I lead two separate lives. No, I’m not that person who has some secret family stashed away somewhere that I visit while on “business trips.” What I do is completely normal. In fact, most people lead two lives.
There’s our private lives when we are our authentic selves. This is who is we are when we’re behind closed doors and with our family and close friends. This life is full of flaws, shiny foreheads, and insecurities. Oh, and the myriad of issues because we all have them. If someone ever tells you that they don’t have any issues, run. That person’s main issue is that they are delusional as well as a liar.
Then there is the person we choose to be online. I use the word choose intentionally. We choose what information we share about ourselves. We choose the filter for our pictures. We choose to share the good. Deep down we all know this. Yet, we often forget this fact when we look at someone else’s profile. I’ve been guilty on more than one occasion of social media envy. Wow, that one author never has a bad writing day and whoa, every review of her book is amazing! Look at the crowds at her events! And does she ever have a blemish?
Let me be honest: I’m no different. If you look at my social media profiles you may think that I live a pretty cozy life. Look at Elizabeth traipsing around London for two weeks! She hangs out with cool authors! Did you see how many people came out to her event in Peru? While admittedly these things are pretty sweet, these are only glimpses into my life. More importantly, they are only part of the story.
I’m overly aware of my audience on social media. As an author, my prime reason for being online is to connect with readers. I want people to like me and hopefully buy my book. There’s pressure to be funny, but also I don’t want to come across as the loser I sometimes am inside. I don’t want to bum people out, so I keep it light. (Although with the current political climate, many people are being more open about being scared about what’s happening in the world, including yours truly.)
When I sit down to write a book, I always concentrate on the characters first. I ask myself questions about each character. One of my favorites is: what is the one thing this character wouldn’t want people to know? I’m more interested in their personal lives than who they appear to be to others.
This public vs. private lives topic came into play when I started working on my upcoming novel, Just Another Girl. It’s about two girls, Hope and Parker, who are in love with the same guy. I know, I know… another love triangle story, how groundbreaking. However, I decided to do something a little different. Instead of making the girlfriend (Parker) the requisite Mean Girl, I made her just another girl. Yet, as the story opens up through Hope’s point of view, she sees Parker as this horrible, vapid bitch who’s life is just sooooo perfect. To Hope, Parker has an easy life. It isn’t until we get Parker’s point of view, that do we get the whole story. The reader finds out that Hope’s impression of Parker is all wrong. Parker’s life isn’t perfect, far from it.
Writing this book made me realize how careful I am online with what I share. It also gave me the confidence to start stripping away pieces of Author Elizabeth’s filtered persona. Here’s a sliver of truth: I struggle. I struggle with writing on most days, with my weight every day, and with feeling that I’m a legitimate author since I sat down to write my first book. Every time I’m asked what I do for a living, I still feel like the literary police are going to come after me for calling myself an author.
Would you know this by looking at my Twitter account? Of course not. Here, let me make another funny quip or share a photo of me at a concert (but for the love of God make sure the camera lens is 18 inches above eye level so you don’t see my double-chin).
I’m guilty for mostly posting the good on-line. Believe me, there needs to more positive things in life, but there’s a difference between being positive and being truthful.
So I decided to finally share a truth on Twitter. I was going through a particularly rough time toward the end of last year. I thought of quitting writing every day. I felt like a failure. I was having health issues that had caused me to gain a bunch of weight. I spent hours crying. I canceled plans. I didn’t want to see people. I kept up the façade online that things were fine, but then one day I decided to be truthful. To put it out there. It wasn’t anything revolutionary, I simply tweeted, “I’ve had a really bad day. So many tears. But tomorrow, I’ll get up and try again. In the meantime, here are some puppies. XO."
Even though I was sobbing while I wrote that, I decided to put a positive spin at the end because I want to set a good example for my younger readers. Even though I had a crappy day, I was going to pick myself up and get back to writing because it’s what I get paid to do.
The biggest revelation for making that tiny confession was the response I received from my author friends. Many contacted me to make sure I was okay since even a minor confession like that was really out of character for Author Elizabeth. A few even shared how much they also struggle. “But you’re a New York Times bestselling author, how can YOU struggle?” was my immediate thought. I had put the same presumptions on them that some may have on me.
Social media should make us feel like a community and often times it does. But it also makes people feel increasingly alone. We’re often watching other people live their allegedly fabulous lives and often have a lot of FOMO moments. While I try to put things into perspective as an adult, I have nothing but empathy for young people who live their lives online.
I was recently asked by a journalist in Mexico about issues that face American teens. I mentioned social media for this very reason. I’m so grateful the internet didn’t exist when I was a teenager (yes, I’m old). If I wasn’t invited to a party on a Saturday night, I may have heard rumblings about it Monday at school. Now, all a teen needs to do is go on Snapchat or Instagram to see how much fun people are having without her. I would’ve assumed that every single person had a better life than me because I sometimes still feel like that as a grown-ass adult.
Growing up is hard enough without feeling like you’re under a microscope, which is exactly what social media can be for teens who live on their Snapchats. There’s the expectations we place on ourselves to have the best picture or story. Being authentic is boring. Who wants to hear about your bad day when this person took such a great picture (which probably took several takes and filters to accomplish—I am also guilty of this)? Not to mention that with social media comes cyberbullying. Teen Elizabeth wouldn’t have handled that well. Adult Elizabeth still gets a bit of a startle when someone online decides to tell me to kill myself or that I’m a number of words I won’t repeat solely because I’m a woman who expresses her opinion. (And I have so much more privilege than many of my colleagues on Twitter and social media.) Fortunately, I’ve reached the point in my life where I know that those internet trolls are the ones with the issues, not me.
All of this has caused me to make a resolution to myself: be more open and honest online. If I’ve had a bad writing day, I’m going to talk about it. It may just help a struggling writer to see that even those so-called successful writers have those days. There are a lot of people out there who struggle. If we all were a little more honest with ourselves (and less hostile towards others), we might make the internet a more friendly place. While we definitely need to celebrate the good days, we need to acknowledge that there are also bad ones. Everybody has crappy days and it’s time we start talking about them.
(And in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m keeping my Instagram filters for now. I’m not that brave. Yet.)