Writing online is a lot like shouting into the void most days.
You sit down, type, edit, start over at least once, ponder metaphors, pull up Thesaurus.com and wonder why you can’t think of synonyms for “call,” type more, look at Twitter, pretend to read through your work and hit publish. Your post gets 50 views. Your friends comment nice things. Your mom shares it onto her wall.
Lather, rinse, repeat as needed.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you hit a vein. People show your words to their friends. Hundreds of people leave comments. A poem you didn’t think anyone would relate to suddenly has 300,000+ notes. Strangers on the Internet nod their heads in agreement. You get to, for as long as you want to milk it, bask in the knowledge that you are a Good Writer. That maybe, just maybe, you weren’t coddled into thinking you were a writer or a poet. That you actually have skills and inherent talent. That you could sustain a living by writing. That maybe you could cobble together an collection of poems for publication.
Sometimes, it doesn’t work like that. You work for two days on a poem. You breach a painful dam in your chest and let yourself feel loss. You cry, head on the table in front of your computer, because things should have been different, things should have worked out. You write and re-write and edit and cry again and write and write. You push yourself into the crawlspace you’ve been avoiding, that realization you never wanted to see written out. And, terrified and proud, you publish it. It gets 16 notes, most of which are from close friends. Cue the panic that maybe you aren’t cut out for poetry. That your words are silly and cliché. That the metaphors you slaved over don’t even make sense. That you should have studied science and left your notebooks in your childhood closet to gather dust.
You pull it together. You wipe your nose. You absorb the hit, storing it away for a Later Meltdown and move on with your day.
I have a habit of repeating information about myself. People usually don’t remember things about me, so I add them into the conversations. Salt-and-pepper epithets to jog people’s memory of simple personal facts. Little answers to questions I got tired of hearing. Instead of answering the painful “Wait, where are you from?,” I simply beat them to the punch. I’m from Texas. I’m a writer. I’m a lefty.
I never really noticed it until two of my friends (Hi, Sparks and Nathan) poked fun at me for it. “Oh, you studied in Brussels?” “Wait, where do you work?” The painful (painfully funny?) part was that I didn’t realize they were mocking me. I thought they legitimately didn’t remember where I went abroad or that I worked downtown. Finally, after the 100th “I work at Chipotle,” Nathan laughed kindly and looked straight at me.
“Hanna, I know you work at Chipotle. I’m just kidding.”
I’m forever stuck between writing only when inspiration hits or writing every day as practice. Actually, let me rephrase. I want to write every day. To fling words out into the world and get better. But what actually happens is I sit down, can’t think off how to put my feelings into sentences, close down my document and go back to watching makeup tutorials on YouTube.
Imagine one of those Expectation/Reality scenes from “500 Days of Summer.” On the left is me publishing a collection of my writing, grinning next to my husband Matthew Gray Gubler (who fell in love after reading my poems online). On the right is me refreshing Twitter for the millionth time while trying to decide if I did anything remotely Instagram-worthy in the past few days.
I delete half of what I write. I don’t like half of what I publish. Most of my poems repeat themselves. The same phrases crop up time after time. They’re usually about a boy. I am always alone. It’s hard to put a pen to an exposed nerve, to talk that final step into recovering from a broken heart.
Why make yourself look sad and hopeless on the Internet time and time again when you could, you know…not? I could leave the writing to Andrea Gibson, to Shinji Moon, to anyone who isn’t me. I could stop trying to reconcile pain into poems.
Today has been a weird day. I woke up angry, on the edge of a panic attack. I felt a misplaced shame for liking things that aren’t “cool.” I felt ugly and too big and sad and exhausted. This happens to me every so often — the result of post-grad stress and wonky brain chemistry.
Every day I say that I hate writing. Today is no different. It’s okay to feel a little resentment toward the thing that keeps you alive, but makes you work for it. Writing is a solo act. It, by nature, isolates you. It makes you feel.
But I wasn’t alone. Leah texted me and assured me I was allowed to like whatever I wanted to like, regardless of rude people. Amelia reminded me that I am important no matter if I am lost or found. Jackson made me feel less weird about having a silly crush. My sister bought me tacos.
I put on some soft music and made myself write. I drank cold water. I let myself feel.
I learned (way more recently than I care to admit) that my voice is important. That I shouldn’t put up with bullshit from immature boys just for the attention of the male gaze. That people who don’t make me a priority in their lives should not be a priority in my life. That love is everywhere I turn.
Every day I am reminded, with incredible clarity, that I am not in the same middle school setting which twisted my self-esteem so many years ago. My friends remember little things about me. They celebrate my accomplishments. They’re proud of me.
I learned that, despite every self-conscious anxiety-induced fear in my head, people listen when I speak.
That sunshine feels good. That it’s okay to lay in bed all day. That writing isn’t supposed to be easy.
So I shout into the void. I write apology letters with torn-up eviction notices. I throw poorly-folded paper airplane poems out of open office windows.
Sometimes, something sticks.
Sometimes, the void shouts back.
I am no longer invisible.
“Keep writing, kid.”