A lot of people who write on the internet are very upset about all the mean commenters. Some of them are us. Some of them are not us. Unsurprisingly, writers do not like their feelings hurt. And as easy as it is to literally toss your head back an cackle like a supervillain “hahaha, what did you think was going to happen? Did you think you’d write stuff and everyone would throw you a parade, you narcissistic fool?” that’s a fair sentiment. Mean commenters are upsetting. And if you write on the internet, many, many people will read something you wrote about women’s footwear and inform you that you are a cunt, but you lack the warmth and depth. I am lying, there. They will, regrettably, not be nearly that hilarious.
In my experience, there are two good reasons to write on the internet. Neither is “so strangers will throw me a parade.”
The first is money. Periodically, people pose a question to me that goes something like this:
Well meaning acquaintance: Jennifer, why do you write on the internet? Isn’t it scary opening yourself up to strangers?
Me: I mostly write about hating everything.
WMA: That is not true. You bare your soul. Why do you do it?
Me: For. The. Money.
WMA: No, really.
Me: No, really. For the money. If I could do anything else as easily and get paid more for it, I would, but I’m completely unemployable, and I’ve tricked some people into paying me for these – hah! – “words”. Wily like a fucking fox over here. I do it entirely for the money. Shakespeare gots to get paid, son.
WMA: I mean, if you’re only in it for the money…
Ed note: WMA is now disgusted, because I clearly do not like to write, and it turns out I am not an artist at all!
…couldn’t you find another job?
Me: Not one that would be easier for me. Writing is one of the two professions you can do in bed, naked, while drinking a glass of scotch, and get paid for. I’m ultimately too law-abiding to try the other.
And I actually believe this. I do do it for the money. I almost never write for free, because it is not in my “why I write” speech/philosophy to publish anything that does not either make me money, or add to my resume in a way that will make me more money in the future. There are not a whole lot of loopholes there. An editor once called me a “greedy little money gobbling troll” and it was the nicest compliment.
I highly recommend doing this. If you want to write, attach a price-tag to your soul, even if it is a low one. Take the money, and use a small portion of it on something that you like. When I sell a freelance article, I order myself a bouquet of flowers (Sometimes I buy champagne or Vosges chocolates. I make myself feel pretty, is what I do. Like a lady).
Then the article comes out. If it comes out in the magazine it is three months later, and no comments are made, online or in life, by anyone, often even my best friends, unless I send them all caps messages that read LOOK AT THIS LINK I WROTE THIS AND IT IS PRETTY LIKE IT NOW THANK YOU. It’s fine. They do the same when their articles come out. Then I send a copy of that magazine to my grandmother, and I go and take out my laundry or do whatever else I was doing that day.
But if it comes out anywhere on the internet, and if it expresses my personality or any opinion that someone in the world has ever had… then I read comments on that article that explain that I am fat, or mean, or a very unhappy person. Maybe these things are true. Maybe they are not. They are said by strangers. If you would like an example, the comments section on this article is a cool place to hang out if you happen to hate me. When I read comments like this I always imagine that I have stumbled into a party where everyone is drinking daquiris and talking about how much they hate me. A nightmare party. I read these comments and for a second I do feel sad, and I question everything about myself.
And then I remember that I did not write that article to make strangers love me. I did it for the money.
People don’t like that article? Fuck them. I have flowers in my house. Did the editor of the publication give those assholes a check so they could have flowers in their houses? Fuck no. Did it for the money.
Of course, sometimes, most miraculously, strangers will read an article and they will love it. Sometimes they will love it so much they decide they like you as a person. It’s very hard not to feel happy when that happens. It is so nice to be liked. But then too, remember that the warm glow of a stranger’s love was not your motivation. And also remember that someone thinking they love you because they love words you write down is like someone thinking they love cows because they love hamburgers.
Remind yourself of this, because if you write for strangers’ approval, you will be turning yourself over to victimhood at every turn. The only strangers you need to concern yourself with are editors. I think the members of the other in-bed-naked-scotch drinking profession would concur that you can do it for money, and you can do it because you’re good at it – but you can’t do it because you think it will make anyone love you. It won’t.
It is not strangers’ jobs to love you. It is your job to find a way to not let it bother you so you can carry on with writing.
Because… and this is the second reason…
Gather close now, this is a secret! This is a secret that I only tell my closest friends when I am drunk!
Because you potentially have great work to do. Because writing is amazing. Because writing that people read is double-plus amazing. Because writing – even the kind of blogging we do on the internet, that is always done under absurd time constraints – has the capacity to make people feel less alone. Because well chosen words can haul people back from the brink of immoral idiocy. Because I believe that words have the potential to make a difference.
I write because if I did not, I would die, and then I would be dead. I get pathetic comfort some dark nights out of thinking that I could die tomorrow, and there would still be a record of the things I had felt and believed in and cared about. It would almost be like still being alive. Because the most tragic thing about death is that fact that when we die, so many countless, nuanced deeply felt things we have experienced and come to know about the world die with us. If we do not leave a record of our lives, then when we die they are gone forever.
And that is another very good reason to write. Sharing that implies a certain deluded self-confidence that your opinions and experiences of the world matter so much that they should be shared with a significant audience, but really, maybe everyone’s do.
Just don’t expect anyone to like them.
Worry about making people in your actual life like you. Or love you. Write on the internet because it is a record of who you are, and because it can fill your house with flowers. There’s a metaphor somewhere in there, but you probably didn’t love me enough to coax it out.