuine lust), in the words truly spoken and steps taken boldly, than in any of the fantasies. I'd rather drink deep from the cup that's offered (currently a Tesco wineglass filled not with some Olympian draught but with a decidedly average organic shiraz cabernet) than drown in dreams of nectar.
And I'm now going to undermine all my stirring soapboxing (or confused meandering) just that little bit more by going and cataloguing some books, and then having a bath(os). We can't be gods all the time... can we?