Thursday 4 December 2014

How to Not Completely Lose Your Shit as an Online Creator

I think one of the biggest things I've come to realise from my years of blogging, is that:

Choosing the life of an online content creator is not to be taken light-heartedly.

As a person of the internet, not only do you have to be on your A-game and working pretty much 24 hours a day (or schedule your content to post as you sleep), you constantly have the pressure to be relevant, you serve yourself on a silver platter for untold amounts of abuse, trolling and anon hate mail, and you're pretty much signing yourself up to be professionally deluded about reality.

And unless you have Benedict-Cumberbatch-Sherlockian levels of self-awareness, self-assurance and self-control, it's pretty much impossible not to get completely overwhelmed every now and again, 'cause it's all just too damned much.

Trust me, I've been there, done that, messed around, now I'm having fun, don't put me down. Wait those are La Roux lyrics aren't they. Anyway.

I guess you can look at the internet, especially in online creative communities such as blogging, a bit like a black hole. It's this swirling, fascinating, intoxicating prospect.. but the deeper you go, the higher the stakes, the stronger the pressure, the fiercer the competitiveness and the intensity borders on crippling.

And get in too deep, it will consume you. 

I can pinpoint the exact moment with pristine clarity, that I realised the internet had totally fucked me up.

It was earlier this year, I'd just celebrated my first anniversary of having a blog, and more than ever I was determined to grow it into something big. My content was straying left right and center as I tried to find my voice and discover what category I'd eventually be able to lump myself in, when during a Twitter blog chat, someone posted the question 'Out of curiosity, would anyone say their blog is the most important thing in their life?'

With smug little fingers, I eagerly responded that I did.

And if it was a movie, there would be this shot of me looking down at my laptop screen with a twitching smile and Jack Nicholson eyes as my entire room explodes around my head in slow motion, and I don't even flinch, hands in crooked claws above my keyboard.

Because whilst all of my attention was focused on piling useless, meaningless content into a blog that had completely convoluted into this weird, desperate space devoid of any worth, my entire life was falling apart before my oblivious eyes. What had become an obsession with building this future, was completely derailing my present. I had completely shifted my life priorities into a very problematic order, ruining friendships and relationships with my selfishness, and screwing up monumentally at Uni because I couldn't muster the enthusiasm to give a shit about it.

What followed was a complete collapse of my perceptions of what my life was and an identity crisis that could rival Britney circa 2007, and it finally all got the better of me.

Now of course I can't solely attribute this just to blogging, there were a lot of other undesirable extraneous variables in my life at that time that contributed to this breakdown, but one undeniable truth was that I was substituting the losses and problems in my real life with the creation of a perfect impression of a cyber life, and was using it to distract myself from confronting these issues.

And that's when I came to realise the bottom line is, if you place more value on your internet life than your real life, then you need to ask yourself some serious questions about the kind of person you want to be.

Thankfully, that was a while ago now, and today I had the beautiful realisation that this is the first time since I began this whole messy, glorious business, that I've felt at peace at my place within it.

After so long of feeling anxious, stressed, deflated, over-zealous, obsessed, and over-immersed, I took my absence, I reassessed my life, I developed a healthy amount of cynicism and a long-overdue skin thickening, and now I can say I actually feel very comfortable and happy with the person who I have become, the content I am creating, and the place I am in life.

Last night, instead of rushing home to participate in a Twitter blog chat, on a whim I drove over to band house to surprise my bandmates and just hang out. And just kicking back laughing with these beautiful-minded, talented and passionately creative humans felt so damned good. 

It was like I had taken that necessary rocket ship into the cold, dark depths of that black hole, felt myself rattled and stripped and torn apart and seen the harrowing truth in the event horizon, and come out alive. And then as I looked back, I decided to settle in a little place close enough to observe the finer details, but far enough away not to get sucked into it's hypnotic and dangerous slipstream once more. And here I've found my home.

Or maybe I just like, really liked Interstellar.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, the internet will screw with your head if you're not careful. And it will screw with your real life too. So you gotta keep one foot on the ground.

The distance between your online identity and your personal identity needs to be clearly defined, and you need to understand when it's time to disconnect, and reconnect. I know I sound a bit preachy, it's just I'd never wish that level of mental derailment I experienced, on anyone. 

Because when you're crying into a pillow at 3am at some cyber dickhead who's giving you grief, those two hundred-odd hearts next to your latest insta selfie aren't going to make it all better. But your housemate tentatively knocking on your door with a sympathetic expression, holding out a steaming mug of cocoa with the whipped cream exactly how you like it, just might.

So take a walk alone in the woods with a notebook or sketchpad, go out for dinner with friends and put your phones in the middle of the table, curl up with a blanket and read a book by candle light, call a friend and tell them why you love them, remove your camera from it's perfectly positioned tripod and take some pictures of your pet frolicking in the late afternoon sun. You need to feel the cool, brisk breeze of reality on your cheeks once in a while, to not only balance out your perception of life, but also to remind yourself who you are and what you're about.

And when you die, those will be the moments the make you smile in the last few minutes of your time on earth, not those nights sat alone in your room, hunched in the dim sterile glow of your computer screen, reading tweets of how pretty someone thinks you are.

So then, if it's all such apparent arduous self-sacrifice and starving loneliness, why do we do it?

Because being an online content creator is a beautiful, incredible thing.

And these negative traits are not necessarily a prerequisite - it might not happen to everyone.

But underestimate it's power or fail to treat it with the caution and understanding which is necessary, you could ultimately find yourself rapidly losing control, or worse, causing a lot of damage to yourself and other people. You don't need to look too far to find some 'internet personalities' who have well and truly, spectacularly and monumentally screwed up their own lives, and the lives of others. 

So when you feel that familiar pressure building up, you find yourself lost in a sea of stats and figures or you start to become obsessed with the idea of it all, don't be afraid to step back, take a breath and admit you need to take a break, or even decide to permanently distance yourself from toxic characters and circles. If you have a loyal, appreciative audience, as you usually find in these communities, they will more than understand, and be eager and waiting for when you return.

Because when it comes down to keeping your audience happy, or keeping your sanity, I don't think it's a hard choice to make. 

And never, ever lose sight of which one of those is most important.