Today I read an article which left me rolling my eyes, as most articles captioned “Advice for young writers,” will do. The main message of the article? Write every day. A piece of advice so often repeated, that even the author giving it had to admit to his interviewer that it wasn’t very helpful, simply because it was so obvious. And it is obvious. But for a brief moment I allowed myself to ask: have I ever really taken it to heart?
Well, yes, when I was about 13 years old.
I began writing in middle school, when the big thing for those just entering our teenage years was to begin sharing every detail of our personal lives—however mundane—on the internet. I remember my first blog entry, sprinkled with “haha”s as I told the world I “wasn’t sure what I should say” about myself, and proceeded to talk about my day and other perfectly uninteresting but innocuous things.
I had never consistently kept a journal before, but quickly I began writing everyday, and the writing itself turned from movies I’d seen and boys I liked to slightly more reflective, insightful (for a teenager) personal essays on the nature of friendship, love, life, death, and the more touchy subject of suicide—which I, for the most part struggled with secretly, though a few times I confessed it to significant others. And I once was caught writing about it by my school, which resulted in months of therapy during which I more or less lied to get a clean bill of health. I would come much closer to suicide years later, but by some help from friends (and incredible luck) I turned my life around, so to speak. I still struggle with depression (still mostly secretly) but I no longer indulge in the destructive habits that before led me to feel life was so impossible.
The journal entries remained, for a time, just impersonal enough for me to allow them to be public. Some high school friends read them—many liked them. I also had a small following of complete strangers, who gave me positive feedback. It was validating. It was what—years later as I a high-school junior, faced which choosing my entire future—led me to begin applying to schools for writing. It was the only thing I could imagine myself doing—the only thing I did, really. I wrote every day, often more than once a day, and hours into the night. Often I would stay up so late writing, that when I’d get home from school the next day I’d go straight to sleep, only to wake up just before dinner to quickly do my homework and begin writing again.
As time went on, my writing got more personal. I became obsessed with writing the truth, the whole truth—to the point where I could no longer just hide individual posts that “told too much.” They were all too revealing. Everything I said incriminated me, I believed, because beneath the words my true meaning could be read—my shallowness, my selfishness, my suicidal thoughts. I was becoming aware of what many writers already know—that when you write, you are vulnerable. You are revealing yourself on the page, and you are often saying more than you realize–more than even you really know about yourself.
It was too much for my self-conscious teenage psyche to handle. Quite abruptly, I unfriended everyone associated with the blog, and made it completely private. Many of those strangers sent me requests to refriend them. A few even sent messages asking what happened; why did I just disappear? For months, they had access to the most intimate details of my teenage life, and I cut them out so suddenly, without any explanation. I could not even explain to them my reasons out of embarrassment—they already knew too much.
But at the same time, I lost my validation, and my audience. I began addressing an imaginary reader—a future reader, who might some day be allowed to read what I’ve written, perhaps after my death, which threatened to move ever nearer. Worst of all, my darker words were only spoken silently to empty spaces. As my closest friend attempted suicide multiple times (she would succeed just before my last semester of college)—I would increasingly feel, after writing, that nothing had been gained. I would stop after hours of writing and still be just as unresolved as when I started. What did I even know about suicide, when here was the girl I grew up with, attempting it nearly every year? How could I ever rationalize these feelings? What was I even writing about?
Needless to say, I wrote less. I told myself it was because, having started college with the decision to be a writer, I had to focus more on creative pieces—stories and essays–real writing. The truth was I was barely writing at all—for school or otherwise. I wrote just the assignments that were asked of me—usually the night before they were due—and almost nothing beyond that. And of those assignments—especially in creative workshops—I almost never wrote what I was really thinking about. Never about feeling so impossibly lonely, even though I was and am surrounded by loved ones. Never about feelings of hopelessness in a world so apparently apathetic to human suffering. And never, ever about suicide—that great taboo in fiction workshops—even though everyone wants to write about it, because it affects us so damn much. Yes, there are so many other things to write about, but when you’re friend has just taken their life—or when your thoughts are on taking your own—how can you write about anything else, without those ideas coloring your work some pale shade of gray?
It comes back to the idea of confession. I don’t think that writing workshops across the globe suddenly need to be flooded with thinly veiled suicide confessionals. What I’m trying to understand, however, is why I stopped writing to myself—why I stopped being honest with myself, really. It couldn’t really be that I no longer had a system of support, telling me they really dug what I was doing. My workshops, after all, were generally encouraging of my work (though of course, whether you’re any good or not, the environment tends to be quite encouraging). But I eliminated the space where I could do truly bad, careless writing—where I could be sometimes stupidly honest—where my voice did not carry tones of insecurity and self-restraint. Somewhere I could be absurd, and not really care.
You could call it a loss of innocence kind of thing. I’m not sure if I’m saying it’s something I need to get back. There is, after all, an apparent danger of being an idiot on the internet—which is a public sphere. But I know I’m not an idiot—I only fear being perceived as one.
And perhaps this is what’s stopping me. That fear of being vulnerable—transparent—and the ultimate possibility of rejection. But that’s what writing is. That’s the reality. There is no way to write without putting yourself in view of public scrutiny—naked intellectually and emotionally. But that insecurity—put into permanent, irretrievable words—is what you overcome, one read-between line at a time. That’s both the product and purpose of writing. That is what I should be doing every day.