I read a lot of about vulnerability in writing, and I hear a lot about being vulnerable with friends and coworkers. This idea of purposefully exposing myself to criticism as a method of success and growth leaves me stumped.
Criticism and feedback are good things. It’s what allows ideas to flourish, build, and spread widely. What I’m talking about here is more about the dismissive criticisms we open ourselves up to in the name of vulnerability.
I’ve managed some form of a blog and website off and on for the better part of the last 10 to 12 years. I consider myself an early adopter of the blogging platform, and it’s been a strange journey. Starting out as an antsy, self-censoring teen who knew that the Internet could make or break her future job prospects, to a more seasoned human being with experiences, and a (almost) no fucks given attitude where vulnerability plays some role in how posts are drafted and shared to a world of strangers.
This anonymous vulnerability reminds us that we’re not alone in our suffering and joy. The act of connecting with others is also comforting and very humanizing. I’ve certainly written vulnerably to the extent that I felt comfortable doing so. I’ve most certainly put myself in vulnerable situations during discussions with coworkers and friends. The difference between the two is stark. Writing comes with a veneer of anonymity. Speaking with coworkers puts me in the line of critical fire. On Medium, I’m inundated with tips on “how to make it as a writer,” or “how to go viral on Medium,” — tips that all point to being vulnerable.
I’m stumped by all this and left wondering if Vulnerability is a privilege reserved for the few.
As a writer, inspiration is an infinite resource. Just be open minded and be open to experimentation. That’s one of the takeaways from the many writers writing about writing on Medium and writing in general (how many times can we say writing in a post about writing?). Another takeaway is the hustle. You have to be able to hustle in this world to make it as a writer. It doesn’t matter if you have a 9 to 5 eating up the prime of your day. If you can’t make it work, you weren’t meant to be. “Write every day,” these authors also say. “Make a writing ritual.” There’s an endless list of ways for people on the platform to “be better” at writing/Medium (and some how Medium becomes synonymous with writing).
What inevitably gets revealed is that these folks either are writing full time and don’t have other obligations, they were lucky and got picked up by a publication with a sizeable audience, or they have the financial support necessary that allows them to be unencumbered by the concerns of rent and food.
Where does that leave the rest of us who don’t have any of these? Humped over our writing tools during the witching hour, eking out a sentence or two for our websites. We’re found thumping at our keyboards to punch out a quick 200-word missive on nothing so we can meet a self-imposed quota of daily posts.
It’s an unfortunate state to be in when being vulnerable is what gets us the views and readership we crave. Maybe that’s just being part of a generation who grew up online. Like overly-dramatic sitcoms or violence-ridden TV dramas, somehow, writing about our miseries allow us to connect more deeply with readers. Our miseries become viral and nothing else matters. We enjoy writing about the sad aspects of life and eagerly wait for others to respond with their own miseries. Solidarity in Sadness.
But what if we can’t be vulnerable in our writing?
I can put together a decent list of topics to write about that would challenge me to be vulnerable, but not everything is open for the world to see. It doesn’t matter how much I want to express these thoughts into the Internet ether. If writing vulnerably is a shamanic ritual that allows us to expel bad feelings and unload our troubled minds, where does it leave those of us who can’t do this every single time? Even more vulnerable. Perhaps lost. Alone.
We’re left vulnerable to the crushing weight of expectations we don’t feel adequate enough to meet. Vulnerable to perceived judgements about our failures. Vulnerable to the death of social weakness.