There’s a quote kicking around Tumblr right now. As of the time I’m writing this, the quote has received 84,117 “notes,” whatever that means. The quote goes: “You own everything that has happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have treated you better.”
First off: Fuck this. Don’t do this. Don’t ever do this. If any of you young writers are listening out there, to me, please: don’t do this.
Why? Well, first off because it’s not true. You don’t own everything that has happened to you.
You own part of everything that has happened to you. You own your perspective on the matter. And, sorry kids, but a lot of the time your perspective can be wrong, or unfair, or tinted by whatever shit you were going through at the time.
What do I mean by this? Say I go out with a girl for a while. And say, out of nowhere, she dumps me. It hurts. I’m a mess for weeks. I lose weight, listen to Elliott Smith in the middle of the day and stop working out. I become intimate with both Ben & Jerry, watch Blue Valentine for empathy purposes. Real hashtag-dark type shit.
I could write about that, write about what a bitch this girl was to break my heart, how unfair it was. I could destroy her in print. I have the vocabulary. I have the audience, here on Thought Catalog and other publications. I could really eviscerate her. Not print her name, per say, but make it obvious enough that anyone who knows me or her will immediately know who I’m talking about.
By the oft-Tumblr’d quote above, that would be totally in my right. She should have treated me better. I own this heartbreak and this anger. So I get to write about what a bitch she is.
But, well, what if I was the reason we broke up? What if I didn’t see the breakup coming because I was so self-involved and oblivious to the signs? What if my sarcastic jokes, that I thought were so funny and harmless, hurt her? What if she dumped me because she had to?
Or, if we want to take a more dramatic turn here: what if her dad got really sick? What if she found she couldn’t talk to me about it, for whatever reason? What if her real confrontation with death made her reevaluate what she needs in her life? What if I didn’t fit that bill?
Here’s the thing: I don’t know any of that. And to assume that I do, to assume that my perspective is the only one that matters, THAT is what’s so fucked up about the quote up above. I thought this girl was a bitch, so I get to write that she’s a bitch. Does anyone see the problem with that?
Not working for you? Well, let’s take a more selfish approach to this argument—
Don’t write about the people you have loved because it will make you sad. Because it will leave you feeling empty and alone, to share others’ secrets and insecurities, the things they shared with you, the things they trusted you with. You are breaking their trust. This will empty you out from the inside.
It will leave you alone. If you write about all the people you have loved, people will stop coming to you. They will know your wrap — they will know you will expose them. People will stop loving you. They will stop trusting you. It’s the boy who cried wolf, with emotional intimacy. Blow it once and no one will trust you again.
(Look at it the other way: if you knew someone was going to write about YOU, would you show them that weird birthmark you’ve only showed a couple people, ever? Would you tell them that your dad mistreated you, or that you lost your virginity at 15 to a guy you didn’t really love? Would you share, well, anything? I wouldn’t. If I knew it was going to end up on xoJane or this site. Fuck that.)
Intimacy is impossible without trust. And when you write about your personal shit, you lose any trust people will give you.
On top off all that, and this (trust me) is even worse: the only people who will come to you are the ones who WANT to be exposed, and they will use you, use you so you can write about them, and this will leave you feeling emptier than anything ever.
Observe. Watch. Listen. Listen to everything. Look for the evil in the world. Look for the beauty. Listen some more. Then read everything you can get your hands on. Then you can start writing. Don’t mistake exposure for depth. Those who expose are cowards. They’re pimps, making currency off the hearts of others. Don’t do that shit. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.