I’ve always been a writer. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been putting my thoughts into stories in some way or another. At first, they were pretty obscure: epics of talking mice travelling to new worlds through da Vinci paintings, or tales of rebellious fruit who decide to wage war against their vegetable overlords. As I got older, those stories turned to novels (or at least half-written ones), and those novels into polished manuscripts. And yet, right from the beginning, I hated telling people about my writing.
My parents would ask me what I was working on, and I’d mumble out a vague answer and then turn in the other direction; my relatives, who my parents told all about my books, would ask when one would be published, and I’d just say something along the lines of it being “far away” and would try to change the subject; and my friends… well, I wouldn’t tell any of them that I write at all.
Even now that I have grown more experienced with the book world, have joined twitter, started my own blog, and so on, that hasn’t really changed. I’ve not only continued to avoid discussing my own writing in real life, but in a way I’ve also created this whole second world for myself, this super-secret online life. And maybe it’s because this makes people feel like spies, which is always a plus, but I’ve noticed from talking to other writers that this happens a lot. In fact, from what it sounds like, there are a number of us who write or blog “undercover,” who have over time created a second life for ourselves online.
And for the almost three years now that I’ve been active on the internet, I’ve been wondering why this is. On the surface, it seems like a pretty easy answer, right? I mean, it isn’t difficult to blame this whole “secret writing life” phenomenon on some level of introversion within us all. Or maybe, it seems, we’ve created this separate writing world because of societal pressure, because we are so afraid to be ourselves in public that we feel the need to hide our love for writing or something. And while there may be some truth in those theories, I personally have never really bought into either of them, because both imply that I am, on some level, ashamed of being a writer. When the fact is? For better or for worse,* I’m pretty damn proud of it.
So then… why? Why get involved with the writing and book and blogging communities, then work so hard to keep it a secret from people I know in the Real World? Why keep it to myself? What’s the point?
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and here’s what I’ve decided:
It’s because sometimes we all need a way out.
It’s because we all need a way to express ourselves.
It’s because we all need an escape.
There is something truly freeing in the secrecy of a “second writing life,” in being able to have something that is just yours, something that you can come home to every day and, like a blank canvas, fill with your thoughts. Writing is a naturally freeing experience, but when you can write just for you, for you and a few weird people on the internet, the possibilities become endless. You don’t have to worry about anything; you just write. And for me, that is exactly why I keep my online life a secret: because it has become my outlet. Because it’s the safe place I can escape to whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed. Because it is a world full of like-minded people who make me feel a little less strange. But most of all, because this secret life is mine.
And that, to me, is the heart of it all. Having this life that I get to keep all to myself allows me a way out when I need one, gives me a world that really just makes sense to me. There is even something kind of meta about it all, like through this secret life I’m suddenly creating an entirely new story for myself, like I am the main character in the book I’m writing. And in that way, why I do this seems (to me) at least a little bit logical. I don’t make a second life because there is anything wrong with the first one; I make it because I need a way to make sense of the first one.
After all, at the end of the day, we all do need to take a step back. We all need a place where we feel safe, a medium through which everything becomes both a little clearer and a little more sane. It doesn’t mean we’re unhappy with our real lives or anything; it’s just necessity. Some people find this escape through gossip, through music, through sports. Some people find it by looking at art or writing troll-ish YouTube comments or staring at the stars with their next-door-neighbor. And me? I just happen to find it through books and writing.
It’s not introversion that has me keeping this secret–not really, anyway. It’s because my online life is the same as your private journal, or your favorite TV episode, or that best friend you stay up all night every night talking to. Or anything else–but chances are, you have something. Some secret, some place that is always a constant. Something that is yours.
Because we all have our secrets. And sometimes, that can be a very, very good thing.
(*By “worse,” I am of course referring to the day the FBI finally arrests me for my Google searches.)