Don’t Be Too Much Of A Fangirl, They Said

 

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I watched The Fault In Our Stars on the plane. Probably not the most intelligent choice of film when you’re feeling mega sleep-deprived, pensive, confused about life and acutely hungover – but often watching a sad film helps with a much needed cathartic release. A friend of mine openly admits to have nights in just to listen to sad music in a dark room because “better out than in”. Anyway, your allowed to sob on a plane because no one will see you and the flight attendant can give you a glass of water and nod sympathetically and leave you to it. It’s the film, I say, just the film.

Of course we all know the book is really sad, and therefore the film is sad. I knew what I was in for. Just like the hangover these tears were self-inflicted. Not having read the book the whole way through I enjoyed the sad suspense of not knowing how it would end. All I knew what that it is a tragedy. A modern day Romeo and Juliet horribly riddled with the C word. Every mention of the word cancer blows away all of the happiness away like a wind machine that gives the characters absolutely no respite. There is a haunting amount of realism too, with depressing lying-in-bed scenes, laptop scenes, Gmail chat, iPhones, normal open parks – it’s a Hollywood film sure, but there is a surprising lack of sugar-coating. And how can it be, with such a harrowing subject? Nothing is particularly glamourised except for their good looks. It makes the film all the more grim to watch, and the many morals of the story hit you over the head with a large frying pan.

Thinking about the author, John Green for a moment, the technique I found the most impressive was the way he wrote a book within a book. A book so seemingly real that I wanted to see if it existed, or perhaps even available on Amazon to read in its own right. I googled An Imperial Infliction by Peter Van Houton, whom the main character Hazel is obsessed with and quotes daily. But it’s not a real book in the real world, unfortunately, it’s planted there by the author as a meta seed. Peter Van Houten isn’t a real author either. And it’s a good job too, because he turned out to be a complete arsehole. A true example of the phrase “never meet your heroes”.

This made me think a little about a recent night out I had when someone said to me that I should stop reading the work of people I admire so much. That I should concentrate more on my own. Because to focus too much on other peoples you are not giving your new ideas the attention they need to blossom. It’s true that there about five writers who I read obsessively. The advice was coming from a good place. But it also jarred with me for some reason.

It was an interesting point to make; because I would never see being a huge fan of someone’s work or to obsessively read books in the hope for inspiration to ever be a bad thing. But I saw the point that was being made. There have been times when I’ve spent hours trawling through a backlog of archives of someone’s work who I admire. Re-reading their pieces again and again. Reading stuff that I cannot necessarily learn anything new from. The other day I went back to 2007 on an archive of articles by a certain writer. I was doing it in order to try and trigger a new idea or be inspired but after a while that doesn’t work. Really, you can only inspire yourself.

The reason why it’s important that Hazel had to let An Imperial Affliction go, is because she was holding on too tightly to it. She was enslaved to the book, to the ending, to the quotable paragraphs. She was so obsessed with the book that she wasn’t writing her own story. None of it was real and she’d become to hooked on it. I have certain books that I cling onto as well, but it’s not always the answer. It could be guiding you in the wrong direction.

I understand why it’s important to step back a little from being a fan of someone and their work. You can be a fan of what someone does but you have to also make sure you aren’t just hanging on to their every word. You need to keep your own thoughts and decisions in check and to avoid being guided too strongly. At some point you will have to create your own words, your own chapters and your own narrative. Something happened recently when I stopped following said writer so closely. I still read it. But I focused more on my own work. And since then, I’ve unleashed more ideas and better work because of it – because you can’t imitate, you can’t compare and you can’t do the same as what someone else is doing.

Go forth and enjoy the work of your idols, but don’t let it get you stuck.

Why You Should Say Thank You To A Dickhead

3dc4b6b90ae5642e113ad0fff681b674You know what’s funny? We need horrible trolls sometimes, just like we need oxygen. If someone is a prick to you, you are totally within your rights to have a ball of rage inside your stomach, but really in your head you should say THANK YOU! We need them in the world. Just like in every single Disney movie that we consume whole-heartedly as kids there is always a villain. Always an evil, horrible, twisted, “bad guy” that makes our childish brains go “no! go away! baddie! mean person!” However they are, essentially, catalysts for the story. They are the stimulus that make the good guys work harder, struggle, be brave, keep going, and eventually, conquer all. A bit of friction goes a long way.

I can remember every villain in my life that (ironically) helped me achieve something off the back of it. There was the teacher at school who would always select me out in class even when other kids were definitely more disruptive than me. When I eventually confronted said teacher about it, she answered: “but your voice is the most distinctive”. That, my friends, is a bullshit excuse to pick on a child. So later on, I decided to take the remark as a compliment, because yes my voice WAS more distinctive, because I pronounced my words properly. Turned out I had good “diction”, said my drama teacher (the good guy): “Speak UP Emma! PROJECT your voice! I want to hear you at the BACK OF THE THEATRE!” Talk about mixed signals. And when I did project my voice loudly and clearly I’d be doing a big “F you” to that earlier boring teacher who wanted to unnecessarily scold me. So thank you, boring teacher, for the rage.

A university professor also took me aside in my third year of studying and decided that my writing wasn’t following the exact structure that she wanted me to. “Too personal” she’d say. She hated it when we all wrote in the first person, as it weakened the argument. I followed her advice obviously, (I wanted to pass!) but she fired us up, because she was so mean. Weirdly, she made us want to write MORE, because she was controlling. She gave us zero freedom, or confidence; we could only write her way. She also enjoyed telling all of us at least once that we were dyslexic, especially when she was angry. Now I write this blog and get paid for writing many articles in the first person. THANK YOU, Professor Party-Pooper, for the rage.

Then there’s the old boss. Who puts you down time and time again, because they don’t really like your determination. They try and sap you with their magic wand so that you’ll just conform like the other desk-workers in their invisible orange jumpsuits. Any sense of spark or joy is not welcome, just like the four grey walls that they turned grey. But, these people don’t “win” when they drive you out – quite the opposite – they force you to think heavily about your future, your life, your needs. Your strange, unfortunate hatred for them make you search really deeply for something different. They are the catalyst for a life-change. They are necessary. Rainbows and butterflies do not make you fight for your future.

Even tonight I overheard a ghastly conversation between a group of individuals. They were using misogynistic language. They were sexist and talking in a vulgar way about money and horribly insensitive about the news. I could have got home and let it affect me, put a downer on my nice evening with my friends, to know such people exist with such sexist, horrible thoughts. But, instead, it provoked me to write on this blog, and write a positive story about how bad things can make you want to do good things. It can make you reflect for a second and think I don’t want to be like that. I don’t want to be like that.

So if someone wants to be a dick-head to you, that’s fine, it might be good timing. Most of the time you can make a success out of it, and write them a thank you note after.

 

Some Stuff I’ve Written This Week

In case you fancy a read, here are some pieces I’ve penned this week:

  • In Interview with Jack Antonoff, Lena Dunham’s lovely boyfriend – on The Debrief
  • You Don’t Have To Shave Your Legs to be Feminist – The Independent
  • Life Lessons We’ve Learned From Caitlin Moran’s New Book – The Debrief

 

That Moment When Your Idol Is Not Your Idol Anymore

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The first thing that really drew me to Caitlin Moran’s book – apart from the obvious fact that I adore her personality and dare I say it her “personal brand” (pause for vom) – was the name of the book. It wasn’t just “How To Be A Girl” it was “How to Build A Girl”. A subtle but important difference. Not that we should be assembling ourselves physically like Barbie dolls of course, but that we take layers of pop culture, quotes, ideas, personalities, inspirations and build them all together to one day have a proper Self.

I had fixated on a few well-known writers from an early age. As a curious 16-year-old I’d do the classic thing of emailing a few of them cringe emails from my dial-up computer, explaining just how much I wanted to be them when I grew up. Thinking, oh-so-naively, that they would write back to me with an A-Z plan of “how to make it”. The Official Guide To Doing What They Did. A few secret meetings in which they would tell a podgy 16-year-old everything, for free, because of course they would have the time to do that. Amongst the thousands of other desperate emails. Later I learnt it’s rude to ask to pick someone’s brain for free even if you offer a free lunch, unless you are soul mates, or it’s mutually beneficial. Then, (and only then) will someone maybe do you a favour. Continue reading

Things To Remember When Your Hobby Becomes Your Career

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Turning your hobby into your actual real-life job is a major “hurray” moment. Unless you don’t want the two to mix and that’s fine too. But for me, finally turning “side projects” and fun freelance bits and bobs into a proper job was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and the beginning of “something that felt right”. However, suddenly being paid to do something you used to just do for fun could also potentially become a little confusing. Where does the fun start and finish? Are you even allowed to have fun anymore? How do you work rigidly and routinely on something you love doing? Basically, where’s the line? There’s a famous phrase by Confucius that says “do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. Surely there is a potential danger in that, because everyone needs to be guided and nurtured; it’s not just about turning up in the mornings and free-styling. And sorry to use business speak on this blog but: everyone needs some sort of “process” to their working lives whether they want it or not. So here are my own personal tips and observations, (as I still continue to figure it out, like we all are): Continue reading