How Can I Get Over the 'I Wrote a Thing' Mentality?
There's a phrase that my dad has spouted so much throughout my lifetime that it is now etched into my brain: 'big mouths cost lives.' Delivered in a certain context, uttered in Dad's bellowing cockney tones, it's a phrase that carries a great deal of resonance. The negative connotations of drawing too much attention to yourself (or, to put it less tactfully, being a bit of a gobshite) have stuck with me, leaving me feeling mortified whenever I have to talk about myself at great length. My most traumatising childhood memories stem from those terrible 'team building' exercises at the beginning of the school year, wherein you're forced to face your similarly spotty peers and blurt out an 'interesting or unusual' fact about yourself. I'm definitely not alone in feeling this way: being self-deprecating and awkward are inherently British traits.
However, as someone trying to forge a career in writing (go ahead and laugh at my youthful optimism), my aversion to talking about myself has proved to be a struggle. I'm already contradicting myself by writing this blog post but, honestly, I am a private person. I'm not going to go into the whys and wherefores of it, but it takes me a while to open up to people. Pouring my heart out on the internet, then, feels jarring. I hate the idea of coming across as some effusive, over-confident gal when, in reality, I lose a lot of sleep worrying about whether my friends/colleagues/family members/pets actually like me. As a freelancer, my course of action when submitting pieces to commissioning editors is very much a case of reading through my work, then re-reading it, then re-reading my re-read and re-reading it again until I am confident that I haven't overexposed myself with too many descriptive adjectives. Sometimes I read my published work and cringe because I feel I've inadvertently presented myself as a dick.
When I first started putting my writing on the internet, I didn't share it at all because – somewhat tragically, in hindsight – I was worried about what people would think of me. I was worried that my friends would laugh at me because, while they were spending their evenings revising for GCSEs, I was avoiding revision by spending time writing about things I'd seen in Vogue. I was worried that my parents, who are scared of technology, would think I was weird for telling a bunch of strangers which dresses and records I wanted to buy with my pocket money. Even now, the thought of certain people reading my self-absorbed streams of consciousness makes me feel uncomfortable.
This fear of being judged is totally human, of course, and certainly not specific to any profession or gender, though being young and female does leave you feeling particularly exposed at times. As The Guardian's huge report on its comments section summarises, "articles written by women attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men, regardless of what the article is about." The report goes on to reveal other glaringly obvious facts, most notably that fashion writers are more likely to receive inappropriate comments on their work than, say, someone writing about sports or politics. As long as the Daily Mail Fashion Finder exists, fashion writing will always be typified by Kardashian wardrobe analysis and pointers on 'How to wear' something (insider tip: just pull it on over your body and, unless it's strapless, it will tend to sit where it's supposed to), and I've learnt the hard way that a lot of people automatically think you are vapid because you like to write about clothes. As Pandora Sykes says, "Just because I can report on the seasonal iterations of a denim hem at length (pun intended) and have a raging Gucci habit and probably, whether or not they get uploaded onto the internet, take a photo of myself/shoes every day, doesn’t mean that I think that there is nothing in this world more important than fashion."
It's not fashion's association with being harebrained that bothers me, though. It's human to assume and presume, and there aren't any points I can make about this issue that haven't already been covered in the hordes of pre-existing essays by inflamed fashion journos who want to be taken seriously. I'm tired of feeling awkward about sharing things on the internet. Sometimes I just want to write a massive blog post about having a crap week but then I realise I just can't, lest someone accuses me of being a self-absorbed, whiney millennial who needs to get a grip and stop sharing the minutiae of her life. Then I write about fashion and let my personal opinions slip into my prose too much and, suddenly, it's all about me, me, me. Again.
One reaction to the cult of oversharing is to simply not participate in it. But when you want to make a career out of being creative and you can't rely on nepotism to give you a leg up, you need to share your work online. You also need to do it with conviction. It's hard, though. When I do find the guts to share my own work on Twitter, I cannot ever bring myself to say, "Please read this piece I wrote! I'm really proud of it." Instead, along with other 20-somethings who want to call themselves writers but are too scared to do so in case they are exposed for their terrible writing, I will post the link along with some spin on the now-ubiquitous "I wrote a thing." By categorising hundreds of carefully interwoven sentences as a mere 'thing' then, if it's crap and if nobody reads it, it doesn't really matter because I didn't care about it anyway. It was just a thing I wrote, guys... nothing to see here!
Imagine how ridiculous it would have seemed if Nora Ephron just 'wrote a thing'. There shouldn't be any shame in writing about things that you're passionate about – be it clothes, food, television, music, romance, sport, animals, education, or just your own silly-yet-glaringly-ordinary anecdotes – no matter how ridiculous other people might perceive them. It sucks to see Lena Dunham so often vilified for writing a brutally honest book about growing up and being female. It's a great shame that Melissa Broder – the writer behind the hugely popular @sosadtoday Twitter account and a book of essays of the same name – has been called out for 'faking' and 'exaggerating' the depression and anxiety that has plagued her since her early teens, all because she had the balls to express herself online and view her own situation with a sense of humour. If you didn't laugh then you'd cry, right?
I'll always love to write because, no matter how terrible and vacuous strangers on the internet might say my writing is, I love the catharsis of it. I can't make small talk to save my life and I'll never be the kind of person who can comfortably, soberly turn up to parties without knowing anyone. I can, however, write quite well about my awkward experiences, and express myself more elegantly – and honestly – through a pen and paper than I can through spoken words. It's difficult being introverted in a world full of extroverts; sometimes you want to scream just for the sake of making yourself heard. Like any art form, writing serves as an indomitable mouthpiece to people who feel they don't have a 'voice' (at least not one of prominence) in the real world. Writing gives me the opportunity to make myself heard, so I will continue to do it. I just have to learn to get past the 'I-wrote-a-thing' mentality. There shouldn't be any shame in doing something you love.