My hand shakes a bit as I hit publish, I look away, sigh and I step away from my laptop before I could undo, delete, reverse it all. I lived it, I thought about it, I gave birth to it in my head, I bled on the keyboard, and now it has a life on its own — it can soar.
And it can also ruin me.
I am writing personal essays, more often than not. My most powerful stories are coming from real-life experience — and sadly it’s not too pretty. Even more sadly, known from the comments, a lot of people can relate. Too many.
When I first wrote about abuse, I was terrified. I wrote about how domestic abuse is slowly creeping up on you, how it is taking over your whole life, leaving you broken and hurt with no one to help you. I was scared to be judged. I was afraid to be ridiculed and bullied. I was terrified to let in on the whole wide world on my well-kept secret.
I write about rape, narcissism, revenge porn, abortion. I write about sexual abuse, I write about heartbreak, I write about fears. And I write about sex and love and sexual orientation.
And I allow the world to judge me, to evaluate me, to label me.
We all pretend in our lives. We pretend to be a better person to wow our partner. We pretend to be better parents to our kids so that the other parents shouldn’t judge us. We pretend to care about people when all we do is not letting our honest rudeness come to the surface, and we keep a polite mask on. We pretend all the time. At least I do.
But then, with writing personal essays I don’t need to pretend anymore.
Until very recently, I have never thought that there would be an audience for my writing — I have never thought that I would be brave enough to publish anything I have written.
And then I did.
And it’s exceptionally rewarding and incredibly tough.
Writing about personal stories is supposed to be easy, you don’t need to research, you don’t need to think about it, it’s your life. But it’s more complicated than that.
Writing is sometimes a joyride, a light flight, a beautiful flow where words are floating around you easily and all you need to do is just to pluck them one after the other and they form beautiful sentences — obeying your will, complying with what you feel and what you want your readers to feel.
Writing is sometimes a struggle, wrestling with each and every syllable, fighting a war inside with conflicting feelings, hurting yourself, bruising your ego, crushing your soul, breaking your heart over and over again.
Writing sometimes happens in one go, you just sit down, you immerse in the sea of words and thoughts, and when you come up for air, you have thousands of words grinning at you from your screen, virtually patting your back, telling you how good you are, how talented and successful you are.
Writing is sometimes not happening. At all. The screen is killing you, blinding you with its dim light, the keyboard is a menacing bed of nails, waiting to make you bleed. It scares you, terrifies you, makes you run away to never ever come back.
Writing is not an easy job. It is tough. It is taxing. It can hurt, it can drag you down, it can debilitate you.
Writing is not an easy way for dummies and idiots to make money. There are different forms of writing and journalism in the digital age. It is changing to meet the needs of digitally aware consumers. Personal stories and personal storytelling matter more than ever. User-generated content is getting more traction, entertainment and information and education are not limited to those few selected ones who write for the most famous columns of the most famous newspapers. Because people care about storytelling and human connection — more than just processed and practical information.
Writing is not a guaranteed success for everyone. Not everyone gets to the top, not everyone feels the needs of the audience, not everyone can form a connection. Yes, it is about talent, and it is about discipline, but it is also about being able to adapt, and being willing to adapt. But regardless, writing is self-expression and a learning curve for each and every one of us.
Writing is not a daily ego-stroke, that you resort to when you feel down. It doesn’t always bring joy, it’s not always rewarding. It is dragging you down if you are doing it and dragging you down if you don’t.
Writing is not a way to tell your sob-story to make millions of your own misery. If I could choose between living through my abuse to be able to write best-performing stories about it OR not having to live it at all — you know what I would choose, right? I don’t find too much pleasure telling how I was beaten and raped or how I had to have an abortion. Just as I am pretty sure that those fighting their mental illness, depression, eating disorders, weight problems are NOT looking at their lives saying: “Oh, thank goodness I am this depressed, otherwise I wouldn’t have anything to write about. Let’s make some money here, shall we?” We would trade these awful experiences in a heartbeat! We would still write, but maybe it would be fan fiction or erotica. The world needs more of that too, right?
Writing is not unilateral. It just begins with writing. It’s just one part of it. The vulnerable part. But for it to become a dialogue, where vulnerability comes to life, it needs to be read. Writing needs an audience. Exposing ourselves — that’s the bravery in it, that’s the rawness, the opening up ourselves to criticism, judgment and hatred along with love, appreciation and bonding. And the best writers are writing for their audience keeping in mind what they would be willing to read — looking for those areas where their capabilities and their readers’ interests intersect.
Writing is not about lying. It’s not pretending something we are not. It is not looking for pity. Writing about our life and experiences and knowledge is what we know. We know our story, we know our feelings, we know our experiences, we know our passion. That’s what makes us authentic, that’s what makes each of us unique.
Writing is not about spamming vulnerability. Spamming is unwanted trash in your inbox that you never signed up for. You never asked for it, and you are still getting it. It must be really awful to be helplessly spammed. But I have great news for you: there is a great new invention called free will. It means that you are in charge of what you read. If it’s spam, you hit delete, you click unsubscribe and you opt-out. You stop reading it. You stop following it. It’s your choice and your choice only.
Writing is finding a way where I don’t need to pretend. Finding like-minded people to connect with. Finding my readers. Finding friends. Finding myself.
I am the person I am writing about. It’s entirely me, not better, not worse. I am not covering anything up, because writing would lose its point. I am being true to myself, I open myself up for you to judge me hoping you won’t. And it means that what you get is really what I am — you can take it or leave it. Because no matter how much I want to be read, I am not changing my self for the sake of my audience — because my real audience would never want me to pretend to be someone who I am not.
Let’s get vulnerable, shall we? Let’s write more personal stories. Let’s show our lives and story and your lessons — the way only we can tell. Let’s show our raw vulnerable selves.
Let’s show others that we are human, and make them believe too that it is okay to be human for them too.