Wednesday, September 28, 2016

On Writing, Not Writing (and writing again)

I started this blog four and a half years ago. Time flies, eh? Over that time I hope I’ve produced a number of worthwhile, interesting and (perhaps, even) important pieces of writing. I’m delighted that so many people have visited the site, although my stats hardly set the internet ablaze. This is not surprising – a Marxist writing about sport is hardly going to draw the numbers of a page dedicated to porn or cat memes. Yet over the last couple of years I have been writing less and less. Indeed, my output over that time has slipped to such a degree that there are now rumours Theresa May is going to lay me off and sell the site to a Chinese consortium. So what do I do with the blog now?

There was never anything as pathetically managerial as a mission statement but the blog’s premise was simple enough: the intersection of sport and politics was something worth exploring. This in itself was nothing new – others have been doing something similar for a good long while. Still, I felt that I had something to say, even if I wasn’t entirely sure what that was. “How do I know what I think,” asked E.M. Forster, “until I see what I say?”

This personal desire to write was also coupled to a definite political angle. I passionately believe that those of us on the left should have something to say about sport. Millions of working class people play and watch sport so we should be able to offer more than a lazy critique denouncing playful competition as a mirror image of the workings of capitalism. While I’m not arguing for socialists to have a line on half-and-half scarves (they’re wrong) we should, at least, have something to say about sporting issues.

More than that I wanted to produce intelligent and accessible writing about sport. The criticism of Marxism as largely unintelligible to the ‘ordinary’ worker is, like most bullshit, a lie built around a kernel of truth. The left does, at times, feel as though it is speaking to itself with in-house technical jargon and references to long-forgotten texts – but this is nowhere near as bad as one might believe. This blog was an attempt to connect with the sports fan that reads. I am most proud of the fact that this blog has been an open space for anyone on the left to post their thoughts on sport.

Yet I have always found writing incredibly hard. Even the most basic pieces seem to consume an inordinate amount of time and leave me emotionally drained. The available space required to write – both mentally and physically – has diminished. Unable to respond quickly to the big story of the day, and without the headspace required for longer pieces, the blog has dwindled to dormant. Somewhat ironically, given that my impact on ‘the left’ has been just the low side of negligible, the blog had an enormous, unexpected, impact on my life and career. Enough people read my work that I was asked to contribute to books, journals, magazines and a variety of websites. This in turn led to a job teaching the history and sociology of sport at a university in London. Oddly this impacted upon my writing.

Reading and writing are now a means to an end, directed to the production of lectures and slideshows. Add to this the usual slings and arrows, and the birth of my daughter, and one begins to understand why I haven’t blogged since the death of Johann Cruyff. Life, I guess, is what happens when you’re busy making blogging plans.  On the plus-side I now have a skill-set that includes the ability to knock-up a PowerPoint presentation on the train and change a nappy on a park bench.

The less I wrote, the less I found myself wanting to write; the less I wanted to write, the more I doubted my ability to write. This has to change. I find myself wanting to write again. More importantly, I need to write again. Soon I start a PhD with De Montfort University, researching the history of sport on commercial television. Writing regularly is required. Rather than leave this blog dormant there is a change of direction. Instead of starting a new blog, Inside Left will be home to my research and thoughts on that process. While this doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll only post PhD related content, it stands to reason that there will be less in the way of current affairs and politics. And there’ll probably be fewer jokes, which, on reflection, is probably a good thing. Think of it as a strategic repositioning in the climate of post-Brexit uncertainty. Or something.

Apologies, then, for a self-indulgent, self-absorbed posting, though I hope it serves its function. Twenty years ago I asked the jockey-turned-novelist, Dick Francis, for the one tip he would pass on to every aspiring writer. “Know your subject,” he replied. Currently I know more about the frustrations of not writing – and how daunting it is to write again – than anything else. Purpose and habit have to be renewed. As another sportsman, who, like Francis, saw an inexplicable slip clutch defeat from the jaws of victory, once said, “We go again.”