| Don’t Write Alone
Writing Life What Celebrity Blogging Did to My Writing Voice
On some days I’d write up to twelve posts, each snarkier than the last. The meaner I was, the more they liked me.
“Stop what you’re doing right now. Lindsay just exited a limo in downtown LA and she wasn’t wearing underwear ,” my editor barked at me, her voice echoing in the spacious loft. “You need to write about it now before everyone else does.”
Whenever anyone spoke aloud in our office, you knew it was urgent—most of the time we instant messaged each other in silence. The clacking of keyboards was our metronome keeping time on the blogs we churned out. I could only see my editor’s widened eyes above the monitor across from mine, her lash extensions almost reaching her eyebrows. I gave her a soldier’s salute, took a sip of green juice for sustenance, and was off and typing.
It was 2008. I was working at a style and celebrity-news website and had somehow stumbled onto the Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Nicole Richie beat—essentially, writing about any skinny woman who was in the throes of what we called at the time a “hot mess journey.” These girls were often falling down drunk with white powder rimming their nostrils and forgetting articles of clothing, and, apparently, all of it was extremely newsworthy. Celebrity news had exploded in the early aughts, with blogs by Perez Hilton and the D-List gossiping about who was sleeping with whom and who weighed over one hundred pounds. The blogs were brutal, and anyone from that time likely remembers the crude drawings of bodily fluid Perez scrawled across Mischa Barton’s face and body. At a time when print media was in its final throes and the internet exploded with fashion and celebrity sites, the best way to stand out was to be the snarkiest.
The twist was, my writing had to be mean.
I’d been struggling to find my place at the site, surrounded by people I deemed cooler than me before later realizing they were just richer than me. I’d recently moved to Brooklyn on my own and was waitressing at night to offset my meager wages, while unpaid interns got Louboutins shipped to the office. I missed a lot of networking opportunities because I was always working to make rent, and I watched as my colleagues with parents on the Upper East Side and no student loans got promoted, or got special treatment, because they could devote more time to the job outside of office hours. The only way in I could find—the only way to get invites to meager yet expensive lunches, the only way my boss would toss me a free mascara, the only way I’d get to go to the Dolce & Gabbana fragrance party—was with my writing. The twist was, my writing had to be mean.
I started to feel the warmth of acceptance from my coworkers when I’d post something and hear snickers around the office. I became known as the “funniest” blogger on staff and started getting more assignments. On some days I’d write up to twelve posts, each one snarkier than the last. The meaner I was, the more they seemed to like me. I stopped caring about the interns’ Louboutins. I had something more valuable: Talent.
I’d laugh along with my coworkers at all my cutthroat jokes, convinced that their amusement meant I was a good writer. My parents back home read each post proudly, but one phone call with my mother still haunts me.
“I miss your voice,” my mom said one day. I sipped an Orangina as I lay on my back with my feet up against the wall of my Bushwick apartment, willing my blood to redistribute after a particularly long waitressing shift. “The poems, the short stories . . . I just hope you’re still doing that too.”
“What do you mean? It is my voice,” I scoffed. It was true that I’d stopped writing for myself, but I was tired, I was working, I was trying to build a career. I chalked any difference up to me growing and changing. Those articles were still my writing voice. Weren’t they?
Though I was gaining more favor at the office, sometimes the stories I thought would be successes fell flat or worse. One time, I pitched “Iconic Nip Slips to Celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness.” I was shocked when the CEO at the time exploded from his office, screaming at me that I’d taken it “too far,” even though the pitch was completely on-brand and wasn’t even meant to be negative. Then there was the time a famous DJ died tragically and I was asked to write it up on a Sunday. “Throw a little of your signature wit in there too,” I was told. “We don’t want it, like, too sad.”
Gradually, I could feel the snark, the negativity, the meanness becoming part of who I was. It wasn’t who I wanted to be or what I wanted to be known for. I didn’t want to make people’s lives worse with my writing—I wanted to make people feel less alone.
After working there for about eight months, I quietly gave my two weeks’ notice. I didn’t expect a party, maybe six cupcakes to split among the thirty interns. But my last day started and ended like any other. When I passed the CEO’s office with my box of desk supplies, I threw out a casual, “Thanks for everything.”
He barely looked up from his desk, his voice flat.
“What, no . . . you’re leaving? This is so sudden. Well, always happy to give a reference.”
This was the farewell I got from the man I let change my voice. After I quit, in typical twenty-two-year-old fashion, I got a tattoo. A sealed envelope meant to signify that I’d never sacrifice good writing for cheap popularity again.
It took me years to rediscover my voice without leaning on snark, the thing that had gotten me attention in the first place. After that job, I wrote immigration petitions for a law firm, helping artists get visas and green cards. Slowly, I began writing for myself again, penning essays about my own experiences instead of rehashing paparazzi shots. My mom had been right, of course. Without the palpable need for acceptance from others, my voice came back. It was like smoke clearing or something snapping into place. I realized that when I turned the lens back onto myself, however vulnerable I felt, I could write with more empathy and find ways to make my writing relatable to other people. My true purpose, I found, was writing so others felt less alone.
I now work as a beauty copywriter, injecting a feel-good voice into descriptions for products I believe in and crafting shade names that I hope make people smile. Decades ago, beauty advertising was all about what the consumer needed because they weren’t enough. Now, I prioritize writing copy in a way that lifts people up.
It took me years to rediscover my voice without leaning on snark.
In the years since quitting the celebrity news site, I’ve discovered ways to stay true to my voice without sacrificing what I’m good at. Snark, at its root, is really wit. If you’re like me and punching down comes easily, consider taking an extra moment when you think of a negative line and try to flip it. Keep the bite without the spite; remain irreverent, but take away the risk of hurting someone. In my beauty writing, that looks like writing about a product’s benefits first rather than the concerns it’s meant to address—focusing on the positive outcome (glowing, healthy skin) versus the negative symptom (lines and wrinkles, dullness). Similarly, if I’m working on pitching an essay, I start with my own experience and then reach for broader takeaways. If you write about something self-deprecating that’s relatable to a larger audience, starting with the personal can help you write from a place of empathy rather than judgment.
Finding an authentic writing voice is also about finding your people. I spent so much time in spaces where I didn’t fully fit that I found myself adjusting my personality, my wardrobe, and my words to what those people wanted to see and hear and read. But none of that was me, and none of that was what I actually wanted to say. Once I detached myself from the world of celebrity takedowns, I had the space to discover who I actually was—someone who strives for sincerity in my writing and celebrates others’ successes.
I’ve also rediscovered my first love, fiction writing, and that’s the place where I still let myself play around with snark. What’s a better place for a wry comment or something jaw-droppingly mean than out of the mouth of a villain? It’s probably also no coincidence that a lot of my main characters are flawed women fighting to find themselves—maybe in a way I’m trying to redeem any slight damage I might have done with my snark writing back in the days of AOL Instant Messenger and juice cleanses.
Snark writing still exists today, though now with more awareness of the damage it can cause, an understanding that celebrities are real people rather than cardboard cutouts falling out of limos. Articles and comment sections can seem conflicted between kindness and snark. People say they’re all for Saving Britney, but the public instinct to judge her newly freed Instagram posts is still there. Snark still lurks beneath the surface. But, the way I see it, at least we’re trying. At least we’re doing the work to try and hold each other accountable. At least we’re growing.
I’m also thrilled that Lindsay Lohan seems to be doing just fine.