A Missing Narrative

Last week I finally published my 2023 year in review. Ever since then, I've been struggling to make much progress on, well, just about anything. After three weeks of serious productivity – I've redesigned my study; sorted out our downstairs cabinets; cleared several boxes; written multiple articles – I've come screaming to a halt. Normally, hitting publish unlocks my creativity. This time, it killed it.

I've not really told anyone that about that article. There's been no social media posts, no messages to friends. I haven't even really talked about it with Alison. It's almost as if I'm ashamed of it.

I've been telling myself that this is because I want to add photos to it, or that I need to write the follow-up piece about my goals for 2024, or maybe I need to just re-check the spelling. If I do all of that, then it'll feel done. Then it'll feel rewarding. Then I'll be proud.

But I'm beginning to suspect something else is at play. I worked on that article for three weeks. I like a lot of what I wrote. It does the things I set out for it to do. So what's the problem?

Last night, I was reading some of Terry Pratchett's non-fiction short writings (as collected in A Slip of the Keyboard), and a thought came to me. Like all good thoughts, it snowballed quite quickly into a couple of paragraphs, and then a rough draft. And like all such insights, it occurred at an exceptionally inopportune moment: in this case, around 3am. But it was a good thought, so I pulled out my phone and made a note of it. And here it is:

The narrative is missing.

In other words, the format was wrong. Or at least, no longer right. Because I've used this format before – or something very like it – and had no problems with it. Many other people use this format to great effect; I see it all over the place at this time of year. But I don't think it works for me any more.

I last wrote a "year in review" post at the end of 2021. I often struggle with rereading my own words, but I've always enjoyed revisiting that particular piece. There are things I don't like about it, for sure – chiefly that the goals section feels tacked on, which is why I removed it this year. But the writing flows. It feels good to read. It has a clear beginning, middle, and end. In other words; it has a narrative!

Maybe the 2023 review is a little too fresh in my mind; maybe it's too soon to really evaluate it. But I don't think I'll ever get the same enjoyment out of rereading it. It reads like a checklist, probably because that's what it is. I wrote down a bunch of subheadings and sketched them out individually, then rewrote them all together into something vaguely coherent. It was a good structure for working out what I wanted to write about and include. But it was a bad structure for forming any kind of narrative. Sure, there are bridging phrases and a certain hint of flow. But it's still a checklist, at heart. And checklists are boring.

Pratchett would have understood that immediately. He was big on narrative. He had a particular knack for it. And he often wrote about the nature of story-telling in his non-fiction articles. I think that common theme in his writing helped me finally gain some clarity about my own.

I'm not going to go back and rewrite it. (At least, I don't plan to do so right at this moment.) But I thought it was worth jotting these thoughts down for 2025. For when I'm writing up my review of the current year. Perhaps I can learn from this mistake. And, in the meantime, hopefully identifying why I'm unhappy about that article will help pull me out of this funk. Time is marching on, after all, and I've got quite a lot to be getting on with. So here's hoping 🤞[1]

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  • <p>Ever spend weeks writing something, hit publish, and then feel completely unsatisfied. That's what just happened to me. So I figured I'd try to work out why.</p>
  • Murray Adcock.
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