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“I just wanted to write a thing” – how to deal when your writing takes on a life of its own

The Hartford Courant is the oldest continually published paper in the U.S. It’s also one of the most respected newspapers in the country. And I had a piece run in it. I wrote an op-ed called “My feminist demand? Just equality” for their “Fresh Talk” column – where writers under 30 can have their voices heard by the readers of Connecticut.

I had interned at FOX Connecticut, which is like the Courant’s TV cousin, and a lot of my work was for the Courant 250 celebration and coverage.

The piece I wrote originally wasn’t destined for publication. I had gotten into an argument with one of my friends on Tumblr about whether or not feminism was still a relevant idea in 2015. I decided to write out my opinion so I could get my thoughts straight and argue a little more effectively. 

The first draft was something I was surprisingly proud of. You see, I suffer from an ailment that many writers share with me: “I-hate-everything-I-write-itis”. Very technical term right there.

But in all seriousness, I have major writing anxiety. I know I can write things, and every once in a while I write something that I like, and most of the comments I get on pieces I’ve done are positive. I know I can write, but I’m not always sure the things I write are any good. So when I write something and go, “hey, this isn’t terrible,” that definitely is a confidence boost for me. 

One of my journalism professors had mentioned something to me about the Fresh Talk column, and I went to look it up. I saw a piece written my a local 13-year-old girl, similar to mine, and I thought, “wow, I actually might have a shot at this.”

So I wrote this thing, based on what I had been seeing and experiencing my entire life. I cleaned it up, edited for clarity and length…and I sent it to the Courant.

Not only had I previously interned there, but a tour of the building and a visit to the presses had set me on the path to my journalism career, so I hold the Courant and Fox Connecticut in the highest of regards.

It had been about a week – long enough for me to stop thinking about it – when the opinions editor called me and asked if they could run it. I was stunned, but I agreed. He made one minor edit and sent me a bunch of paperwork to fill out.

He called me at 7:45 p.m. Monday night, the piece went live on the Courant’s website at 6 p.m. Tuesday night, and it ran in the paper Wednesday morning.

The fallout started immediately after.

The first piece of feedback I recieved was a reader emailing the paper and praising me.

Little did I know that that one piece of positive feedback would be some of the last I would get. Within a few hours, commenters on courant.com were arguing with themselves, each other, and me, calling me “stupid”, “spoiled”, and “naive”. One even said he could “forgive my obnoxious and incorrect opinion” because I was still in school. I was a little surprised at how vicious the reaction actually was. I chalked it up to feminism being a “hot topic” and went to get on with my day. 

I was tempted to go back to my piece, just to see what else people were saying, but thankfully something on my Chromebook was preventing me from opening the comments thread. I considered opening the piece on one of our newsroom computers and going to the comments, but I decided that was way too much work to just read comment after comment of negativity. 

I also briefly considered logging into my Courant account and responding to some of the comments, but I decided that I didn’t want to give the mean Internet people another way to insult me.

I turned away from the computer, thinking this was it – it was done. I started to say good morning to one of my coworkers when my phone began buzzing like crazy. I looked down at it in confusion, then shock when I realized what was happening. I got about 12 emails in the space of 30 seconds from people within the University – praising me. Thanking me. One of my professors went so far as to playfully tease me for not telling them I would be in the Courant. One said it was “beautifully written”. The director of the School of Communication told me I was making the school proud. Apparently, someone photocopied the piece and hung it up in the comm school’s copy room. (I haven’t been in there lately to check.) I even got a message from a copywriter in the Office of Marketing and Communication that I’d never met thanking me and congratulating me. A psychology professor I knew said she put it up on Blackboard for her class. (When I met some of the students at a show a few weeks later, many of them hugged me and treated me like a minor celebrity – equal parts cool and very strange.)

It was even on the School of Communication’s Facebook page.

And they put it in UNotes…you know, that thing that everyone in the University gets in their inbox every Thursday? Yeah, that.

It was about then that I realized I just might be in over my head.

I suddenly realized that both of my classes that day were in the School of Communication and I had no idea what was going to happen. It went about as well as I’d expected it to.

My first class was with my advisor, and she was congratulatory, but not overly loud about it – which, during a day that had been extraordinarily loud, was a blessing.

My next professor however…not so much. I had hung back in the last class to chat with my advisor a bit. (Aside: underclassmen, develop a relationship with your advisor [or try to anyway]! They are seriously the best. I love my advisor to pieces.) So, while I was running a little late to my next class, it wasn’t that bad. When I got to the classroom, my professor looked up at me, smiled, and said “Oh, good. I was hoping you’d be here today.” He then proceeded to pull a stack of papers out of his bag and pass them around the room.

Now, I know this professor pretty well – and the first thing that popped into my head when he started handing out papers was “Oh. My. God. You. Did. Not.” Of course, my irritation was valid…because he absolutely did. He had printed and photocopied my editorial and handed it out to our entire class (mind you, this is a class on Food Journalism) and opened the lecture with it. He was thrilled. I was mortified.

I figured when we started talking about that day’s New York Times food section that it would be the end of it. Not surprisingly at this point, I was wrong.

The next day, Thursday, I was at a meeting of the Philosophy Club when one of the adults called me out on having been the author after I introduced myself to the club. I nodded, claimed the piece and diverted the conversation as quickly as possible, feeling like I had dodged a bullet. Surprising absolutely no one, I was once again wrong. The School of Communication’s office coordinator sent me an email – a well-known public access show in Connecticut – CT Valley Views – wanted to invite me on. She gave me all the host’s contact information, told me it was up to me, and congratulated me on the piece.

My gut reaction was, honestly, to say no. I had had just about enough attention in the last two days to last me a lifetime. But something told me not to be so hasty. I held on to the email for a little while, turning the possibility over in my mind. Almost before I had fully processed what I was doing, I emailed the host to say I would gladly appear on her show. The interview was set for March 18th – right in the middle of spring break.

I didn’t really think about it again until a week or so later, when a friend of the family who works for a cool non-profit in New Hampshire called “Girls At Work” emailed me to ask for permission to reprint the column on their website. Still in disbelief over how out of control this whole thing was getting, I agreed.

At this point, I’ve sort of just accepted that this piece will probably follow me everywhere. Forever.

The next time I really thought about the column was March 10th, when I realized I needed directions to the interview. The morning of the 18th, I left New Hampshire bright and early to drive back to Connecticut. That whole morning was a blur of interstates I didn’t recognize and getting lost in a town I didn’t know. The interview itself was a blur of nerves and fear that I had talked way too much and made little (if any) sense. The drive home was a blur of giddiness and relief. By the time I made it back to Weare, I just wanted to sleep. For the rest of my life.

I don’t know when the CT Valley Views episode will air. I don’t know if I want to watch it. I have a feeling the media circle will start all over again – internet debate, University publicity, and heaven knows what else. Plus I’m terrified my food journalism professor might try to show it in class. 

I’ve come to terms with this piece. It’s a part of me, just like everything else I’ve written. It just looks like it’s a part of many other people too. And, as disdainful as I might be of all this sometimes, if my piece resonates with someone I’ve never met and warms their heart, gets them thinking or makes them feel like they’re not alone…that’s pretty cool.

May all beings be happy and free and may my life in some way contribute to that happiness. I'm a New Hampshire native, and a journalism major at the University of Hartford in West Hartford, Connecticut. I write books sometimes. When I grow up, I want to be a reporter.
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