It’s been a while! I just wanted to give a quick update on what you can expect from this blog from now on. It’s safe to say I definitely experienced another episode of “writer’s block.” This time it wasn’t that I didn’t have ideas of things to write about. My busy schedule, a lot of life changes, and the pressures of having to constantly come up with new ideas all resulted in me taking a break from all of my digital platforms.
However, once it was time to come back, I was nervous that it had been too long. Then another month passed and then another and then another…
So I’m finally ripping the Band-Aid off and posting! From now on, once every other week I will post a one-hour-long podcast episode. On my Podcast, I like to give movie reviews, book reviews, comment on popular trends in literature and talk about relevant social issues that come up in the writing space.
As far as the blog you’re reading right now goes, I will post at least once a week. I will post poetry, fiction stories, tips for freelance writers, and digital marketing updates that pertain to freelance writers. I may post less, and I may post more, but you can expect a post once a week from now on at minimum.
For my Instagram account, my long-term goal is to post three times a week, but for now, I can only commit to one day a week. On my Instagram, I post poetry that you can’t find on my website and more tips for freelance writers! Over the past year, I have definitely learned the value of setting realistic goals and following through on them. Even though I’ve done a good job of following through on this in my personal life, I haven’t done such a great job when it comes to AJ’s Creative Corner.
So these are the goals for 2022, I’m very excited about a new beginning and I will see you guys next week!
This post is a sort of “response” to Ada Limón’s poem Accident Report in the Tall, Tall Weeds. http://www.buenosairesreview.org/2015/02/ada-limon/ I thought the message of the poem was so beautifully worded and unique that I was really inspired to write something of my own.
Subtle reassurance through wide tired brown eyes,
A comfortable silence spent staring at morning skies.
Grocery store trips and doctor appointments filled with laughter,
Fairy Tales were onto something with “happily ever after.”
The sound of a deep gravelly goodnight and a soft cheerful good morning.
The kind of love that really shouldn’t come without a warning.
It’s good and it’s simple and it’s managed to stay sweet,
Name’s been on the tip of my tongue all week.
I know this ground isn’t solid and I should run for cover,
I know my idealisms cause my own heart to suffer.
But I’m addicted to your presence, I refuse to give you up,
Hey guys! On this week’s Podcast episode I followed up on a previous episode titled “How to Write a Horror Story.”
In that episode I talked about how I am planning on writing a fiction horror story for the first time! On this week’s episode I updated you guys on my outline for my horror story, I discussed a blog post that teaches you how to plan a fiction novel, and then I talked a lot about the Cecil Hotel since it has become an inspiration for this new book I want to write.
To keep it brief I’ve decided to write a novel about an eighteen-year old girl who lives somewhere in the U.S. The book takes place during the Summer before she will be starting college. The main character who I have temporarily named Annalise will be hitchhiking her way through the country as one final act of freedom before she enters the real world. The character has extremely overprotective parents so she told a couple of white lies to convince them to let her go. Little does the main character know that she has bipolar disorder which has never been formally diagnosed and during the middle of this trip, she gets thrown into a full-blown manic episode.
I talked a lot about the steps I will take to prevent exploiting people with bipolar disorder and to prevent myself from portraying this disorder inaccurately. I have decided that the character has bipolar disorder type 1, simply because a manic episode has different symptoms than a hypo-manic episode which is what’s associated with bipolar disorder type 2 (also known as bipolar depression). I personally have been diagnosed with bipolar depression and I understand just how important it is to accurately portray the symptoms without feeding into the harmful stereotypes that surround this disorder.
My intent with this story is to get people to understand how scary it can be to struggle with this disorder, especially for those who are undiagnosed and unmedicated. I have set some hard limits, the main character will not commit an act of violence throughout the story and she will not have a fatal ending. I don’t think either of these scenarios will contribute anything to the reader’s experience or my intention with this story. A common misconception about people with bipolar disorder is that they are violent, and I want to debunk several myths like this throughout the story.
Some other minor details I’ve come up with so far is that the main character is either a writer or photographer. She is going to college for a career either in the medical or engineering field but indulges in the arts as a hobby. She wants to launch a new blog and document her travels. Right now I am planning on using this minor detail to help deliver the ending of the story. I don’t know too much about the ending but I know ultimately I would like it to end with ethical medical intervention for the main character, where the reader will formally learn about her diagnosis.
In order to form this outline I followed the 10 steps that were mentioned in this article:
If you are planning on writing a novel soon or in the future, I would strongly recommend reading through the article linked above to help get your ideas on paper!
So…let’s talk about the Cecil Hotel. This obsession I have with this hotel started when I watched a Netflix Docuseries titled “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel.” The series focused mostly on the tragic case of Elisa Lam. As I was planning my novel I realized subconsciously I was thinking about this case and the Cecil Hotel. I want to make it very clear that the novel I am planning in no way intends to copy the details of what happened to Elisa Lam but this case is simply a reference for major themes that will be discussed in my story. Actually the obsession I have is with the history of the Cecil Hotel itself because I find it absolutely bizarre. However, out of respect and full transparency I did briefly talk about who Elisa Lam is and what happened to her because after all she is a part of the history of the Cecil Hotel.
So, in February of 2013 Elisa Lam who was a Canadian tourist tragically passed away at the Cecil Hotel located in downtown Los Angeles. If you’re a true crime fan, you’ve probably seen the infamous elevator footage. Just minutes before her death, security footage at the Cecil shows Elisa Lam standing in one of the hotel’s elevators alone. She is acting extremely erratically in the footage. She is waving her arms and speaking seemingly to someone who is outside of the elevator, even though no one was caught on camera. She also pressed all of the elevator buttons and popped her head out of the elevator several times to look into the hallway. When I first saw this footage with no context I thought she was playing some sort of game with friends she had made but it later comes out, no one else was caught on video at this time. The elevator door stayed open for a concerning amount of time and the footage’s choppy nature all contributed to how poorly this video was received.
This footage was released to the internet by the detectives who were working the case of trying to find Elisa Lam, who was just thought to be missing at the time. However the internet erupted into chaos, forming several conspiracy theories and web sleuths began to have a field day with the footage. Here’s what actually was said to have happened.
Elisa Lam who wrote on her blog about the fact she had bipolar disorder and stopped taking her medication, had a manic episode. During manic episodes some people can experience visual and auditory hallucinations. This fact combined with the hotel’s lack of following safety guidelines, led to an extremely bizarre and tragic ending for Elisa. First of all, the hotel’s elevator door stayed open because Elisa had accidentally pressed the hold button in the elevator. Once the elevator door stayed open Elisa Lam exited the elevator and made her way to the roof. The hotel’s security cameras never actually showed Elisa leaving the hotel so after awhile detectives began to realize they needed to search the hotel itself to find her.
Guests and residents of the Cecil Hotel are obviously not supposed to have access to the roof because of the many safety guidelines that violates, however they did. The door to the roof was often left unlocked and would not set off alarms if opened, even though the hotel’s formal statement was that the door would set off an alarm if opened. Once Elisa made it to the roof, she is said to have climbed up the water tower and jumped in as a way to escape her hallucinations.
I genuinely understand why people without a solid understanding of what bipolar disorder is, are prone to believing the conspiracy theories. Elisa Lam’s body was eventually found naked, floating in the water tank and that seems like an extremely brutal ending for one bad mental health episode. So it makes sense why so many people feel like there has to be more to the story, but the reality is, that’s the whole story. Elisa Lam was unmedicated, experiencing a manic episode and she climbed into the water tower to escape the hallucinations. Once she was in the water tank she most likely quickly became overwhelmed by the water pressure and took off her clothes as her body’s natural response to experiencing hypothermia.
Elisa had actually been moved into a private room in the days before her death because the roommates she was originally staying with complained about her erratic behavior. As heartbreaking and brutal as her ending is, it isn’t a conspiracy. It’s a heartbreaking unfortunate tragedy.
I also want to quickly mention the fact that many people believe the Netflix Docuseries was exploitative of Elisa. The documentary was made to look like a documentary mostly about the Cecil Hotel but Elisa Lam was the main subject discussed in every single episode. There are also parts where they show her Tumblr username which was one of the platforms she blogged on and read her blog posts out loud which many viewers felt was an invasion of privacy. The docuseries experienced other criticisms as well including the fact they took on too many topics without giving a conclusion to all of them. I would definitely urge readers of this post to not rely solely on the docuseries for information about the Cecil Hotel.
So now, let’s actually talk about the Cecil Hotel. At some point I would love to replicate this hotel’s unique characteristics and find a way to implement them into a story of my own. The Cecil Hotel is located directly next to an area referred to as “Skid Row.” This name comes from the saying that people end up in this area when they’re “on the skids.” The area has an extremely large homeless population. Skid row covers 50 blocks in Downtown Los Angeles. The area has been known for its homeless population starting riots, selling drugs, and breaking the law in other various ways. This area is also known for frequent instances of police brutality. The Netflix docuseries briefly discusses the fact that officials made a plan to basically keep homeless people in Skid Row all together and keep them out of other areas of California.
The hotel was known for being a space where sex offenders, gangsters, prostitutes, and serial killers stayed when they had the money or wanted to hide out. This was a fact known to residents of Downtown Los Angeles but it was not a fact usually known by tourists from other countries. Many tourists who stayed at the Cecil experienced two major surprises. The first surprise was realizing where the hotel was located and having to walk through Skid Row to visit different attractions. The second surprise was entering the hotel’s stunning lobby, only to then see the rest of the hotel which paled in comparison. Since the Cecil is a budget hotel, the rooms are minimal and have historically looked extremely rundown.
The Cecil Hotel opened in 1927 and it was intended to be a spot for traveling businessmen and tourists. After two years of the hotel being opened, the Great Depression happened and this is when the hotel’s interior itself began to see a decline. In 1931 the hotel saw its first tragedy when a man staying at the hotel committed suicide and this seemed to mark the beginning of the hotel’s reputation for being a place people ended up at when they were down on their luck.
Several people have committed suicide in this hotel either in their rooms or by jumping off the building which has 19 floors and 700 guest rooms. Several other tragedies happened at this hotel including the case of a woman who was found raped, stabbed, and beaten which still remains unsolved today. Richard Ramirez known as the “Night Stalker” was fond of staying at the Cecil Hotel. He was able to leave at odd hours of the night and change his clothes in the alley without attracting attention since he blended in easily with the other residents.
In 2011 the hotel was split and half of the hotel was renamed to “Stay at Main.” The hotel was desperate to rebrand and get away from the Cecil’s reputation. Since the hotel’s demographic mainly consisted of longtime residents of Skid Row and tourists from other countries, Stay at Main was an attempt to attract more tourists. When potential hotel guests googled “stay at main” they most likely wouldn’t see the concerning search results that they would see when they googled “Cecil Hotel.” In the docuseries the hotel’s old manager who was hired despite having no previous managerial experience, discussed other attempts she made to change the hotel’s clientele. One more unethical approach she tried to take was evicting the hotel’s longtime residents but this attempt failed since there were laws protecting these residents as an attempt to get homeless people off the streets of Skid Row. This hotel desperately tried to rebrand and is still making attempts to rebrand themselves to this day.
In 2017 Los Angeles made the Cecil Hotel a landmark. There are currently renovations being done to the Cecil Hotel that are scheduled to be done in October of 2021.
I find the Cecil Hotel so interesting because it has a bunch of different elements contributing to its unique environment. This hotel targets two main demographics; well intentioned tourists from other countries who want to visit the version of Los Angeles they see on TV and long-time residents of Skid Row who are used to witnessing crime and police violence on a regular basis. Tourists at this hotel stay for short amounts of time and long-time residents think of this hotel as their home. Both of these demographics share elevators and common spaces but reside on opposite sides of the hotel.
I have never heard of any hotel quite like the Cecil and even if its a location that will only be briefly mentioned in my future story, I think this hotel is the perfect spot to implement into a Horror Story.
That is it for this week’s episode! Let me know down in the comments if you’ve already known about the Cecil Hotel and what intrigues you about it the most. See you guys in two weeks for the next episode where I will be discussing what’s new on the digital marketing side of the internet. See you next week!
Hey guys! Just like last week, I wanted to have this week’s Podcast episode available both on audio and in a blog post so that everyone has access. This week’s topic is a bit more technical. I have just started this journey of learning to become a Freelance writer and so I wanted to give other people some advice on where to begin your Freelance writing journey. Some of this stuff I have already done, I’m in the process of doing, or I haven’t even started it yet. Keep in mind I’m still in the beginning stages so I have so much more to learn but I have been building my knowledge in digital marketing for about a year now, so I definitely have a few tips I can share. I currently have a couple gigs where I get paid for my writing and I noticed when I was brand new to this job, I couldn’t find any resources that really taught me how to get started.
I wanted to give you some simple straightforward tips on where to start. So, let’s begin. The first tip I would give is to pick a niche. Some examples of niches you can pick are travel, fitness, CBD, cooking, or real estate. I’m a bit of a hypocrite. I haven’t committed to a niche yet. Real Estate is my “back-up” niche because it’s what I have the most experience in but I’m not sure if it’s what I want to commit to yet. Don’t panic if you don’t have a niche right away. I’ve actually been using Fiverr to eliminate niches that I’m finding aren’t a good fit. So far I’ve ruled out the tech, science, and medical world from my area of expertise since I don’t know nearly as much about these subjects as I do about other subjects.
Next you should set up a website or a blog. You can do this for free on plenty of platforms like Wix or WordPress. I will say I have made a free website on Wix before and this blog I’m currently using is a paid WordPress blog. Wix has some insanely fun themes and it’s very user-friendly but it doesn’t have nearly as much SEO as my paid WordPress blog. If you are a blogger, even if you are using the free option, I will recommend WordPress over any other platform every time. The research I did before I bought this blog all pointed to the same conclusion as well. A feature to note that doesn’t get talked about enough is WordPress reader. I follow at least 100 blogs on WordPress, so when I click the WordPress reader button it creates a feed of recent blog posts from everyone I follow and I’m able to like/comment on all of their posts. It’s like a social media platform but only for people with WordPress blogs. Here I have been able to gradually increase my followers and likes each month. I get a lot more guaranteed views now because I utilize this feature and I get to find new blogs that I want to follow which gives me tons of inspiration to keep posting!
The next tip I have is to get your sample work prepared ASAP. This is actually kind of a controversial topic among Freelance writers. Seasoned writers often have the expectation that they will be paid when asked to provide a sample. I think it’s important to note that some experienced copy writers/freelance writers have been doing this job for 10+ years, so the expectations they have will differ from some of the expectations a beginner should have. The truth is you haven’t proved yourself yet in the eye’s of a potential client. It’s normal to be asked for samples of published work you’ve written for other people. Here’s a hack I used when I first started. I would go on Indeed and search up “Freelance Writer” jobs and “remote” for the location. I would scroll through several job descriptions all giving prompts for what sample work they wanted. I would write these samples and save them on a folder on my laptop without actually applying to these jobs. You don’t have to be published in order to have sample work and also your website or blog that you’ve built can serve as a portfolio. There are tons of options for beginners to provide sample work. I suggest creating sample work for the clients you want to attract. So for example, if I want to work for a Real Estate agent, I’ll send them a sample writing titled “How to buy a home in a seller’s market.”
However, there’s a reason sample work is such a sensitive topic among freelance writers. Writers get screwed over. Like a lot. This happens in many different ways. One, you might see a job post on a platform telling people to submit a sample writing with their application on a topic the company has chosen and if they hire you, they will pay you for your work. The issue with that is obvious. Only one person is going to be hired, so apply to positions like this at your own risk and don’t invest too much time into it if you have other money-making opportunities available. Now, what happens if you write sample work about a specific prompt a company has given you and they don’t have such great integrity? Meaning, they take your post, don’t hire you, don’t credit you, don’t pay you for your work, and then publish your post. It’s disgusting but it happens! It might not even be legal but when you’re a small business or independent contractor going up against a multi-million dollar company in some cases, most of the time you’ll have to end up accepting your losses and moving on. I want to make sure I haven’t scared you. Being asked to provide sample work is fine and you shouldn’t act above it. However, go with your gut or ask for advice on Freelance Writing Facebook groups you’re a part of when you get in situations where you feel like you’re being exploited. It happens! I just want to make sure anyone reading this is aware and prepared for the possibilities.
Next we get to a tip that I call selling in the DM’s. I’m mostly going to be talking about Instagram and Email for this part, since these are my primary platforms that I use. So, this is really where you’re going to find your clients when it comes to freelance writing. Start by going to your search bar on Instagram and looking up a hashtag that your ideal client uses. For example, if you want to work for a realtor you’ll look up something like #realtorsofinstagram. Then you’ll scroll through posts and click on the person’s profile. Scroll through their page and ask yourself a series of questions. Do they consistently post content? Does any information in their highlights or on their bio seem outdated? What’s their following like? How much engagement do they get on each post? Do they post professional content or just personal content? These questions are great if you would like to be hired to write social media content for people. If you would like to be hired to write blog content for people, try following these steps. Click on their link in bio and go to their website. If they have a blog on their website ask yourself how often they blog and if they’re blogging valuable information. A realtor in this example who has a low following, outdated posts, and no clear social media strategy could be an amazing potential client!
This is where the selling in the DM’s starts. Number one, please don’t follow the steps I give without adding in your own additional steps or tweaking my advice to fit your specific niche. Beginners have a bad habit of wanting a script or fool-proof formula for being successful. I am only here to provide a general outline as I am still learning myself. Also, do not use a set script for each potential client you message. As someone who runs an Instagram account for Real Estate agents I can tell you that they get multiple DM’s a week from photographers, digital marketers, etc. all who seemed to go to the same class and end up with the same exact copy & paste script. It feels disingenuous and spammy. Some of this advice might sound harsh but I really want each of you to be successful, so I always want to be brutally honest. Once again, having a general outline is perfectly acceptable but don’t take a rigid approach by using a set script that can hinder your ability to individualize your pitches.
Now, here’s what to do next. The most important thing is to show that you have done a little research about the business you’re approaching. This means that you’re mentioning specific details you have seen on their page. For example, “I see that you have 200 followers and your last post was two months ago.” This way they know you’re not DM’ing them just another copy & paste script. However, I’m getting ahead of myself. Your first message to someone should be a warm greeting that genuinely expresses interest in their profile or content. Sometimes we get so excited about gaining a new client and growing professionally, that we forget to simply enjoy a conversation. This is also a great way to see if they even respond to you in the first place. Now, once you have sent them a message detailing what services you provide and why you think you can help them, think about where you want to direct them next. End your message with a call-to-action.
If they engage with you and seem interested in the services you’re offering, maybe offer to set up a Zoom meeting. Make sure if this is the case, you are prepared and everything is ready to go on your end so if they agree to setting up a Zoom meeting, you already have an account set up and know exactly how to send them a link. You can send these pitches either through DM’s on Instagram or send it to whatever Email they provide in their bio (not everyone will provide an email address).
Lastly, I would recommend looking at job boards like Indeed. I’ll discuss this very briefly. Like I mentioned earlier, you can search for remote, freelance writing jobs on Indeed. I’ve had incredible luck with this method. I am a freelance writer who also has an interest in digital marketing so I use this platform to find jobs for both of these fields. This is a great place to start, especially if you aren’t comfortable DM’ing people yet. We should all eventually be prepared to pitch ourselves but if you’re just starting out, you don’t have to stress about that right away. Just take a deep breath and start by applying for freelance jobs on a job board. It’s less intimidating and an excellent resume builder.
There are also job boards built for freelancers to sell their services, like Upwork or Fiverr. I have zero experience using Upwork so I can’t say too much about it. Some people are able to make a full-time income using Upwork. You’ll probably have to have some work already published before you get accepted and it has a better reputation than Fiverr when it comes to scoring high-paying jobs. If this platform works for you and you can get verified, I say go for it! I’m mostly going to talk about Fiverr since that’s what I have the most experience with. I’m not the biggest fan of Fiverr, however I definitely want to do some more experimenting before I call it quits!
I’ve ran about 3 or 4 gigs so far. My most recent gig easily got the most traffic, but if there’s one thing I regret it’s making the gig so general. I opened up the gig to any niche, so when people contacted me asking me to write a blog about the tech or medical industry I couldn’t deliver. This was a big learning lesson when it came to niches that I could officially rule out so that was helpful! I’ll leave you with a few key takeaways for Fiverr. Number one, getting your first client is the hardest part. Don’t be alarmed if you have to run multiple gigs before you finally get a message, that’s normal! Try making something different about each gig so you can run them at the same time and see which one performs the best. Lastly if you’re still struggling to understand Fiverr’s features or how to get your first client, who better to teach you then Fiverr themselves? They provide educational videos teaching you about the different features and they even give you tips on how to successfully get a client.
When it comes to promoting your business to a mass audience for the lowest price, what’s the best way to go about it? That’s right, social media! In this Podcast episode, I told you guys that I boosted a Facebook post promoting my Podcast for $10 and I shared the results with you. The post I boosted was a picture of my Podcast cover art with a lengthy caption detailing who my Podcast is for and what I talk about on there. Full disclaimer, if I were to re-do this I would completely change the caption, mostly the hook. I would have an attention grabbing sentence, calling to other freelance writers. My hook was a complete fail! So the results I’m sharing with you today is by no means the fault of Facebook, there are some major changes I would make on my end for the next time, because there will definitely be another ad experiment soon. My post ran for 5 days and the goal I selected was to get more website visitors. Total I received 8 link clicks and reached 1,667 people. There was a $1.25 cost per link click. Honestly the cost wasn’t worth the results, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see an increase in my Podcast viewer stats because I definitely have! Once again, I also take full ownership for not choosing the best caption to boost. I thought this might be helpful for you guys to have a realistic understanding of how boosting a post works and to see if it seems like a feature you would want to utilize. Ads are a fantastic way to gain new traffic to your website but it’s definitely a step to consider after you’ve set yourself up for success by completing the other steps we’ve talked about first.
Finally my last talking point during this episode was explaining how the new iOS update affects Facebook ads. So Apple has released a new update that allows users to choose whether they want to disable tracking. This means that people can choose whether they want to see Facebook Ads or not. Obviously, this will result in Facebook losing some money. However, I’m not sure if you know much about Facebook but…they’re not exactly hurting for money. This change by no means will be detrimental to their current income. Android users still can’t disable tracking and besides some Apple users with the iOS update are still choosing to allow Facebook to show them ads. However, the fear here is that Facebook will increase their prices when it comes to running ads in order to make up for this loss in income. That hasn’t happened yet and Facebook has not stated that will be happening. For now, it’s important to keep calm and just ride the wave. I think it can be a great thing that one of the most successful social media platforms of all time is being forced to adapt to what their users now want. Facebook is by far one of the most affordable platforms to run advertisements on so trust me, I understand the panic especially if you’re used to running ads on a daily or weekly basis. Just something to keep in mind, you will have around 20-30% less reported conversions if you do choose to run Facebook ads because of the changes. Just take note of this and don’t feel discouraged if you feel like your conversion rate has been decreasing.
Alright, that about wraps it up for this week’s Podcast episode! If you have any questions about any of the information I shared or you want to suggest a topic for next week’s episode, comment down below! Otherwise, I will see you guys in next week’s episode!
Hey guys! I’m so sorry for the delay in getting this week’s episode uploaded, I was having a few editing problems but it’s up now! One minor mistake to note, during the part where I talk about the movie Hard Candy I briefly mixed up the plot with a different movie. In Hard Candy the main character is not getting revenge on her sister’s behalf, she is simply a teenager who suspects the man of being a predator and that’s why she’s seeking revenge. Everything else I said about the movie from the way they did a brilliant job at tackling an uncomfortable conversation in comparison to other works who tried and failed at that still stands!
I also wanted to take the time in this post to talk about censorship in case you aren’t able to listen to this week’s Podcast episode for any reason. I want to make sure everyone can be a part of this week’s conversation!
I briefly mentioned three of the authors on this list. I talked about Judy Blume, Vladimir Nabokov, and J.K. Rowling. Judy Blume is an author who often tackles subjects related to puberty, teenage sexuality, and even things like birth control. All of these factors make her one of the most banned authors in the United States. I’m sure seeing Vladimir Nabokov’s name on this list does not surprise you. Nabokov is the author of Lolita, a book that has been surrounded by controversy since the author tried to get it published. This book was banned in several different places for its blatant themes of pedophilia. We will get more into this work later on in the post. Lastly, The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling has been banned in several states for its themes of occultism and witchcraft.
Now that we have some real world examples to work with, I wanted to discuss the difference between a banned book and a challenged book. In an article called “Why Books Shouldn’t Be Banned” posted by user cbo1094 they dived in deeper to these definitions. https://the-artifice.com/books-banned/ The American Library Association says “a challenge is the attempt to remove the written material while a ban is the actual removal” (Artifice 2019).
So, what’s bad enough to get a book banned instead of just challenged? This article also went on to explain the biggest reasons books are banned. The American Library Association data shows the biggest reasons for a book being banned are “racial issues, damaging lifestyles, blasphemous dialog, sex, violence/negativity, witchcraft, religion, politics, or just age inappropriate” (Artifice 2019).
Now that we know the history of banning books, do I think that books should be banned? No. Hear me out. I believe that we should use adequate trigger warnings especially for teenagers, refrain from romanticizing harmful ideals, and we need some sort of system in place to help give viewers a place to talk out their feelings. However, I think banning books all together is pointless. A lot of subjects in these books are subjects that are uncomfortable but necessary to have. Banning these books won’t make those needed conversations go away. It will simply prolong the inevitable conversation until a different outrageous literary work comes out.
I understand wanting these controversial books out of children’s school curriculum and libraries, especially when it comes to a novel like Lolita which wouldn’t be age appropriate for most High School students. I even understand being enraged by these books, but silencing these author’s from sharing their work entirely is unsustainable and ineffective when you look at the whole picture. I want to pose my next question to you directly. Do you think that these books themselves are harmful or mainstream society’s interpretation of them are harmful?
To illustrate this point I want to dive deeper into two books; 13 Reasons Why and Lolita. It seems like an odd comparison but both of these books illustrate a similar point. I’ll start by discussing Lolita. I’ll be the first to admit that I am completely biased against this book. I find the plot repulsing and the writing style completely overrated. This book is about an adult man trying to justify the sexual attraction he has for a little girl by claiming she is just one-of-a-kind while we are encouraged to ignore the obvious truth, the main character is an absolute creep.
Do you know what’s even creepier? The fact that when I was 15 years old with a horribly corny blog, I would see other girls my age trying to replicate the exact fashion and mannerisms of the little girl who starred in the Lolita movie. What do I mean by replicating her mannerisms? These girls would want to make sure they appeared as fragile and docile as a child but seductive enough to gain attention from older men. It was pretty heartbreaking and uncomfortable. You’ve probably seen this same phenomenon from celebrities like Lana Del Rey and Melanie Martinez.
I was a die-hard Lana Del Rey fan when I was a teenager, but I have to state the obvious. She portrays herself to be soft and delicate, so that troubled older men will want her. A lot of her songs are about how these older men treat her horribly but she bears it because of her undying loyalty. This disturbing phenomenon is more apparent with Melanie Martinez though, who has worn a bib and pacifier in some of her promotional material. I want to make a point to say that I don’t think these women have bad intentions but they are promoting a disturbing subculture nonetheless to their fanbases full of teenage girls. It’s an act that is seen as “edgy” and an ironic take on society, but it really does more harm than good. I don’t think these women should be censored or banned but I do think we should discuss this phenomenon that is occurring in front of us, so we can learn from it.
Another book whose plot was romanticized in an unexpected way was 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I find this book to be a little more complex since we also witnessed the book’s adaptation into a Netflix TV Series in modern times. I read this book in High School and absolutely loved it.
The plot is about a girl named Hannah Baker who is experiencing depression once she moves to her new High School. Hannah Baker is experiencing bullying by classmates, arguments with her parents, and traumatic incidents. All of these things lead up to her wanting to end her life and she leaves 13 tapes behind to every person she feels contributed to her wanting to commit this tragic act.
Right off the bat one point that landed negatively on many readers was that they felt this was a revenge plot and teaches teenagers that suicide is the ultimate act of revenge. Like I said on this episode, I really can’t argue with that because there’s no clear messaging in the book to offer a counter-argument to this.
In my opinion the book did one thing extremely well. It took textbook signs of depression like giving away your valued possessions and making drastic changes to your physical appearance and showed how your friend could be showing these signs very subtly. I thought it did a good job at reminding the reader to check in with their loved ones.
Now, here’s where the dumpster fire started. This book that covered a plot as heart wrenching as a teenager committing suicide was now going to be a TV show. It’s one thing to read about this subject silently in your head without being provided images, it’s another to see it all come to life right in front of your eyes. The show uses their actors who are definitely not the age of normal High Schoolers and gets them to dramatize these scenes of teenagers drinking alcohol, experiencing sexual assault, and dealing with trauma. You know who is watching this show? A lot of teenagers and those teenager’s parents. There’s no doubt this show sparked an intense emotional reaction from its audience across the globe.
I’ll quickly make a note of what I condemn the show for and what I praise it for. In the very last episode of the first season Hannah Baker takes her life. She does this in an extremely graphic scene that some critics (including me) say could be triggering for self-harm and suicide survivors and a twisted “how-to” guide for a vulnerable young viewer who might be having thoughts of suicide. We need to talk about suicide and depression. We need to discuss the facts and end the stigma. This show did all of that without including this scene. Once this scene was included we surpassed the need for awareness and ended up landing in unnecessary shock-value territory.
Had this show and book been marketed to adults instead of remaining in the Young Adult’s section for years, I might have a different opinion. Since it was marketed to teenagers I still believe the graphic nature of this scene was not needed and the next couple seasons that this show put out continue to perpetuate a harmful message to its viewers.
One thing that I want to praise the show for is including adequate trigger warnings. It has been years since I watched this show so I can’t remember if they put warnings before every single episode, but I know that they did have warnings for most episodes. In addition to this, they had the actors from the show directly speaking to the audience and encouraging them to reach out for help if they were experiencing thoughts of suicide or depression. Since I consistently ask for shows and books to do better with providing trigger warnings, I wanted to make sure I praised the show for doing this.
The dumpster fire continued after several people around the world finished watching the first season of this show and took their outrage to social media. I will note that I did not see a general consensus about this show. It seemed to be a fairly polarizing show, either you loved the rawness or you hated the portrayal. Media outlets had a field day with this public reaction beginning to share poorly researched studies that stated this show contributed to increasing suicide rates within its first couple months of releasing.
This study has been consistently challenged by several researchers but that didn’t stop media outlets from continuing to share the study. There are several petitions to this day that are online and want this show taken off Netflix. I don’t think it should be but I can definitely understand why people would want it to be. It’s a polarizing harmful show that sometimes romanticizes mental illness and presents itself as a toxic revenge plot.
Just like Lolita, after 13 Reasons Why released teenage girls begin to share edits of Hannah Baker online, casting her as this almost fantasy whose outcome they wanted to replicate. It’s important that teenage girls don’t feel alienated in their thoughts of depression but this show handed them a character who romanticized their mental illness and tempted them with a dangerous fate.
It’s not even the book or show itself. It’s the fact that we don’t really know what to do next. After vulnerable teenagers who aren’t completely cognitively developed digest this toxic material, they need a place they can discuss it with an adult/mental healthcare professionals. We need to have the flexibility in schools to have class discussions about popular works like this so that teenagers have a place to talk out these confusing thoughts that this show might have kicked up. It’s anxiety-inducing thinking about how many teenagers only have themselves and their peers to try to work their way through complex topics like depression and suicide with.
Let’s sum up my opinions for this week’s episode. Books should not be banned. This act is unsustainable and will only prolong the inevitable until another work discussing the same topics come out. There is a need for placing these books in age appropriate environments and figuring out a way to have constructive open conversations about them. Romanticizing these works can become even more harmful than the work itself. It’s our responsibility to watch the message we share and spread when it comes to tricky topics like this.
Let me know if typing out today’s episode was easier for you and if you’re able to access my Podcast on Spotify. I really have a goal to have the content I share on my Podcast reach all writers no matter where you are or what experience level you have. I will see you in next week’s episode!