• Tue, Feb 28 2012

Stop Writing On The Internet To Make People Love You

xojane say something nice

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.

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  • Meaghan

    This is such a great piece & the perfect reality check. I especially liked the succinct way you summed it all up:

    “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.”

    Thank you!

  • Sean

    This is awesome. I’ve shared it with my writer friends.

    Thank you for your honesty and humour on an otherwise crap day. :)

  • Rezia

    I like this so much! I gave up writing to become an Engineer. Mostly because it’s steady work, and there are cute boys who help me build things like windmills, motors and things of that sort.

    This article almost makes me wish I hadn’t, so I think you’re just wonderful for writing it. I’ve never read anything on the internet that speaks to me the way this does.

  • Lindsay Cross

    Great piece, Jen.

  • MR

    Yeah, I’ve been horsing around with you a lot lately. And I hope you don’t mind. But you know I’ve always been a believer that your work is supposed to be fulfilling. I said that to Amanda not too long ago. Obviously you do it for the money too. But you have to balance it – aka shitty job, more pay? As I think you already know, I like all your stuff. What’s most special about it is how you carry it off with such a sense of humor. That’s a very unique quality. But yeah, do it for yourself.

    • Jennifer Wright

      I LOVE YOU TOO, STRANGER.

  • Elizabeth

    I’m in it for the money and for sounding awesome at parties. I just need to start making more than $20/post and getting invited to parties.

  • Nathanael Green

    Damn skippy.

    Hope you don’t mind if I print this out and staple it to people’s faces when they give me that so-you’re-a-writer-but-really-a-potential-homeless-person look.

    • Avodah

      Skippy? Really?

  • Alyssa

    Not gonna lie, this was pretty awesome. I always enjoy reading your articles in particular. They’re refreshing. People need to lighten the f*** up these days and not take everything they read so seriously. Keep doing what you’re doing. Everyone else is probably jealous that you get to lounge around sipping scotch all day and getting paid for it. Good for you!

  • Ashley Cardiff

    That was me. I’m the editor that called you a “greedy little money gobbling troll.” I called you that.

    AND I WAS RIGHT.

    • Jennifer Wright

      Fine, truth be told, you’re the only person I pay attention to.

  • Jamie Peck

    So I read the first half, and I felt sad because after the rev, I would no longer be able to read words from you. Then I read the last part, and felt better, for I now see that you’ll be writing even then. Assuming you do not die fighting for the interests of capitalism, I mean.

    • Jennifer Wright

      Since I love absolutely everything that the revolutionaries decry as decadent, I think my odds for survival are… not good. Hide me in your basement and make sure you stock it with Bolly, please.

    • MR

      So far Michigan primary election night, Santorum and Romney are in a dogfight – with only 9% of precincts reporting – the precincts % will climb over time. See Santorum is live and still very dangerous. If Romney squeaks it out, I’d say Santorum disappears pretty quickly. I still think Obama rolls Santorum a lot easier than Romney. But I can’t wish good for Santorum, cause he’s such a nut-job.

      http://graphics.wsj.com/livecoverage/gop-michigan-arizona-primaries-2012/index.php

  • Stoich91

    This is so incredibly inspiring. I was just thinking about if writers really write to get people to love them/pay attention/fill some parental-forsaken void/offer their hand in marriage.

    You were totally right about everything, here, but I’m going to admit you outdid yourself with the part about the cows and the super-sappy, super feeling-licious ending. I went from laughing inside to crying in two paragraphs, flat. With that kind of writing, I don’t think you’ll be out of a money source any time soon. ;D

  • Dominique

    My dad once told me, though I think he was quoting at the time, “Writing is like sex. First you do it for love. Then you do it for a few friends. Eventually, you do it for the money.” Or, as some friends used to joke, “Shakespeare gotta get paid, yo.” There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I wrote this, and I get paid for it, and that’s what matters at the end of the day.” Having flowers around sounds like a great reminder of what you’ve accomplished.

  • Valerie

    very, very funny. I am a total stranger and now I think you’re funny – so its not love but its still goodx

  • Natalie

    I agree with most of the sentiments expressed here, but I think there is a major difference between wanting to be universally loved and being disappointed by pointedly horrible and abusive comments.

    Also, writing to get paid is fantastic – that’s what a lot of us are going for. But many of us aren’t quite there yet, or otherwise prefer to write as an intermittent hobby and don’t intend to get paid. That still doesn’t mean they have the right to expect unadulterated praise, but it does perhaps mean that their incentives are different than yours.

    I have gotten some awful comments on pieces, and yes – they are always tough to read. And I do wish that internet commenters were less rabid. It is not because I want to be showered with love, it is because I want the internet to have higher standards of civil discourse. I welcome people telling me my opinion is ridiculous, or my argument is stupid, or that I ended my sentence with a preposition. Even if I thoroughly disagree, these sorts of comments promote discussion rather than squash it. Those people who take advantage of the anonymity of the internet to say hateful, cruel things indiscriminately are just making the internet a crappier place.

  • Kristen Hamill

    Love this Jen, so very true. After “Assumptions Bartenders Make…” went up I received a colorful email from a man who went through each of my drink observations and offered a fun suggestion of what he’d like to do to me with “a baseball bat and a blow torch” and that “I got your number off your scalp when you bent over- 666, right?”, and other wonderful things… At first I laughed.. Then I thought about crying. Then I just drank a bottle of wine and went to sleep. Next time I’m buying myself fucking flowers!!

  • Lisa

    Bear your soul? So do the rest of us (well, our own, not yours). I think baring it might be what was scaring her…

  • XO

    I find it ironic that Galadarling retweeted this yet she doesn’t allow comments on her blog. Ironies of all ironies. What a phony.

  • Steve P

    I think you hit the nail right on the head. Just speak your truth and let those who appreciate it enjoy it. If anybody respectfully disagrees with you and want to engage you in a rational, respectful dialogue, take that as a gift. And if you get hateful feedback from the irrational and the disrespectful, just remember Götz von Berlichingen!

  • jenna

    totally agree. right right. :)

  • Kate

    Loved this. You’ve clearly got the right attitude.

  • Kimberly

    Thank you for sharing such a great article! As I assemble another widget made of words for money, I have to remember that it’s not what I’m passionate about, but it keeps me in everything else I need while I figure out how to spend more time writing the things I’m truly passionate about. :)

  • Amber

    I can relate to this article 100% I’ve always been a sensitive person so the slightest shit bothers me. Yeah I’m emo! But anyway, in my 4 years of blogging it has caused me to miss out on great opportunities to express myself because I was so busy worrying about what others would think if I write about certain topics. I mean we do have to watch what we say sometimes but in the large scheme of things people respect you more when you just say whatever the fruck you gotta say. I’m still struggling with being open to strangers but I’m a work in progress. Great piece.

    Amber

    check out my blog btw: beautyandthestreetmag.blogspot.com

  • Sylvia

    I hate you.
    lol jk, this is actually a very good article and definitely helps put things in perspective. There is no way to make everyone on the face of the earth like you, and people often forget this when writing on the internet, but thanks for pointing it out.
    and also for reminding me that “Shakespeare gots to get paid, son.” (which, it may bring you a tiny glow of happiness to know, I have written on a post-it note and stuck it on my pinboard, because it is an awesome line.)

  • Pam Ellen

    Brilliant article – I have really enjoyed it!

  • Ellen

    Yes, it’s all wonderful to let all those negative comments roll off your back, but if, in the end, no one even likes you, no one will read your stuff and then the money stops rolling in.