Dear internet: Stop telling me how to do things.

October 11th, 2018

Last night I logged into Medium for the first time in awhile, and I remembered exactly why it’d been so long.

I felt immediately alienated by the parade of how-tos and listicles that marched down my Medium homepage:

“How to Get Paid to Learn How to Become a Better Writer”

“The 3 Keys to Becoming Irresistible”

“Fatal Mistakes Every Artist Should Avoid”

“How to Be Insanely Creative in Life”

“How to Blog Your Way to a Second Income”

I felt alienated because it was clear I’d entered a different culture of creativity from the ones I usually spend my time in. Behind each of these how-to headlines was either a hustler or a huckster, I thought. And the people clicking on each of these headlines were either hustlers, hucksters, or a mixture of both. But I didn’t want to be either a hustler or a huckster. To be blunt, I’m skeptical of the hunt for a silver bullet that I perceive in many writing-related how-tos and listicles. So why use Medium at all? Why not retreat into my ivory tower and continue sneering the sneer of the anti-commercialist artist-intellectual I like to think of myself as being?

Because there’s more to Medium, in particular the writing pages of Medium, than silver bullets. Duh. That’s not what this essay is about.

What this essay is about is that I’m tired. The Trump era is more than I can deal with already. I’m 23 as well, and learning to be an adult — to maintain my relationships like an adult — is especially more than I can deal with. When my political and personal circumstances are overwhelming, the last thing I need is the anxiety-fuel of listicles telling me that I can make it big as an author, blogger, or freelance writer if I just follow these seven steps.

Advice articles about how to succeed as a writer have always had a strange effect on me. As a type-A person who is overly fond of to-do lists and schedules, you think I’d appreciate articles that enumerate exactly what I should do about my career to get the outcome I want. It should be a relief. It should feel like handholds and footholds in an otherwise avalanching life.

But instead, how-to articles about writing fill me with despair, because when I read them, I can’t help but feel the simultaneous presence of untold other emerging writers, scrolling through the advice and admonitions, desperately wanting to be seen, read, and known. Which is to say, I feel the resonance of so many others like me. And that resonance hits straight to my chest, forcing vibrations out of the feelings I try to keep locked up and silent there. Ambition. Pessimism. Doubt. I see myself in the ghost-hands of countless other anxious writers, stroking their own trackpads, blinking through reading glasses just like mine, scrolling down, down, consuming.

And it forces me out of my cool artistic arrogance. The recognition of my own ambition requires me to acknowledge that I’m no different from every other scribbler with a dream. My skepticism of commercialism doesn’t make me more of an artist than writers who embrace freelancing, self-publishing, market research, and genre literature. This is a profoundly uncomfortable thing to come to terms with, because if I can’t find some aspect of my values or ethos that makes me superior to other writers, that puts me ahead of them, then what do I have to rely on as an indicator of future success?

Nothing. There is no silver bullet — not even my scornful disbelief in silver bullets. There is only the work.

(P.S.: I love this satire piece from Alex Baia: “How To Be A Famous Writer Who Makes Fat Wads of Cash.”)

© 2021, Cameron Baumgartner.
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