“I write for the same reason I breathe – because if I didn’t, I would die.”

A few months ago, Angelle posted a lovely piece called ‘Why I Write‘. Reading the post and all the comments that followed it, it was so nice to see all these people that had the same kinds of feelings and motivations as me, people that I could really relate to, as it was never something I ever talked about with friends. I sometimes feel like, even if you’re not very good at it, writing is this really visceral thing, and that if it’s in you – and I mean really in you – you have no choice but to do it. It’s somehow both the most cathartic and exasperating thing you can do. It’s almost masochistic. But, really, would you have it any other way?

I have been writing since the moment I learnt how. Reading and writing were literally my favourite things to do as a child. Sure, a bit of colouring was nice for those rare moments where I wanted to switch off my mind, because, let’s be honest, what do you really get out of colouring? Maybe I was just bitter because I couldn’t draw for shit, but that ish was for babies; I was a grown up because I had all the words. I clearly didn’t subscribe to this ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ idea, because, you know what else is worth a thousand words? Yep, a thousand words. I didn’t understand why almost no one else in my class found it as exciting as I did. With age, I have obviously come to understand that there’s more than this one creative outlet, but when I was a kid, it genuinely baffled me why anyone would want to do anything else.

I started with writing about writing. I had a little Hello Kitty notebook that was full of Mr Men and Little Miss book reviews, because fuck reviewing Biff, Chip, and Kipper. I would rehash the plot, and then use up to three ‘describing words’ to illustrate how I really felt about it. My mum was the only person who would read them, after I badgered her to, but I was okay with that. Everyone knew how the books went, I just felt like my opinion was worth being recorded. Some things never change, eh?

Writing about writing quickly turned into writing about everything after I watched Harriet The Spy. Yes, I watched the movie before I read the book – I was, like, six or seven years old, I didn’t even know there was a book. Let’s just take a minute to remember how awesome both were, though, shall we? It spoke to me on every level I had. It was the first time I realised that writing was something I could do. I could have my own words, not just write about other people’s. In the movie, Harriet says, ‘I want to learn everything I can, and I write down everything I see. Golly says if I want to be a writer someday, I better start now, and that is why I am a spy.’ So, naturally, I became a spy, too. So, off I went with one of my little Hello Kitty notebooks (we’d given them out in party bags and had shit loads spare) and I wrote down everything I saw. I was never without that notebook. I would sit on the stairs and listen to my parents’ conversations, scribbling down anything I thought I could later use as ammunition against them. I would sit in my classes and watch all the other kids; I’d write down which ones were picking their noses and sticking the evidence under their desks, who was talking to who about what, who was getting in trouble for using an ink eraser – you know, all that really important stuff. Luckily, unlike Harriet, I never got caught.

Then, through school and through reading more, I caught the fiction bug. It was fucking glorious. Nothing had ever felt so right in my little life. Like most kids, I had a crazy imagination and, up until then, I had channelled it into playtime. Not to brag or anything, but the games I started for my group of friends would turn into whole class shindigs within two lunchtimes. I was that good. So, once I understood how to turn all the thoughts in my mind into something tangible, so that I could truly share them with other people, I was all over it. I wrote short stories, I wrote plays, and I wrote fucking poetry. We all had a poetry phase, didn’t we? My house is full of shit like this:

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Let’s just take a minute to appreciate that I thought my play was worth £19.99

It started with stories about princesses and the like, but, as I got older, everything got a little bit more sinister. When I was in Year 6 I wrote a story about a woman being skinned alive and her killer using her intestines as a skipping rope. My parents may have been a little too liberal with the remote. It got to the point where someone would always die in whatever I was writing. I really couldn’t tell you why, though. In retrospect, I think maybe I thought that if I broached the subject of death, my writing would feel more ‘grown up’. I hated my voice. Everything I wrote felt like a child had written it. I wanted to write something that I would want to read, but that just wasn’t what I was producing. When I was 14, my English teacher, a woman I really admired, told me that I was writing about things that I was too young to understand, and that my content and voice were too mature. It was exactly what I wanted to hear, but in a negative light. I was too young to properly understand what she was saying, and even though I really looked up to her, I basically ignored all her advice and carried on with what I was doing.

Then, when I was at a new school with a new English teacher that didn’t know me, and the time came to do our creative writing coursework for our GCSEs, I was hella nervous. I tried to tone it all down a bit, I mean, someone obviously died at the end, but the rest of it was very hopeful. I handed it in and was pretty sure I’d done alright, but when everyone was getting their pieces back, I didn’t get one. Instead, she told me to wait and see her after class. I was scared shitless. I thought I had failed the whole thing. I thought I was going to bring shame on my ancestors. Who fails English?! It was the longest lesson of my entire life. Eventually, it ended and I went up to talk to her about why she had kept my paper. It turned out that I had gotten full marks and she wanted to question me about it because she thought I had plagiarised my whole story. She asked me where I got the idea for it, where I got the ideas for the names of the characters and why I was making pop culture references that were fifty years before my time. It was so surreal. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted. I knew that, ultimately, she was praising me, but I didn’t believe her because I still hated my voice so much.

You know that feeling where everything you put to paper is just disgusting and you don’t know why you bother? I had that. All. The. Time. I couldn’t catch a break. So, instead of pushing through, I slowly started to give up. Then I went to university and writing became about essays and free time became about being drunk. I completely stopped writing for me. I told myself I was too busy to write stories, but, in reality, I had shit loads of time. I could’ve written a bloody novel. I’d just fucked up my priorities and confused being drunk with being happy.

I started up this blog after all my schooling was done, because as soon as my thesis was written, I missed writing. There was nothing left that I had to write. I’m not brave enough to share my fiction, but I wanted to put something out there. I wanted to find my voice and I wanted to share it. I’m not the most vocal person in real life, I don’t know how to express my feelings or show what I’m thinking, but I know how to do this. Maybe not very well, I don’t know, you can decide that. But, honestly, it’s the best decision I’ve made. I started writing fiction again, and it’s the only thing in my life right now that makes me really happy. I still fucking hate my voice, but it makes me really happy, and that’s all we really want, isn’t it?

Angelle asked, so I figure I should, too – why do you write?

Ryan Gosling and Twerking! Literally, you won’t BELIEVE it!

clickbait: an eye-catching link on a website which encourages people to read on

If you scroll down your reader, or feed for any social media platform for that matter, you will no doubt be inundated with catchy, hyperbolic, and inflammatory headlines. They will probably catch your eye, and you will probably click on them. You know the ones I’m talking about –

That BuzzFeed list, The 50 Absolute Sexiest Things Ryan Gosling Did In 2013.

That Thought Catalog article, I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorry.

That YouTube video, Worst Twerk Fail EVER – Girl Catches Fire!

You get the idea, right? Those headlines that are just gagging for you to click on them? Yep, those ones. Isn’t that what headlines should be, though? Catchy things that grab your attention and make you want to read on? When we live in an environment where media outlets are saturated with content, and readers have essentially become magpies, aren’t shiny headlines more crucial than ever? Is it necessarily clickbaitification? Is it not just clever titling?

Sure, ’50 Ryan Gosling pictures’ would be an accurate title, but it’s definitely not as attention grabbing as the one that BuzzFeed went for. That may be a bad example as I am liable to click on anything that mentions Ryan Gosling, regardless of the rest of the headline, but you get what I’m saying. It may also be a bad example because it’s a BuzzFeed list. Now, don’t get me wrong, I fucking love BuzzFeed. I literally – and I mean literally – spent tens of hours on it during the process of writing my thesis; any list that had anything to do with Mindy Kaling was infinitely more interesting than trying to weave core theory into my largely fieldwork heavy anecdotal dissertation. BuzzFeed is a procrastination goldmine; it is busting with entertaining content that keeps your focus for two minutes before you find the next clickable headline. That’s pretty much the extent of it, though.

So, does where content is found play a role in determining whether or not we classify it as clickbait? If ‘I Look Down On Young Women…‘ was posted on The Guardian’s website as opposed to on Thought Catalog, would we take it more seriously? Would it be seen as a provocative way to generate discussion as opposed to a misguided way to drum up page views? Are we really judging blog posts by their curatorial umbrellas? When I go to a site like Thought Catalog or Elite Daily, I know exactly what to expect. I’m on those sites because I want topical, relatable and entertaining articles that pertain to my life as a ‘millennial’ (Jesus, I fucking hate that word). I’m not surfing The Debrief because I’m looking for bloody Pulitzer worthy writing; I just want a three minute distraction whilst the next episode of Pretty Little Liars loads.

This brings us to my next question – is it the quality of the content itself which dictates whether or not it will be seen as clickbait? Like I said, I don’t expect to be blown away by the quality of writing on these curation sites; as long as they’re coherent and don’t feature any truly appalling grammar, I’m not that fussed. The posts are predominantly there for entertainment value, not because they’re really going to affect your life in any sort of deep and meaningful way. Occasionally, you may find a gem of a piece that really makes you think, but, let’s face it, it’s pretty rare. You’re not going to find the next Khaled Hosseini writing meme fillied listicles on BuzzFeed.

Believe it or not, submissions on these sites have to be approved before they are published. You’d think producers and editors would set a higher standard of quality control, right? But, once someone’s clicked that catchy headline through to the article, they’ve got their page view – does the content even matter? Again, I don’t expect amazing content, but, thinking about it, isn’t that pretty shit? How disillusioned are we that we accept the content that is being consistently thrown at us? Why aren’t we demanding better? There are genuinely incredible writers out there who aren’t given the same platform or exposure as the sub-par list makers because our generation would rather look at ‘29 Cats That Have More Sex Appeal Than You‘ than read a beautiful piece of prose. Isn’t that sad?

Let’s be honest, whatever ‘clickbait’ is, we love it. We love those shitty articles and lists. We love that they are out there in abundance and we love that they relate to every possible aspect of our lives. It’s why we blog, isn’t it? To share our stories? To reach people and relate to them? I like to think my writing isn’t as barren as everything I’ve just slagged off, but maybe it is. Maybe someone needs to quality control me. Everyone deserves the right to express themselves, but are we so oversaturated with poor content that we’re starting to forget what good writing looks like?