Being a columnist is a slaggy occupation. Writing a column and putting your name on it is basically the same as going out for the night wearing a top and persona that says YOU WANT ME? I WANT YOU…. To read me… 

Come on, read me. It can feel a bit selfish – to me, anyway – writing a column. In my case, my columns published under the umbrella ‘Sublime Drizzlings’ have no clear theme other than ‘I thought about this and then this column FELL OUT OF MY HEAD.’ Really, my theme is ‘what I like to look at, think about, and write about’, and the key feature uniting all those verbs is: me. 

I’ve got over this. It’s fine to be plopping my opinions into a trusty shape and shipping them across the internet if I like writing it and you like reading it. But after some time has passed, the excitement that I’ve had a thought or experience that might be worth writing about changes a bit. It changes into O God I Am Having A Thought Or Experience – I Better Flipping Write About It! 

I appreciate the irony of all this. I am writing a column about writing columns; it’s meta, it’s postmodern, it’s overdone. But I feel it is an experience that links to this fair old digital age, the need to record, shape and re-present rather than just experiencing.

Everyone must know that I had a fun time in Michaelmas, so I must post a Michaelmas ‘dump’. You look nice in that one, you should put it on your Instagram story with 10 seconds of Golden Brown by The Stranglers. That train journey was funny – you should write about it. 

This came to me at Christmas, when I felt the sudden need to scrapbook. It was a fury. All the physical mementos of my last year in Oxford simply HAD to be in chronological order. When showing it to my mum, I realised that these remaining objects gave a completely incomplete picture of my year. If my scrapbook was a museum, it needed an information board. 

The narrative created by the scrapbook looked complete, but it was massively gappy. My scrapbook was made with all the bits of my year I had remaining: tickets, napkins, postcards.  But in column writing, selecting which bits to shape into a flowing narrative is completely up to you. What will be funny? What will keep me relevant? What do I want to write? The picture of me painted by my columns has big gaps all over. I know people largely aren’t reading columns parasocially, trying to get closer to the person writing by reading the person’s produce. But a part of the person goes into the column and, after all, it is uniquely about their way of seeing, their experiences, and their style. As aforementioned, it is slaggy. 

So far, for me (a vain amateur), being a columnist appears to be equivalent to shouting ‘hot take!’ every week for the rest of your life and saying a) something deeply self centred or b) something everyone already knows (but with more metaphors). So how do you make that original? Style. But style without substance? Eventually… boring! 

So, we have returned to the niggle. It goes: I am experiencing something – fabulous! I wonder if this experience would make a new column. What would be funny to open the column with? – I realise I have mentally left the experience. 

Here I have stopped being present, and have tried to write the experience while it is still happening. Sometimes I feel a need to get everything down, to churn experience into butter and lay it thick on the toast-page. Such panic/terror/drive creates metaphors like this one. Even experience from the past can be mined, re-formed and carefully shaped into a nice, readable package and with only a shred of the original sentiment. Is nothing sacred? I have thought in my more serious moments. But more realistically, how much to reveal? My boyfriend? My hometown? My mum’s thoughts? When serious adults are serious columnists, do they not write about their children, even unnamed, although they’re such a major part of their thinking and life? 

My mum sent me one of Alan Coren’s columns, ‘Road Rage’, from Chocolate and Cuckoo Clocks, featuring a tale about his children. During heavy rain Mr and Mrs Coren could not close the car roof because the cot of their son, ‘The Times columnist’, was in the way. “It didn’t bother him, because he knew he would get at least three paragraphs out of it some day, but it bothered us.” Now I am not a real writer like Mr Coren. I don’t write to a word count, for a deadline, for money. But I do find myself thinking: will I get a column out of this? Can I create an anecdote of this experience not yet lived? 

James McAvoy’s character in Bright Young Things is a journalist, and the continuation of his career depends on reporting on and getting pictures of a single party. But firstly he must get a ticket to it. ‘If I miss this party I may as well put an end to it all’ he says, which he later does. 

When I first wrote this quote down in Hilary term 2022 I thought ooo, that is very me in sixth form. Then I thought, it sounds like he’s in the wrong kind of writing peril. The often pleasurable feeling of ‘I need to get this down right now, I have seven good phrases, I must catch this sentence before it disintegrates into less than the sum of its parts’ has become ‘argh I must stay current and funny and if no one likes my writing they don’t like me’. I know he’s a journalist and he needs the inside scoop but, in my inexperienced opinion, I think columning is different. It’s a bit like an Instagram post, a re-shaped snapshot of personality that is all about how you see and a position that, if it is to be successful, requires you to have a following for your style. A column is self-centred verve, a repackaging of what you’ve found amusing and thought about of late, whereas on Instagram it is what you’ve seen.

But isn’t that a privilege! To think that I might write about something I found amusing, and people might want to read it! It is a vanity, but for a job! What a job! I suppose like all jobs, having to do it would make it less fun. But maybe I do want to do it… 

I have started this column so many times. I started it in Hilary 2022 in fact. The column about columns. So I have reworked some of those startings, and they have become middles. I rarely get rid of sentences and ideas I’ve removed from a column – they get kept on a document of scraps where maybe they will compost and the words will again get tethered to an idea. And I suppose it would be very meta to leave this unfinished, so that’s –