There are two relatively old pieces I keep linking to in the Read Me First section of my home page: Ten years gone and Doing what you love is not enough. I keep them there because I’d really like people to read them, especially those people who land on my site via search engines or by following a link on social networks like Twitter and App.Net and never heard about me before.
I have been writing poetry and fiction since the late 1980s, I’ve been a tech writer roughly since 1998, I’ve been writing online since 2001 and keeping a tech-oriented blog since 2005. I have written all this time both in Italian and English, with periods when one language was more prominent than the other. So, as you can see, I’m not exactly new at this.
In Doing what you love is not enough, published in September 2011, I wrote:
Plainly put, and without taking into account many other things that interest me and I enjoy doing, what I love is writing. Writing here, about technology, design, usability and environs; but most of all I love writing poetry and fiction. Over the years I’ve accumulated a lot of material, mostly in Italian but also in English (especially my recent production). A large part of my œuvre is unpublished, but especially during the 1990s I performed a fair amount of readings and my pieces were powerful enough to attract a small, faithful audience. I submitted some writings to the criticism of a few literature professors at the university I attended, and the general consensus was that I was a promising author (the most direct comment I received was You’re on the right track). So, by combining all these elements, plus the few things I have actually published, plus the fact that I’ve been writing ‘seriously’ since 1987, plus the fact that I am my hardest, strictest critic — well, I feel I have earned the right to call myself a Writer.
I want to stress this point because what I’m trying to say here is that I’m not calling myself a writer just because I keep some blogs and publish posts every now and then. I’m not calling myself a writer in an empty, self-appointed way. Over the years, the selected works I have shared with others — and I mean sharing in the way that predates online social networks — have received very positive criticism and feedback. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing friends who did the right thing when I gave them my writings and asked for their opinion: they never told me what I wanted to hear. They were perceptive and sincere, and always told me what they felt was wrong about my short stories, prose projects or novellas; not just what they had enjoyed. This helped me enormously, made me work harder and harder, revisiting my works, applying corrections and revisions, dismantling and analysing my style, rhythm, choice of words as meticulously as possible. I don’t take writing — creative writing and tech-related writing — lightly and carelessly.
In Ten years gone, published in March 2011, I wrote:
And what about that bitter taste I was mentioning before? Simply put – my biggest frustration is that despite my experience as a writer, despite my expertise in the various matters I usually write about here and in other places, most of what I do remains obscure, not acknowledged, ignored. What’s particularly hurting is witnessing other tech pundits/writers achieving success in a relatively short timespan. Then I go and look at what they do, and discover that some of them write very little original content in their blogs. Most of the time they either link to other people’s stuff with a one-line comment, or just ‘reblog’ and rehash. It’s disheartening. I still haven’t grasped what’s the ingredient of certain successful blogs. On the surface, these people don’t seem to do anything special, nor they seem particularly insightful – they just seem to ‘organise things prettily’.
I know, I know this might sound as nothing more than a whining rant. I know you might think Aw, you’re just jealous, aren’t you? – but really, hold your judgment for a moment and put yourself in my shoes: after all this time and experience, sometimes it’s hard not to sit and wonder aloud: what the fuck am I doing wrong? It’s hard not to ask yourself: Is it the audience? Is it the culture? Is it the quality of what I write? I know it’s not the quality of my writing, because I have indeed received praise for it, both by Italian and English-speaking readers. Is it the fact that I don’t throw every article in other people’s face every time, all the time, as other tech writers seem to do? Is it the fact that I don’t nag my Twitter audience with tweets like “Look at what I’ve done, written, etc.”? In other words, is it because I’m not quite good at ‘selling’ my qualities? I so wish I knew. Meanwhile I’m left with the feeling that no matter what I do, it’s never enough. The feeling of never climbing the ladder, of never rising through the ranks. I know it takes time, dedication and patience. I don’t lack dedication or patience, but time seem to be passing away and nothing really happens.
During 2012 and 2013 I’ve been busy writing here, doing translation work, and giving new life to my creative side by launching a demanding project like Minigrooves, a collection of short stories I started publishing online (twice a week) and whose first cycle I gathered and published as an ebook in the iBookstore.
I’ve been busy consolidating my ‘personal brand’, to use a popular buzzphrase. I’ve been working hard, I have been trying to promote what I do in a way that hopefully hasn’t alienated other people, I have been rather active socially, I have tried to achieve some prominence. Not out of narcissism, vanity or because I woke up one morning and just felt I’m entitled to it. I simply believe that after years of hard work, of personal struggles, of ‘keeping at it’, of not cutting myself much slack; after years of sowing there should be some reaping.
And yet, and yet, more than two years have passed since I wrote the aforementioned articles, and again at times I feel I’m going nowhere. I feel overwhelmed by what appears as ineffectiveness. I ask myself again what is it I’m doing wrong.
Feedback is little. People don’t seem to care (much). My attempts at attracting people’s attention towards this place, my projects and my fiction don’t seem to have long-lasting effects. There’s the occasional spark. The occasional link. The fleeting endorsement. But readers don’t seem to stick, to return. Word of mouth is intermittent, too. By word of mouth I mean “Guys, I think this RM is worth following or is worth keeping in your feeds.” When I find articles worth mentioning, I usually repost/retweet/reblog them. When I find people who I believe are worth adding to my (and your) reading list, I mention them. When I recognise quality work made by other people — a book, an application, a project — I do my best to talk about it, to draw attention to it, to support the effort; at the very least I try to let them know in a way or another. And I do that in the most disinterested manner, it’s never a quid pro quo. I wish I were given the same treatment a bit more often. Is it too much to ask?
[Brief aside: At the same time I keep witnessing the same old story: prominent or rather well-known figures (in the tech sphere, but not only there) who can virtually try anything — a new online project, a book, a new venture — and it appears everyone’s cutting them a lot of slack, giving them plenty of support because, you know, they’re the ‘good guys.’
My auto mechanic is a ‘good guy’ too and he’s very good at what he does. But if he told me he has published a book, or plans to publish one and needs support, I would like to take a look at it before deciding whether to support him or not. And if somebody I already support (because I like what they do) started getting lazy, producing lower-quality stuff, I’d seriously consider stopping such support. We do that with companies when they screw up a product, a service, or both, or make a public-relations faux pas. Why are we so forgiving with people? This indulgence drives those prominent figures to self-indulgence and complacence, while every now and then I believe a little wake-up call is in order to push them again towards that quality they once displayed. End of aside]
Take this rant how you want. Feel free to think of me as a failed writer consumed with envy and having another temper tantrum about life’s unfairness. I only want you to understand my daily struggle, which I’m quite aware is not the most important struggle out there, but it really matters to me. I only want you to understand my frustration and where it comes from.
And — I could really use your help and support. If you care about what I do, let me know. Most importantly, let others know. If you have suggestions on how to overcome this ineffectiveness, feel free to share your ideas, advice, criticism. If it’s constructive, it’s always welcome. I want to keep getting better at what I do. I want to keep creating things and telling stories other people can enjoy.
- 1. Take Minigrooves, for example. When I published my ebook last July, the news spread fast, and many people (thank you) helped spread it. But such amount of publicity, sadly, hasn’t translated into satisfactory sales numbers. So far, I basically sold a dozen copies of the book. (And I’m not disappointed because I’m not making money out of it, but because I genuinely think a lot of different people could really enjoy my stories.) ↩