The Pundit Impulse and the Power of Revision
Bringing humanity back to our published words
I wish there were an ‘autoresponder’ option on Facebook like you would set on your email were you to go on vacation or leave. But there isn’t. So, I had to post this the other day…
Facebook Auto-Responder: Hey all. Happy belated New Year. Just a heads up that I’m gonna try to stay away from this website as much as possible for the next year and see how it goes. If you need/want to get in touch, FB Messenger is a good way. Also, I’ll be somewhat active on Instagram and my bloggy wog. Peace.
I’ve been noticing something over the last number of years, particularly since more and more of us have moved our lives onto social media and our news outlets have transitioned to online/mobile…
Since we’re all a split-second away from that big p-u-b-l-i-s-h button, we’ve all suddenly turned into pundits.
I don’t know about you, but I can only take so much punditry in my life. The talking heads on the news are one thing. But when everyone in my life including my uncles, cousins, friends, old high school people who I stopped listening to 20 years ago and never really liked in the first place, and complete strangers who are somehow “friends” on Facebook — when all thousand-ish of them turn into pundits, it’s just too much…
And looking in the mirror, the pundit’s life is a heavy burden — one I never willingly signed up for but have found myself caught up in as with the rest of us.
I fell prey to this pundit impulse just the other day when I caught the first wind of the insurrection in Washington DC. Before knowing any details beyond the headline or two that I saw in my news feed, I became enraged and wrote a blog about it.
Yes, it was honest.
But it lacked…
I recently ran across this quote…
“There’s something wonderful about the spontaneity of social media, but I think at this point it’s becoming 100% toxic for people to be firing off the top of their brains. One of the things this book says is that the deeper parts of our brain are actually more empathic. If you revise something 20 times, for a mysterious reason, it becomes more social, empathic and compassionate. With Chekhov, you feel he’s always saying: “Well, what else?”, “Is there anything else I should know?”, or “Maybe I’m wrong.” And all of that seems to be designed to foster love, or at least some kind of relation to the other that’s got possibility. So I’m not a fan of social media. I’m not on it. And I won’t be, because I think it’s killing us, actually. I really do.”
George Saunders as quoted by The Guardian
This is so true. But I’ve long seen it the other way. I used to think that editing something a lot robbed it of its ‘authenticity’ (such a worn-out word, sorry). This is why I’ve always preferred publishing daily(ish). It seemed less filtered through the ego. More raw.
But now, much thanks to Saunders (and taking it in stock with my lived experience of social media, writing, and publishing online for a decade), I’m seeing the opposite is true.
As it’s written in A Course In Miracles, the ego speaks first and speaks loudest.
When you seek guidance within, it will be the voice of your ego that will always respond first and loudest. Your ego must argue for the correctness of its judgments and why you were justified in responding to any situation in a fear-based manner. The ego follows the rules of this fear-based planet.
— A Course In Miracles
These are such wise words and it plays out in vivid color online. Good writers edit and revise time and time and time again. David Sedaris edits things 10–15 times before he even sends the draft to his publisher.
Good writers sit on things. They lock them away and come back to them much later. This is how they know what connects deeply with the human experience and what doesn’t. The question they bring when they come back to the work is: Is it just as fresh — just as alive — as it was when they first wrote it?
It’s the same concept as writing out that angry letter and, instead of putting it in the mailbox, hiding it in your drawer for a few days. This concept is lost on today’s world. We don’t even have the space-making physical element of folding it, placing it in an envelope, sealing it, addressing it, finding the stamp, and walking it out to the mailbox.
Today, it’s just…
Another one of my writing heroes, Anne Lamott, coined the brilliant and profound concept of the “shitty first draft” in one of the greatest essays in one of the greatest writing books ever written, Bird by Bird.
“For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts. ”
— Anne Lamott
Here’s what I derive from all of this…
All we’re seeing, when we look online, is a vast sea of people’s shitty first drafts.
Shitty first drafts compose the wide majority of my Facebook feed, Twitter feed, Newsfeed, and every other feed within a moment’s reach in my pocket. Soon, my entire headspace is full of the worst parts of the people around me.
What’s nice is, we can use the algorithms to our advantage here. We can unsubscribe, unfollow, and opt-out of the people and organizations that add to the needless unsettling noise. It’s possible to make your feeds a place of relative joy and serenity, but it takes work. It takes constant weeding out and pruning. And it takes constantly squashing the ego that wants to join those who are adamant to echo the lowest groans of our inner dialogue that only separate us from our neighbors.
We can do better. We need to be able to let things sit. I pray that you and I can be emboldened to override that pundit impulse. To know that it’s okay not to have a knee-jerk response to every overworked journalist’s enraged knee-jerk responses from around the world. The only difference between them and us is that they’re profiting from it.
Personally, I hope to edit more. I hope to maybe slow down the pace. To let things marinate before hitting publish. To give myself and you, dear reader, the luxury of words that have been worked on by empathy and the Spirit over time.
Today, I pray that I can be freed from the pundit impulse. I pray that I can boldly embrace the shitty first (and second, third, fourth…) draft knowing full well that my drawer (digital or physical) is the best place for a thought as it falls out of my ego’s mouth. I pray that I can write daily but press publish only when I’ve let the words sit and have revised the humanity back into them.
May God remove my limiting loftiness and bring me closer to the vein of humanity that runs through all of the most sacred human discourse.