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Branding is Supposed to Hurt




I used to think writing about was writing.

I used to think that to get a book out there, all you had to do was write it, and, if that writing was good, it would get discovered, and that was all there was to it.


I thought this way until well into adulthood, stubbornly holding onto the belief that the writing was what mattered, nothing else.

Now, it's like I feel that writing is actually a pretty small part of what a writer has to do.

Because what writing really is is marketing. It's selling something. It's building, designing and managing a website; it's profiles on fourteen different social media platforms, following for following and commenting for commenting and 'engaging with the community'; most of the writing involved is drafting and redrafting emails or writing punchy about me sections; it's branding.

Which, when you think about it, is a weird term. What it actually refers to is an agricultural practice, the searing and burning an emblem onto the flesh of an animal (which screams while it happens) to mark it as yours, originally done to deter theft of livestock, now sometimes done as a method of torture.

Maybe that's why it's so painful.


That right there is my discomfort with the modern world of being an author. Since I was four, I've wanted to write books, but the fact that the actual writing of the book is such a small part of it, and so much of my energy has to go into the other side, the side with the burning and the marking and all that pain.


I guess you could say that's my biggest problem: I simultaneously want to be heard but don't want to be one of a million people in a small room all shouting to be listened to. I still want to hold onto what now feels like a very idealistic view that the writing should speak for itself, and having followers and traffic and being 'on brand' doesn't mean anything, just a buzz word.


You see I've been writing a novel for two years, a central theme of which is a statement about how marketing and branding has caused so many problems in the world, but now purports to be the solution to them. Everyone's lonely, in their little isolated pods, with anxiety and low self esteem and all that stuff, but, hey, don't worry, because here's a new app, a new game, a new TV show/film, here's a new franchise containing all of the former media, here's more time to spend in front of a screen.


The equivalent of using air conditioning to battle global warming: stay inside in your generated coolness while the world burns around you.


And the too-perfect-to-dream-up-irony here being that to get anyone to read this book, I'll have to market it. I'll have to play the game. Because the hardest thing about writing isn't writing well, it's actually getting anybody to even read it. If someone told me my writing was bad, that would be incredible, because that would mean (presumably) they'd read it. That would mean they'd picked my work out from the over-crowded marketplace of burnt flesh, all the logos and slogans and USPs and 'unique voices'.


Maybe there's just too many of us with our profound thoughts that we want to put into the mouths of our characters now, and the resulting competition means that to get the attention of publishers and audiences now, writing isn't enough.


Maybe all the problems in the world come down to that fact: there's just too many of us (a thought I have every time I consider a social problem for long enough.)


Maybe I should just accept the hot metal on my skin, or forever be this hypocrite, this paradox, this spectacle with an audience of none.

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