S08E05: what value my words?

So. The last one of these sparked a bit of a conversation. I discovered that an automated aggregator was wholesale copying my blog (and presumably the blogs of everyone else there) from the Web Of Weeknotes site, and it didn’t sit well with me. I reacted badly to it, and I’m grateful to folks who were patient in explaining why and how it had happened.

I’ve been struggling to write this post since. I’ve been struggling because I reacted very strongly. I find it best to look at that reaction for a little while and work out where it’s come from.

I didn’t think I was possessive about my words until this week. I write professionally. I write code and I write letters and I write speeches, and all of them are regularly critiqued and re-written. Sometimes for the better, oftentimes not – but I have nonetheless sat happily by, punched my card at the end of the day, and not thought of it again.

I write a lot on the internet. I’ve got an email sign-up box, which means people I’ve never met can read my words on their devices, wherever they are. I don’t charge for them and I don’t run ads, so I’m not even missing out on potential income.

I also know for a fact that my writing is quite good – a strong 8 out of 10, if I were to self-assess – and that it has on occasion helped other people to discover or realise or come to terms with something. That’s something to be celebrated, and insisting on keeping my words specifically where they are – when it costs me nothing but clout and ego to let them go! – indicates uncomfortably what my “even over” is.

The last thing to say is that everything I have to say is embroidery on the edge of a tapestry that has been shaped by many other hands. My autism results in me reading something like 2 or 3 times more than most people, and consequently I’ve read more good and bad writing in my 30 years than I think some people will in entire lifetimes. My autism counts beats and knows the rhythms of the right phrase. It is my skilled and invisible dance partner. It is not a skill I have long-laboured for.

And even those skills that I have long-laboured over: I earn more than I need from them. When people tell the story of Picasso doodling for five seconds on a napkin and charging $30,000 because it “took a lifetime” I think, no it didn’t. It took five seconds – or it took a village of lifetimes. Whence that napkin, Picasso? Did you make it yourself? And that coffee? And that pencil? Yeah, it took you a lifetime of learning – a lifetime you could spend learning because other people were making sure you had napkins, and pencils, and coffee. And providing blood for your art, you contemptible twat.

This might sound somewhat communist and suspicious to you, and I can offer the following response: yes.

And yet.

There is something deep down in me that rebels against someone just wholesale re-posting something I’ve written. Once upon a time I’d have seized the opportunity to get that kind of free exposure. A terrible, terrible poem I wrote to score an internship was reprinted in Private Eye with a comment that was gently scathing. I was absolutely thrilled – though as I write this, I wonder who it was in that particular PR firm who leaked it to that esteemed organ.

My first reaction was fundamentally quite wrong, I think. I didn’t start writing my weeknotes to build a brand. If people get something from my writing, that is a Good Thing. If people seek me out for more writing, that would be a Nice Thing. But I would rather what I said was out there, even over being named.

So from here on in, everything I write here is licensed under Creative Commons. Help yourself.

After all, you helped me write it in the first place.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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