I must be so annoying as a writer
There are a lot of things that grind my gears when it comes to the daily life of an online reader, but I do have six top-tier grievances.
These can be broken down in two main, self-centred categories:
A. things that piss me off about people’s writing, haha — and
B. things that piss me off about people’s writing, which I’m also fucking guilty of myself and this isn’t even funny.
I will start with the former, because it’s best to save the self-deprecating humour for last, lest people walk away from this thinking I’m a total jerk.
Now, I would like to say this is all just for shits and giggles and won’t get all social advocacy on you, providing us instead which a much-needed break from the real world being both figuratively and quite literally on fire — but I’d be lying. This is going to get somewhat socio-political. Yet it’s also just going to be plain petty at times, because, you know, I’m myself only human and all. Still, without further excuse-making:
A. Shit I hate about people’s writing, haha
This is stuff that would prompt my close friends and family to schedule me up for an MRI scan, should they ever actually see me doing any of it myself, under whichever circumstances. This is why, unlike the stuff in the latter category of shit I hate that I’m also guilty of, I can laugh about these while secretly feeling vaguely ‘more self-aware than thou’. You know, woke points and all.
1. Using special formatting to repeat stuff you think is important, rather than to highlight it as it occurs.
Difference being, saying it once in bold vs. repeating it to me in two different font styles.
I don’t mean saying the same thing two different ways in hopes one of them sticks; I mean copy-pasting the exact same sentences, word for word, and ‘strategically’ sprinkling your essay with these special formatting echo-quotes.
I get it, okay. The internet is tough, and many people scroll essays rather than read them. But it’s annoying as fuck and somewhat patronising towards those of us with an attention span higher than that of a two-month-old kitten.
What I suggest instead, is using special formatting to emphasise what is important, once. This both prevents your important message from becoming diluted and avoids my labelling you as ‘one of those people’ who prioritises metrics over maturity and craftsmanship.
Or you know, just, really take it there, full-on; dot your i-s with hearts while you’re at it. Let’s make this a full-on camp party. Bring out all the pride flags. Make it all in, and I’m in. I’m absolutely serious. Everyone needs more queer creative energy in their lives.
2. How to overcome depression/anxiety articles from people who claim to hold the one-size-fits-all cure.
Not to undermine your struggles, because any run-in with mental illness is tough and potentially life-threatening.
However, claiming that everyone can just up and overcome that shit the exact same way you did, be it through yoga, freelancing from Belize in fulfilment of your lifelong career dreams, or reading Jordan Peterson, is borderline toxic.
Your individual journey isn’t going to be the universal mental illness panacea. Sorry to disappoint. Your efforts to imply otherwise and rid the world of what you perceive to be an issue born out of one’s misguided outlook on life alone, are fucking insulting to those of us living with chronic mental illness.
Just because changing your perspective on life or adopting this one morning routine helped cure you of your depression, doesn’t mean other people experiencing depression will find your methods equally effective, nor does it mean they should be made to feel they’re at fault when said panacea fails to deliver as promised.
That’s not to say you should stop sharing your individual journey. I believe doing so has the potential to help make others who do happen to identify with your experiences feel seen, validated and less alone. So, if anything, I encourage you to share your story.
I’m just politely requesting you get the fuck off your high horse while you’re at it, and stop assuming that mental illness is a matter of one’s willpower, because spreading shit like that, be it directly or by means of implying it, is at best misinformed. It perpetuates toxic stereotypes and makes it harder for people living with mental illness to seek the help they need, find employment, or otherwise just find compassion for themselves.
3. Rich, white, able-bodied, straight, cisgender people (usually men), who preach the toxic delusion that you can be anything you want to be in life regardless of your background, so long as you work hard enough.
You make it all look so easy and neat and well within one’s control. There’s a subtle, insidious implication behind these dime-a-dozen bollocks advice articles: regardless of my circumstances or background, if I haven’t made it into my ultimate dream career, it’s my fault. And also, I am wasting my life and I should be ashamed of myself; I am destroying my potential and will amount to nothing.
Well, sorry to burst that bubble, princess, but it’s just not that fucking simple. You’re the online equivalent of that douchebag uncle who wonders aloud over holiday dinner about why homeless people can’t ‘just get a job’.
You’re over-simplifying shit, ignoring the immense privilege you’ve been dealt in life, while also dissing out often vacuous, useless, vague career advice that could generally be boiled down to the infamous Nike slogan ‘Just do it’, which is still better writing than your usual sent from my iPhone pieces.
What you could be doing instead, is using your influence and your time to call out and try to right some of the systemic wrongs that lead to poor, disabled, non-white, or LGBTQ+ people being held back again and again from attaining any semblance of your success. Which, granted, is less fun, more work, less financially fruitful, and all around more cumbersome than your how I made my first million (after being granted a one million starting investment from my dad) advice.
It’s tone-deaf and insulting. Bill Gates doesn’t do it. He has good PR. Take a lesson from one of the more publicly sensible white daddies and just fucking stop.
B. Shit I hate about people’s writing that I’m also guilty of myself
This is the shit that makes me a fucking hypocrite. I like to think I ‘do it differently’ — but I don’t. I’m just a fucking hypocrite.
Is there really anything to be said here? We all fall for them sometimes, we all at least low-key hate them. Alas, they’re an efficient, transparent promise type of formatting, which makes it easy for people to stay engaged in an ever-distracting (online) environment.
I have no idea what we should be doing instead; if I knew, I’d be doing it.
A decent place to start though, is trying to not use listicles manipulatively (think whatever makes you feel like you’re being sold something), but instead be using them to help forward our point within the guidelines of a clear, easy to follow structure.
5. Being halfway-authentic: enough to make it relatable-ish, not enough to get to the real down-and-dirty.
I get it. We do this entire writing thing, because we’ve lived through some bullshit. Whatever your pain in life might be, you want to share it, because if nothing else, it might at least help someone feel less alone in their own experience.
Yet you have this urge to make yourself look just a little bit presentable, while you’re at it.
Like when, I don’t know, you have an impromptu guest over, and you spend a frenzied 40-something minutes vacuuming, tidying and being self-aware, only to say ‘Please excuse the mess’ as you greet them while trying to look like you’re wearing blush and highlighter rather than sweat and exhaustion.
You know that’s a mess. But it’s not your raw mess. You want them to think it is. You want them to think that’s your worst mess. You want to think it is.
However, it’s not.
And readers can feel it.
What we should be doing instead, is, well, obviously, not that simple. All in authenticity isn’t something most writers are truly 100% ready for. Fuck, I’m not ready for it. I’m prepared to let you see some of the mess. A lot of it, at times.
But I’ll always, forever, to the last letter I ever write, be fighting the urge to make myself ‘look presentable’. At least in so much as to not make it depressing walking in here — there’s enough gratuitously-depressing shit going on in the world already.
Frankly, I have no idea how to balance these two facts: we need and crave authenticity; authenticity is depressing as fuck sometimes.
What I’m trying to do is be honest, in so much as I can bare it, full stop. Difference being, while I do choose what to reveal, I don’t get to put lipstick on that pig before I send it off into the world.
6. Being a linguistic smartass: the one who’s choice of words is always just a little bit over the top.
I seem to find myself falling into this urge to say shit creatively or emphatically, when I could just be saying it simply and efficiently. I don’t perceive my intentions to be smartass-y: I just love language and find fooling around with it irresistible.
However, as my mother would say, we judge ourselves by measure of our intentions while judging others by measure of their actions.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading other people’s own convoluted wordplays; it’s just that also makes me realise I, too, probably, at times, come off as at least a little bit of a smartass. The linguistic equivalent of that dude who still wears a fedora in 2020, despite the onslaught of memes on the subject.
Through the act of choosing to say shit in a complicated, linguistically nuanced manner, when I could just as easily be saying it like it is, am I inadvertently signalling to the world that I’m looking to compensate for my insecurities by means of being a fucking smartass? Could it be that my love for nuanced language comes off merely as a sort of linguistic snobbery?
What I of course should be doing instead, at least in theory, is saving my love for convoluted, hyper-nuanced sentences for when it truly serves to highlight something vital or to forward my point, while allowing the rest of my paragraphs to breathe in some much-needed simplicity.
However, in practice, I have no idea how to do that. Language brings me joy. Conjuring up unexpected ways of using it makes me happy. Seeing as I enjoy discovering similar nuances in other people’s work as well, I guess there’s room in this world for language nerds, just as much as there is room for, say, nerds who are really into painting D&D miniatures.
We can all happily indulge our respective passions, while remembering to at least try and not come off as a total smartass in the process.
Thank you so much for the time you’ve gifted me in this slightly-more-lighthearted-than-my-usual debate.
What are some of your reader pet-peeves? I love learning about what rubs other readers the wrong way, as I’m sure I happen upon a lot of it myself in my writing — so feel free to share some of your thoughts and help make reading on the internet just that little bit less annoying.
And, as ever, stay safe, nerds.