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Do our voices really matter?

By Insinq DatumPublished 5 months ago Updated 4 months ago 10 min read
Photo by Michal Czyz on Unsplash

2024 is a year of looking forward, of speaking forth your truth, and it is a year of ultimately being heard. The only question is this: what is the story that you wish to dream up and live out?

This year, I aspire to become the kind of writer who speaks up, but also one who listens, and consequently I hope to develop into an artist who uses his way with words to empower other creators at the same time as I contribute towards the elevation of storytelling and poetry to the sorts of cultural heights to which they once attained.

Over the year of 2023, I've come to notice a kind of mild dissatisfaction clinging like barnacles to the bottom of my boots as I walk through the digital halls of Vocal. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what's causing it, and it's not at all clear that some of it isn't about myself, dissatisfaction with what I've achieved since I joined the platform.

I feel, as I'm sure many others do, that my work is not really appreciated by other readers and that, no matter how much effort I put in to craft my challenge entries, they never seem to be of a high enough quality to qualify even for a runner-up place. It's disheartening, especially because deep within my heart I know that my destiny revolves around writing and thinking, which for me are intertwined entities.

Maybe that's one of the reasons that I only published six or seven pieces over the last year, with more than half of those being therapeutic fragments of larger works. Despite having maintained my Vocal+ subscription all this time, I entered only one challenge during that entire time, and that is part of what I wanted to talk about in this article today, because I don't want to just talk about what my own goals are for this year on Vocal, but also what Vocal's goals are for this year, and whether they are going to grow into the kind of company that really lives up to their name.

In 2024, I want to get serious about my writing, to really cultivate a degree of mindful awareness surrounding who I am as a writer, and who it is that I wish to become. I think these kinds of enterprises however are best undertaken at both the micro and the macro scale, and as a consequence what I want to do is to invite Vocal to share in the developmental transformation I plan for myself by being receptive to some of the critical observations and suggested changes which are contained at the tail end of this submission.

This year, I aim to challenge myself to expand beyond the limited domain of familiar techniques and habituated skills, and therefore I plan to write more fiction and perform more experiments with writing, so that I can better master the craft and perfect my understanding of the ancient art of spinning yarns. I intend to explore more ways of writing poetry, and in particular I am looking forward to trying to discover a way of writing free verse poetry that I can feel excited about honing.

I intend to practice writing more consistently, as being regularly and reliably productive is one of the the biggest weaknesses within my creative process. To that effect, I am aiming to publish at least two pieces of writing per week, and hopefully I will be able to work my way up to writing for an hour each day so that a backlog of completed works might accumulate that would provide a buffer during periods of writer's block to ensure that I can still meet my monthly publishing goals.

I plan to practice writing fantasy and science fiction, and through this practice I hope to try to find my voice properly in my favourite genre, visionary fiction. I wish to read writing that inspires me and awes me, and to find a way to learn from the people who are capable of creating such numinous masterpieces. I want to read more poetry, and to open myself up to different techniques and styles so that I can cure myself of the rigidity of my own voice. I am going to discover living literature, and manifest it for all to see; it's just a matter of time.

This year, I will ensure that I am living fully in-synq with my destiny, and that includes helping Vocal to realize its potential as an accessible, modern platform for poets, storytellers and scholars - the ideal medium for writers, young and old, in other words. I think Vocal is great, but I think it could be better if the company realized that their branding comes implicitly with a mission, namely to amplify neglected voices and ensure that everyone's stories get a chance at the fireside. Could we do better?

In 2024, I promise to manifest my voice with more clarity and resonance than ever before, and I want Vocal to hear me, because I happen to have great ideas. It would be great if there was a way for creators to make suggestions for how to make Vocal better; one of the things I would love for Vocal to add is a philosophy or deep thought genre (perhaps called Ponder - I love names so I could probably come up with a cracker) because at the moment a lot of my essays are only published on Medium, which I would regard as Vocal's most direct competitor. I want to help Vocal to grow into the best platform it can be, and to that end I have a series of suggestions in addition to the aforementioned one.

The first and most important recommendation involves a comparison to a feature on Medium, which however you have to be a member to take advantage of, namely the 'listen' function that runs the piece of writing through a text-to-speech model so that the user can listen to rather than read the work. Now, this is a relatively clever feature, if a little clunky, but what I want to suggest for Vocal today has the potential to revolutionize their business model and show a genuine commitment to providing a platform that is focused on adapating to the needs of the creatives who use it. Instead of text-to-speech, if Vocal could provide a built-in way for writers to upload a recording of themselves reading out their work, then the platform really might start living up to the name 'Vocal'.

This, I think, is extremely important because - especially for poetry, although for other forms of writing as well - the way in which a piece is recited makes a big difference in the impact of the words, and oftentimes I have found that others do not quite know how to read my poetry. When I read it, a wholly different effect is achieved, and I would like to be able to provide for readers of my work a recording of mine own voice enunciating and emphasizing when and where appropriate to ensure the utmost clarity.

This feature could be called "Vocalization" and would be a way for Vocal to not only rival Medium, but to pull ahead in a certain (I would say quite important) respect.

The second recommendation that I wish to make is equally as important for my own satisfaction at least, and that is to look into reworking the way Vocal does formatting, because it is VERY difficult to use for poetry. Due to the simple fact that I can't shift+enter to go straight underneath, every single new line requires a sizeable break, as if I were trying to start a new paragraph. This means that when I actually do get to the part where I want to show a break between verses, rather than lines, I have to use the horribly clumsy method of explicitly marking the break with a character (I typically use an 'x'). This is extremely counter-intuitive and would be very easy to fix.

Thirdly and importantly, there should be a feature on Vocal that would enable me to suggest edits to someone else's piece of writing. This might be complex to develop to begin with, but I think provides an important interface or point of contact through which individual writers can give each other constructive feedback on the mechanics of writing, as well as simple corrective suggestions as to punctuation, grammar or choice of words. Quora used to have such a system, and the way it worked was that for simple correctives, you (the author) would just press a tick or a cross to approve or deny the suggested edit, and the interaction didn't need to be any more complicated than that.

Fourthly, I think there needs to be some serious thought put into the mechanics of curation. I want to read more, but I don't feel that Vocal as a platform does a good job of serving me up with stories, poetry and thoughtful articles or essays which I would be interested in investing with my time. Two possible resolutions immediately occur to me, both of which involve comparing Vocal once again with competitors; Medium has a system called publications which I think Vocal would do well to consider emulating in some respects, because it enables individual community members to create hubs concentrating around certain themes and to curate for content along dual lines of quality and subject matter.

Similarly, I think that Vocal relies too heavily on the feed which appears to users when they are actually on the website; Medium goes one step further and allows you to subscribe to get an email when certain creators post, and Quora has an even more innovative strategy they call "Quora Digest" which basically recommends to you a list of ten items that the algorithm thinks you might be interested in, weekly. These are all possibilities that could be explored, but there are plenty more out there; what's important is that Vocal understands that curation is a really important way of retaining readership and stimulating engagement, and it also helps to reward quality writing.

My fifth recommendation is that Vocal should start an official Discord server so that, without their having to build any extra technical infrastructure, there could be a hub for writers and readers who use Vocal to gather together and discuss challenges, share advice and swap feedback. This already happens to some degree in terms of Facebook communities, but these are often run by random people and therefore cannot be leveraged to support the Vocal brand or promote official events and so on. With a discord server, there would be a greatly increased ability to solicit feedback from the userbase as well as a controlled and mediated setting in which people would be able to promote their own work.

Finally, I wanted to discuss challenges and more particularly, sponsorships. I mentioned earlier in the article that although I've stayed subscribed to Vocal+ over the entire last year, I have only entered one challenge, and even that entry was just a bit of fun. Part of the reason for that, I think, is that a lot of the challenges just haven't interested me in terms of the prompt or the style, and in combination with this, there hasn't been enough of an incentive to stretch myself. I think this latter reason is perhaps the most significant element, since the big prize pools were what drew me to Vocal to begin with, although obviously that kind of strategy couldn't last forever. I think however that the pendulum has now swung a bit too far in the other direction, and that this challenge could be the beginning of a swing back.

The challenge sponsorships were, in my opinion, the biggest edge that Vocal had over Medium, and now that those have died off I imagine that membership has been gradually declining, despite the fact that Vocal continues to allocate a budget for regular-ish events of a more modest calibre. The point, however, is surely the opportunity that such regular challenges provide for the writers, right? That is, what's important is the opportunity to challenge oneself, to step outside of one's comfort zone and try something new - the chance to expand one's capabilities. This I wholeheartedly agree with, however I must confess that I find myself disappointed with the conviction shown by Vocal (the company) because the budget which has been allocated for events is either insufficient or being improperly allocated. As such, I have a sixth recommendation to make.

I think there should be, every two to three months, a 'landmark' event, which is basically an event with an inflated prize pool, ideally through a more modest sponsorship that is relevant to your brand identity, and ideally with a theme or topic prompt that similarly reflects both the company who is sponsoring the challenge as well as Vocal themselves. If you wish to retain Vocal+ members you need to offer them some kind of consistency in terms of having a shot to win big off their merit as a writer. That's the 'pull' of the challenge, after all, and amplifying this pull strategically for certain occasions and events seem to me altogether prudent.

Speaking for myself at least, $500 is simply not enough to generate my interest unless I am genuinely inspired by the challenge, feel some resonance with the prompt or already have a piece of work that I could easily tailor to fit the specifications of the task at hand. In order to fulfil that goal of incentivizing writers to challenge themselves, in order to make Vocal into THE platform for writers to use not only to share their work, but to improve their skills, a bigger hook is required.

I'm hoping that some of the challenge prompts this year might be more reflective or philosophical, which would be really great, but in the absence of that, eccentric or esoteric themes would be an interesting starting place for poetry or fiction. I am also hoping that Vocal will take on board my idea of landmark challenges - challenge #200 is an encouraging start - because if the prize is substantial then it compels writers to challenge themselves - case in point, I pushed myself to get this done in time, and now that the ball is rolling... This could be the thing that helps me to break the minor writer's block I've been experiencing!

Ultimately though, what I want from Vocal as a company is to grow together with the community of writers who use Vocal as a platform to share their dreams, their musings and their stories.

By the end of 2024, what I hope to see in Vocal is what I hope to see in myself: positive transformation, growth and movement towards a future of treasuring mythologems and those who create them properly once more.

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About the Creator

Insinq Datum

I'm an aspiring poet, author and philosopher. I run a 5000+ debating community on Discord and a couple of Youtube channels, one related to the Discord server and one related to my work as a philosopher. I am also the author of DMTheory.

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Comments (2)

  • sleepy drafts5 months ago

    I think this article brings up some very thought-provoking points. You make your arguments clearly and succinctly and provide good reasons to back them up. This was very well-written and I'm looking forward to reading more of your work in the new year. 😊

  • Good luck with your goals going forward. I treat challenges as prompts, but being in V+ doubles your pay per read which is a great benefit

Insinq DatumWritten by Insinq Datum

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