New Year’s writing resolutions

What I will try to improve in 2023

Artillery Row

Happy New Year! We at The Critic hope that all our readers, and all of their loved ones, will enjoy a marvellous 2023.

The start of a new year is of course a time for resolutions. Some of us have weight to lose. Some of us have weight to gain. Some of us have bad habits to break and good ones to acquire.

I have no damn idea how to deliver good healthcare outcomes

Here, I’m going to change tack. What resolutions could I make as an opinion commentator? If you read The Critic I hope you enjoy opinion commentary — if you are not an opinion commentator yourself — but I’m also sure you often find it really annoying. 

What resolutions could we make to do better?

1. I will not have an opinion on everything.

Do you remember “West Elm Caleb”? I barely do. He was some fellow in the USA who had slept with and subsequently “ghosted” various women who began complaining about him on TikTok. In January 2022, the subject stirred up a lot of discourse online. I wrote a piece about it, but I can’t remember for the life of me what I said. What opinion did I have? I don’t remember. Perhaps it was a good one, for all I know, but from the absolute blank that I’ve been drawing, I suspect that it wasn’t. Frankly, from the fact that I don’t even recall a lot about the case itself, I suspect I didn’t really care about it.

Sometimes — and this applies to everyone, not just to people in the strange position of being paid to write about politics — it feels like we need to have a take on everything. What’s your opinion on Ukraine? On Elon Musk? On Bitcoin? On The Glass Onion? On Andrew Tate being arrested? Serving up a lot of half-baked opinions is not just bad in itself — it means that in our rush to keep up with the news cycle we never have the time to develop broader, deeper, calmer perspectives. I’ll try to do less of this in 2023 — though admittedly if I didn’t have the deranged compulsion to develop ten different opinions at once, well, I wouldn’t be here in the first place.

2. I will not pretend to know more than I do.

Sometimes I want to write about the NHS. It needs reform! For all of our hashtags and COVID-era clapping, it does a woeful job. The stats prove this, but so does everything else I hear about it. My mum was repeatedly misdiagnosed when she was suffering from the cancer that led to her death. A friend of mine ended up seeking private healthcare in Poland because the treatment he was given in the UK was so bad. Why don’t I write about it? Well, because I have no damn idea about how to deliver good healthcare outcomes. Apparently the French healthcare model is better than the UK’s, but the only French model I know about is Carla Bruni. This is embarrassing to admit, but not as embarrassing as it would be if I mouthed off about solutions without knowing the first thing about the subject. 

Why don’t you learn about it then? Good question. Noted.

3. I will not mistake opinions for events.

Did you read what X said about Ukraine? Did you read what Y said about COVID? Did you read what Z said about the end of the world?

The problem comes when people conflate perspectives with events

Opinion commentary is a kind of conversation. If you want to look at that in a romantic way, you can suggest that it is a means of testing ideas. If you want to look at it in a cynical way, you can propose that people arguing provides cheap entertainment. In either case, there’s nothing wrong with debating each other’s perspectives on different events. The problem comes when people conflate the perspectives with the events — as if instead of worrying about Russian drones, Ukrainian soldiers are worrying about what James Q. Dumbass said about them in the Timesday Sun, or if instead of worrying about COVID the Chinese people are worrying about what Jane Q. Dumbass said about them in the State Newsman.

4. I will read more books.

I can’t speak for anyone else but once I have read newspapers, and magazines, and Substacks, and tweets — my God, the tweets — there can be little time for books. It isn’t good enough. 

To be clear, there’s no essential magic to books. Many articles say a lot more than many books. Many tweets say a lot more than many books. If you want deeper knowledge of history, sociology, science, et cetera, there’s really no replacement. Otherwise, Bob ends up swiping a claim from Tom, who misremembered a factoid from Jim, who misread a claim from Paul, who read a book.

5. I will not steal ideas from small accounts online

I hope I don’t do this, but it can be tempting. It’s a temptation a lot of commentators yield to. An anonymous person, who could be a 21-year-old in Leeds or a 58-year-old in Sidmouth, writes an interesting post on Twitter or Substack that gets a few dozen retweets. Before you know it, their ideas are appearing in columns under different and substantially better known names — just not expressed as well.

6. I will not be boring

This is the hardest to accomplish because tediousness is in the eye of the beholder. Also, some people are just naturally dull. They can’t change that any more than a short man can be tall. You know whom I’m talking about.

We can do more or less to try. We can write about the things we’re really interested in. We can learn as much as possible and pass it on. We can avoid recycling thoughts and phrases (except where relevant). We can try to fill our prose with energy rather than weighing it down with clichès, jargon and rhetorical fluff.

I am sure I will break most of these resolutions now and again. That’s New Year’s resolutions for you. But I’ll do my best to bring you a wonderful 2023.

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