So You Want To Write For The Internet? A Survival Guide For The Newbie

Be authentic. Be vulnerable. AND self-deprecate. That is the mantra.

Photo by istock

I’ve been clanking my sore, tired fingers against a computer-keyboard, typing my life away, publishing the most raw, intimate details of my life on the internet since I was a LiveJournal blogging 15-year old in 2001.  

For those of you too young (or too old) to know what LiveJournal is, kindly allow me to school you, honey: LiveJournal was the *original* blog, in fact, it’s a platform so old-school that the term “blog” had yet to exist (does everyone want to rip the flesh off their bodies and run for the hills, skinless, when they hear the word “blog”? Or is it just me?)

LiveJournal, which became popular in the early 2000s, delicately rode off the distressed coattails of the classic angst of the 90s (it was all faded flannels and crumpled cigarettes lazily hanging out of dry pouty lips). LiveJournal was a digital “journal” that sad teens across the country used to detail their everyday sorrows, crushes and (at least in my case) drug and alcohol use. Our parents weren’t savvy enough to know about LiveJournal, for this was back when anyone over the age of 40 needed to call an emergency help hotline in order to navigate checking their emails, let alone attempt to search for their punk kid’s mysterious journal lingering somewhere deep in the depths of the scary interwebs.

My scenester friends dutifully updated their LiveJournals at least twice a week. Me, on the other hand? I updated my LJ (that’s what we called it) Every. Single. Day. My LiveJournal was f*cking legendary among punk boys, depressed goths, cigarette smoking girls with eating disorders, and the discretely damaged cheerleader types who low-key followed me and confessed to it years later whilst drunk over the holidays. “I lovvveeeddddddd your writing in highssschooool!” they would slur at me, sucking back their Vodka cranberries, when I would run into one of them at a local dive bar over Thanksgiving break. “Thanks,” I would reply cryptically, trying to keep up my dark high school persona, which is hard as I’m a ray of f*cking sunshine these days.

Photo by Owen Gould

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that if anyone understands the complicated, emotional-nuances of writing on the most savage platform on the planet (ie, the internet) it’s yours truly, babe. Not only have I been sharing my life online since my formative years, I’ve made a goddamn career out of it! I’ve published over 4,000 articles on the world-wide-web and for the better part of my adulthood have maintained full-time salaried jobs slamming my fingers against the keyboard.

Over the years, I’ve been forced by editors to write about stupid shit I didn’t (and still don’t) care about. I’ve been pressured to write click-bait and I’ve willingly written clit-bait. I’ve written long-winded articles about politics and I’ve written short blurbs about my shopping addiction. I’ve written essays I’m proud of and I’ve written essays that are so horrendous I vomit out laptops when I merely think about them.

I’ve had trolls. I’ve had popular Republican blogger trolls pen 5,000-word essays about what a dumb bitch I am. I’ve had mean slut-shaming girl trolls and I’ve had mean slut-shaming f*ck boy trolls. I’ve been sent death threats, rape threats, unsolicited dick pics, and spiritual threats (don’t ask). I’ve been called an “anorexic whore” about seventeen thousand times. I’ve been called a “deranged lesbian” by straight entities and a “fake lesbian” by surefire dykes.

It’s also been the greatest blessing of my life. I’ve also experienced the most glorious, warm, and wildly-connected parts of the digital underworld, as well as the grotesque, scary parts. Each day I receive a sweet, authentic message from a troubled young girl who tells me that my words somehow made her feel less alone in this cruel, cold world. I’ve been sent hand-written letters from young women in Juvenile Hall. I’ve had readers print out my articles and tape them to their bathroom mirrors to remind them to stay strong in the darkest hours. I’ve helped people come out! I have readers that have turned into close friends that I will care about for the rest of my life. I’ve been on talk shows. My work has been discussed on The View, The Talk and The Real. For better or for worse: Over 30 million people have read my work.

Almost every single day, someone messages me and asks me for advice about writing on the internet. Sometimes it’s advice on how to pitch their ideas to mainstream publications (which I’ll address in a different article), but more often than not, it’s young girls telling me they have something to say, and they want to get their voice out there. Whether it’s through starting their own blog, a public journal, or as a contributor to a digital publication, they have been struck with the irrepressible desire to express their thoughts and feelings to the outer world. I get it. Some people have been blessed (or cursed) with a wild need to be part of the conversation — and I’m one of them.

Which is why I decided to share some tips on how to survive the ugliest and most the beautiful, life-changing place on earth. The internet.

1. Own it. 

I think it’s *amazing* that you have the desire to share your writing. Especially if you’re a girl, a gay boy, an unpopular kid, a trans babe, a person of color, a queer babe or anyone who has ever been told by society, their family or their “friends” that their voice doesn’t matter. Listen to me when I say: You are so gorgeously strong for wanting to express yourself despite being endlessly torn down by the oppressive powers that be.

The internet is a massive space teeming with people who are ravenous to connect with people like you. Not everyone has been given the gorgeous gift of being a connector! But you, my budding writer friend, are a connector.

Your purpose is to connect with the otherwise disconnected. Everyone needs something to plug into, and now you’re the plug that a person whose parts didn’t fit in anywhere, will now fit into. That’s powerful. Own that power. Own that you have something to say that will provoke feeling in someone, somewhere. Own that you’re going to throw yourself out onto the most dangerous, yet life-changing platform of our time.

2. Repeat after me: Be authentic. Be vulnerable. AND self-deprecate. That is the mantra. 

If you want to cultivate a real, engaged audience that truly feels connected to you, you must be real. The days of the girls guzzling back green smoothies with their perfect, frizz-free ponytails and photoshopped abs are over, babe. We can smell the bullshit through the screen. We can feel the desperation behind the #BLESSED hashtags. Each time you falsely smile into a lens with manic, bleached eyeballs, we can intrinsically sense that you’re one “unfollow” away from being strapped to a gurney and committed to the local mental ward.

So drop all of that bullshit, sweet girl, and get real. The bullshit is off-putting. Falsified perfection is even more off-putting.

Tell us if your day sucked — chances are our day sucked too! Snap pictures of yourself in your kooky PJs, we’re tired of $400 leggings wrapped around photoshopped legs. Show us your pimples. Show us your scars. Speak to us exactly how you would speak to your best friend when you’re both shame-spiraling on the couch with brutal wine hangovers. Have a voice that’s so very much your own, that we wouldn’t even have to look at the author’s name after reading the first sentence. We’ll know it’s you immediately.

Be yourself. And if you don’t know who you are, take us on the epic journey of discovering who you are! In fact, a person admitting that they’re lost and working hard to find themselves again makes for far more interesting content than a person who thinks they have it all figured it out (Gag. No one has it all figured out).

Share with us the shiny highlights that brighten up your life, but also share with us the dark parts that threaten to snuff out the flickering light too. If you’re going to self-congratulate, that’s awesome. I love a person who can own how glittery their life is. But you’re going to come across wholly unlikeable and fake if you for every self-congratulatory post you write, you don’t also mention *something* you’re struggling with.

In short: be a real, whole person. A person who contradicts themselves. A wild juxtaposition. A person who loves and a person who loathes. A person who is hilarious and a person who sometimes wants to stick their head under the covers and hide.

3. Don’t get caught up in the meanness of it all.

The internet is a cold, cruel place. The internet is in its adolescence so you need to think of the people who reside online, as greasy-faced, hormonal middle school students who are super-insecure. Grown adults with thriving careers will call you names so immature and petty, you would think they were stuck in the fourth-grade sandbox, not sitting pretty at a polished desk in an air-conditioned Manhattan office. People will find one sentence you’ve written, take it out of context, and call you horrendous names over twitter. Their Mean-Girls-esque followers who live to bully and tear down creatives will proceed to harass you. Endlessly. People who don’t even read your words, just read titles, will make sweeping judgments about who you are. People will find your weak spot and twist their shiny blades right into the underbelly of it.

Your work — especially if it’s honest and bold (and if you happen to be a feminine presenting woman) — will trigger responses in people that will blow your mind. Don’t get caught up in the meanness. It can be very easy to want to do this back to people, especially to the people who have hurt you. You know the saying “hurt people, hurt people”? Think of the entire call-out culture of the internet as people who have been hurt. Badly. And now you’re their vulnerable target. Don’t make someone else your target just because someone made you theirs. You won’t survive, living like that. It will suck the joy out of all of the beauty that comes along with sharing your words on a public forum. Don’t worry about people who are nasty. Plug into the love. Focus your attention on connecting with your people.

Which leads me once again, to my next point:

4. Not everyone is going to like you and that’s totally OK. Find your unique audience and engage with them.

No one is going to speak to everyone. As a natural born people-pleaser, this was a hard lesson for me to wrap my brain around. When I would post a piece about say; my struggle with depression, and some people found it to be self-indulgent, non-authentic shit, I would feel as if someone had stabbed me in the chest with a switchblade. “Whhhyyy don’t they like itttttt? What ddiiiiddd I doooo wrong?” I would quiver, as I poured myself another glass of wine (also, don’t get into the habit of self-medicating after writing).

And then at some point, it hit me: Not everyone has to like me. Not everyone has to connect with my words. The amazing thing about art is that it’s subjective. Some people will think your work is fearless and awesome, and others are going to think it’s boring bullshit. And that’s ok. 

Some people think the comedian Sarah Silverman is the funniest woman to ever grace the planet, and other people find her to be super offensive and low-brow. But you know what? Love her or hate her, she plows through and keeps creating content. Be Sarah Silverman. (Don’t be Donald Trump.) Keep creating work that is authentic and don’t worry about connecting to every single person on the planet. Be concerned with your audience. Every woman who has a voice is going to get shit online, that’s the ugly truth. You’re going to get it from other women and you’re going to get it from people you fiercely admired. But the second you start to fear your voice is “inaccessible” is the moment your creativity dies a tragic death.

That being said, listen to the critiques of people who *get* you. If someone who follows your work is hurt by something you wrote, take time to engage with them and ask them why. Learn to understand the difference between those who want to spark up a healthy conversation and those who want to silence you through virtual harassment.

5. Protect the innocent.

Understand that when you hit the pretty, shiny “publish” button, your story is out there, sifting through the great expanse of the internet. Be prepared for those in your life to react, and don’t think you can (or have the right to) control their emotional reactions to your work. Before you throw your mother under the bus or discuss your brother’s embarrassing sex addiction, really think about how it might affect them.

Ask yourself: Is this my story to tell? There is a big difference between telling your truth and being a selfish asshole, who doesn’t care about hurting those directly involved in your version of the truth.

Here’s my rule: I’m fine throwing myself under the bus. I’m totally fine making myself the butt of the joke. I’ll tell the story about how I threw up during sex, but I won’t exploit the person who threw up during sex with me. And if I do, I change names, I change timelines, I do whatever I can to protect that person from ever being found out. Don’t hurt and humiliate people who didn’t sign up to have their entire lives exposed online. Change details about their appearance. Take your experiences from three bad dates and combine it into one bad date for the purpose of storytelling. You can speak your most raw, honest truth without speaking for someone else.

And always: Express your perspective without assuming you know anyone else’s.

6. Remember: You don’t *have to* share anything.

Guess what? There is a lot of juicy shit flying around my crazy life that no one knows about. Because there are certain things I’m not ready to talk about. In fact, if something is too close and too current for me, I’m not in a place to write a thoughtful piece about it. I’m too close to it. I can’t look at something while I’m clutching on to it. I need space and distance in order to evaluate the big picture.

And you don’t have to tell anyone, anything, ever. Don’t fall into the pressure of exposing EVERYTHING about your life for clicks. Filter out anything that makes you feel remotely uncomfortable. If your gut says “don’t write about this, don’t write about this, don’t write about this” — don’t write about it. Don’t write about anything until the urge to put it down on paper is so profound the story is exploding out of you.

And if you ever need words of encouragement, message me. Your lez big sis. We’re family now, so I love you unconditionally, baby.

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