On writing better & 2016 resolutions


The other day I read a really interesting article on Vox about “reverse outrage.” Overall, what I’m going to write about here and what they wrote about there aren’t going to sound very similar, but the article spoke to me and led me here today.

In sum (although I truly urge you to read the article linked above): In 2015 there were numerous trending internet topics that got massively out of control. Between #BoycottStarWarsVII (a pretty racist movement born out of a total rando who thought the new Star Wars cast wasn’t whitewashed enough to his liking) and those damn Starbucks cups, the internet via social commentary has taken some super obscure social commentaries and blown them to massive proportions that they otherwise would not have reached.

This is a wee bit of an issue because it gives these really negative stories a ton of fame, fame that nobody wants them to have.

But here’s the conundrum: we media types love these inflammatory remarks. Inflammatory remarks increase clicking and sharing and commenting, and every website needs that kind of traffic to stay afloat. There is no mainstream media outlet that did not benefit from the red cup debacle, and I can tell you that with great certainty. There is no mainstream media outlet that is not benefitting from Donald Trump, none that is not benefitting from a random racist tweet against Muslims, none that is not benefitting from a scare tactic relative to immigrants.

And it’s perpetuating a nasty little cycle.

As an aspiring professional writer, I’ve been struggling with that cycle for a few months now. Maybe it’s because I got a little too into The Newsroom when I was funemployed this summer (watched the series three times in a row, Maggie and Jim #4ever), but I actually left a writing gig because I felt a little icky about the stuff I was writing, feeling like maybe exploiting some issues just to get traffic was kind of trashy.

I was writing articles with purposefully inflammatory headlines (ones that I sometimes didn’t agree with) all for the sake of getting enough shares to be picked up by the Huffington Post. I was successful numerous times, but still couldn’t shake that discomfort that came with knowing I was simply baiting people into sharing my story. I eventually stopped writing for this website because as a young writer, I don’t want to shape myself into someone who mass produces trash.

I can pat myself on the back all I want for that move, but the awkward truth is that most of the media isn’t a PBS endeavor. We get by on clicks. We discuss sharable topics. We highlight things other people want to talk about. As someone who’s quickly learning that money definitely matters (chat with your rent-collecting landlord next time you claim otherwise), I know that it is important to cover things that people want to hear about. The catch, however, is to do so with the utmost responsibility.

I’m still finding my voice as a writer. I’m 22 years old, have barely seen anything besides New England mountainscapes, and am only starting to think about scratching the surface of what it means to be a writer. But what I’m learning about, and what I hope to continue to explore, are ways to always be better. Right now, being better means being responsible. Right now, being better means knowing that creating false ire in your readers in the name of “discussion” is not journalism, even though talking about trending topics might be.

In all of this talk about being better, I want to call your attention to these closing remarks to that Vox article I talked about at the top of this piece:

We often don’t care about the fixing the wrong or adding to the conversation; all we see is an opportunity to affirm some version of ourselves by taking a side and making a scene. And in doing so, we’ve figured out a way to dismantle complex ideas into simplistic, easily digestible things that, in the end, are ultimately disposable – until the next fight comes around.

It’s New Years Eve today, and as I keep pushing to get new writing opportunities, new writing jobs, new people to read and help me with my writing, I’ve decided to start peddling a better product. In 2016…

I resolve to add more links when I write. Not links back to my own stuff, but to facts, to further reading, to people who definitely can explain a phenomenon way better than I can. Adding facts is the key to responsibility.

I resolve to be myself, because I think that’s what I’ve been looking to do all along. Being myself (as opposed to someone else) is definitely what I do best, and I know there is nobody who can do it quite like me.

I resolve to shelf long columns/personal essays for three days before publishing. I’m great with deadlines, but sometimes to a fault. I tell myself I’m going to post on a date, and I do, but that means I rarely reconsider what I’m going to say; it is one of the curses in disguise in this blogging world. I need to put my money where my mouth is and triple check I’m saying something I actually want to say.

I resolve to fix the wrong. There are two certain occasions I can specifically think of off the top of my head where I’ve started off saying, “I don’t know the answer to this problem, but I’m going to talk at you about it anyways.” I’m proud of what I said, and I do not fundamentally think it was trash, but I hate that I qualified it with “I don’t know the answer.” Clearly I thought I did. Clearly I thought I could help right the wrong, even if in a peripheral way. I resolve to write constructively about issues instead of retweeting news breaks. I resolve to do the best I can in acknowledging what people want to talk about, but to always make sure the energy I’m putting out there with my words helps fix something in some way.

…because when it comes to college, there are things people don’t tell you.

I recently wrote and published and article for my school newspaper, Le Provocateur,  about different things incoming freshmen needed to know in order to survive. Naturally, there were things I simply couldn’t publish. These are those things:

  1. Everyone poops. Period.

So maybe someone did tell me this back when I was four and my mother read the book to me, but in an age where girls are supposed to poop glitter and never fart, I think it warrants repeating. Because who has the energy to set alarm clocks at random times so you can go when no one else is in there? Who has the time to make a detour to the deserted campus center bathroom? No one. So get over yourself and realize that those things that go on in the bathroom? They happen to everyone else, too.

  1. Fun? It doesn’t hurt.

Because which fifty-year-old says to their children, “yeah, I remember that night I got a lot of sleep… it was awesome”? Because, as cliché as it sounds, these are years you want to remember. Because amidst your duties as a student, the stuffy professors and library cubicles, not only is laughter okay, it’s encouraged. Because this is where it gets personal for me.

When I was a freshman, I was petrified of going out. I was petrified of poking my head into my neighbors’ door and I was petrified of all the people I didn’t know in a small space. And sure, it’s easy to be sympathetic; it’s easy to say that I wascollege party scared and nervous and it wasn’t my thing so it’s fine that I stayed in. But it wasn’t. Because you know what gave me the courage, the comfort, the ability to socialize at campus parties? Putting myself out there.

Stay up until 6 a.m. Procrastinate on that paper. Tell yourself you are going to that party because when you recall your college years for your grandchildren, you won’t be telling them about your GPA; you’ll be telling them about the night you put off a paper to go to the party of the semester.

  1. Loving school doesn’t make you a loser…

…so when you see posters for that lecture that actually sounds interesting, you better go. Don’t fear that no one will be there, don’t fear that you’ll miss out on something else going on, don’t think that caring about something automatically makes you less of a person. Because it’s those kinds of lectures, the ones that aren’t required, the ones that happen in the basement of some lecture hall, that are the kind that change your life.

  1. He’s going to break your heart…

…but maybe you should let him. Because maybe you need to let him make your heart smile and let him hold your hand and let yourself fall into the way his voice sounds when he says your name. And maybe you should let him push you out of it.

Because as much as falling in love shows you your capacity to feel, watching the sun rise because your broken heart bars you from sleep pulls you to the hallow depths of everything you’re capable of. You learn howBreaking-Up-Couple empty it is down there and you learn how to pull yourself out. You learn that nothing says ‘strength’ like the way a mended heart looks—like a battle scar.

  1. Not everyone has had sex yet…

…so your rush to lose the v-card is pretty irrelevant. Your gut is a pretty strong thing, so you should trust that it will tell you when the time is right, when his name is right, when the way he holds your hands when he kisses you is right.

  1. It’s okay to choose passion.

Everyone’s going to say this one: it’s a pretty great thing that you’re going to college. You’re lucky to have this because so many oCourage-to-chase-dreamsther kids don’t. But what people might not say is that you now have a responsibility.

And I don’t just mean to show up to your classes and to actually try and challenge yourself. Yes, please, do all of those things. But what I mean is to pursue the thing that you are meant to do.

Because considering the empowerment you gain from your education, it’s kind of a mockery to surround yourself with subjects, a future job, that makes you miserable. Because the lucrative job your parents are pushing you into might put food on the table, but if it’s not your passion then what will feed your soul?

I firmly believe that the purpose of education is to give people their voice. We talk and talk all day but at a certain point that doesn’t really seem to matter because nobody else can really hear our voices. And so we go to school, and we read books and learn these theories and make these discoveries and all of this is facilitated by people who have found their voices.

And one day you’re going to find your voice, too. Who are you to try and silence it?