Some Days I’ve Got Nothing

Algorithms are both motivating and destroying creativity.

The blank page. The blinking cursor. The empty white space. That old bugbear of writers across the world. We all pretend that it doesn’t exist. That we’re founts of creativity which spew forth words whenever it’s required. Writer’s block isn’t a universal condition, we tell ourselves, it’s just a problem to be overcome.

That’s crazy.

It’s not a problem with a simple solution you can derive from a self-help article. It’s a side effect of how our brains work as biological humans, amplified and emphasized by the data-driven metric-chasing software that ravenously chews away inside the Internet.

Some days, I open up my writing software, and I’ve got nothing.

All the ideas in my notebook AKA the back of my brain have lost their lustre, and nothing new has sprung up to replace them.

I try every single day. That’s the important part of the habit. Not actually doing it. Just putting myself in the space of doing it. Some days the ideas flow out.

Other times it’s a dry well.

In the old days, before our lives were governed by number-crunching monsters we constructed out of Prometheus’s fire, this wouldn’t have been seen as a problem.

Switch off the computer, listen to some music, drink coffee, go on with life till interested in writing again.

But not today.

Internet algorithms reward consistent creativity, as if that’s somehow a thing that actually exists.

Yells to the backroom: “What stupid engineer came up with that idea? Engineering is just as creative a field as writing isn’t it? What the hgaldjskalnkdsla —”

Take a step back. Breathe. Go again.

Creators that push out more content get pushed to more eyes, and the more likes/clicks/brains they get, the more their content thrives.

Better content on a more regular basis is the only objective truth of Internet Success.

But that’s not really a feasible thing, for anyone.

They can’t all be a number one hit. Right?

There’s a reason that many of the biggest YouTube channels have secret piles of writers behind the scenes. There’s a reason that small Mommy blogs quickly exploded into full-on companies once they got popular. There’s a reason that every photograph on the most popular Instagram pages looks like it was shot by professional photographers and lighting people.

Creativity is unreliable because people are unreliable. So, big business solves the problem by throwing more people at it. If you have 15 people working on your Online Project, the odds go up that someone will have a good idea.

But I don’t have 15 people. I’m just a single dude who’s fallen victim to the trap of unreasonable creative demands before.

When I’m not writing weird thinkpieces, I cover gaming, tech, and music. I’m often reviewing a couple of products at any time. But I never have enough in the stack to put something out every day, since I do this as a side gig.

So I used to improvise. Let me scramble and find something to shove out on the internet. Let’s look for an old article to rewrite, or a new spin on an old idea, or a “hot take” that will goad people into “discourse.”

Anything to fill that white space.

“What about those people that succeed online without a big staff? How do they do it?”

They learned to throw all of this out of the window and trust themselves.

I don’t want to be a slave to the algorithms. I don’t want to always have to fill that white space up if I have nothing to put in there. If I can’t think of anything interesting right now, I’ll probably have a good idea tomorrow.

And if I don’t maybe I’ll actually spend some time on something else I enjoy. Our passions don’t have to be exclusive relationships.

If I’ve got nothing and I write something anyway, what kind of person am I if I expect you to read that?

Do I want the kind of audience that a computer program provides me for my “Good behavior,” or do I want to write the sort of content that I truly enjoy and am proud of?

I want to set reasonable deadlines for myself, and I want to stay small. I could never do what I do on a team of 15 people.

The only objective truth of internet content success is that consistency leads to audience. And you should throw out that idea as fast as you can.

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