How to write
THE INTERNET WAS MEAN TO ME *sad face**
*The sad face bit is supposed to be ironic, Internet twats
I wrote a rather silly, somewhat incoherent piece for Vagenda. It had that whole LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS and nasty swearwords (the worst one was meant to be a parody of the kind of misogynistic comments I’ve had online, but there you go) thing, in the style of a sixth former. Rightly or wrongly, I thought the Vagenda audience was a bit younger, so I could allow myself some playfulness. I was trying to make a complicated point feministy and funny (though this was only partly successful), and arguing coherently wasn’t my primary aim – though it should have been. It should always be. That’s one thing I learnt today.
This morning I got an email from the Vagenda editors saying a certain national newspaper wanted to publish it. (My poor parents – I get printed in their favourite newspaper and I used the word ‘cunt’. I am so sorry mum.) Far from feeling flattered, I felt a bit sick, thinking of how the piece was certainly not written in a broadsheet tone of voice, nor was it edited or polished or up to broadsheet standard, and that the commenters would leap on it and tear it to shreds. I should have gone with my gut, or at least asked for some edits, because they sure did …
There were lots of comments saying “worst thing I’ve ever read” and similar, and ones which are now starting to sound quite funny – THIS IS THE WORST SUB SIXTH FORM GUFF I’VE SEEN ON HERE etc. I didn’t even know anyone said guff anymore. Amazing. Anyway. The more hurtful comments were the ones that said it was badly written (it certainly wasn’t brilliantly written. But then again it wasn’t meant to be read on a national newspaper website). Some of the things I wrote were obtuse and other things relied on reference points audience a young feminist audience would take for granted, which were misunderstood on this site as being anti-men.
I know that most commenters on this site are not known for empathy, or sympathy with feminism, and also I know that one shouldn’t pay too much attention to them. I am annoyed that I’ve wasted a whole day on this, because I couldn’t really get any of my own writing done after it kicked off – I was gazing open mouthed at the stream of invective below my article. However, I am starting to envision a near-future where this whole thing is very funny indeed.
How to write
The thing that I’ve found about writing this summer is that its beset by daily self-doubt; there’s a constant voice inside you saying you’re bad at this, why are you bothering, you should give up. Online writing thrives on people telling you that you’re shit, which is probably why I shouldn’t be writing on the internet while I’m trying to produce some kind of fiction. It makes me hate the internet. It makes me hate the internet.
There’s also the whole question of trying to find a ‘voice’ you’re comfortable with. For this piece I thought I’d try something more throwaway; it was a relief after trying to write ‘serious’ fiction. However, doing that throws up problems of authenticity – who the fuck you are, which is hard to answer at the best of times – and originality. If you’re piggybacking on a certain zeitgeist, often the implications are that you don’t end up feeling like you’ve been true to yourself. All writers want to be an “original voice” and most of them will never achieve this, but at least you feel worthy if you’re trying.
A few comments were along the lines of WAS THIS WRITTEN BY AN INTERN type, which I sniggered at because – aside from the purposeful “youthful” tone of voice – I still feel very inexperienced at writing, and that I have a lot to learn (as well as a lot to read and write). Clearly I have never been trained in a journalistic style, though I remember constructing a few awesome arguments at uni (the University of Bristol, where I got a first, internet twats. Maybe they want me in their alumni magazine now?) but, of course, that wasn’t what I was originally trying to do here.
I’ve read plenty of “if I don’t write I can’t breathe” odes to picking up a pen. I’m not like that, but writing and reading are the main ways I have ever been able to understand things, and express things. I suppose that’s why I want to keep doing it.
This episode will probably teach me to be a better writer, I suppose – more careful about how I write, what I write and what I say yes to. Thicker skin? Maybe.
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