The only time I was ever given a critique on my writing that truly stuck with me was right before I was about to graduate from high school.
My senior year high school English teacher cracked down on a story I had written and gave me a B-, saying that it was too long, involved and wordy. I wasn’t upset to hear it either. I was taken aback, but only because nobody had ever flat out criticized something I had written before like this. And that’s not a good thing either. It creates the special snowflake syndrome, the mentality that you are truly the best at everything even if you’re actually kind of mediocre - blue ribbons for showing up and mom saying that one day you could be the President from how smart you are, that sort of thing. This was what I needed to hear though.
My favorite thing about writing is that your style always evolves given time, topics, circumstance, and the environment that surrounds you. Your growth as a person is never more evident than when you look back on what you wrote during each decade of your life. However, despite all these changes, you still create a voice and a mighty one at that. One that stands out from the crowd and sets the tone for the piece. And if you’re anything like me, you probably like to write about all kinds of topics just to see where else that voice can go and what it’s capable of saying.
I edit articles every day at my job and lately, I’ve been finding myself serving up some of that constructive criticism I received in high school along to guest writers on being wordy. The thing is now more than ever, being wordy is a major detriment to writing articles that appear online. You need to get to the point. Flowery language is good for fiction and poetry but doesn’t equate to keywords or tags. Nobody should be writing a blog post today that includes the phrase “cellular phones” in it as a means of beating around the bush to say smartphone. Just call it a smartphone. Or iPhone. Android. The brand is a part of our vocabulary and at everyday household status because that’s what it is. And wordiness doesn’t help to get your post read either. Our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter so you need to be able to craft a strong search-friendly title, reel in the reader through the opening paragraph as quickly as possible while also cramming in your who, what, when, where, why, and how, and wrap that sucker up on a call to action note. It’s gotta translate well across the platforms and fit into the site that the article is going up on. Length and involvement also play into that spectrum too. Can’t be too long and you can’t discuss how awesome you are or try to sell us something in 800+ words either.
Sometimes I imagine that in the future, a blog style writing guide in the vein of AP or MLA guidelines will be available for bloggers. Alternately I don’t because at the rate that social is evolving and progressing, it will seemingly outdate itself sooner instead of later.
What does help in the meantime?
1) Working alongside an editor, or anyone with a strong writing background, who can give you some feedback on what you’re doing both right and wrong. Preferably working with this person over time because a strong writer never got that way in just a few hours.
2) Understanding your topic and audience. I really don’t believe there is anything “too boring” to write about. If you do your research and a facet pops out at you that sticks or makes you go "hmm" grab it, however small it may be, and explore! When given a topic, writers online will go for any conceivable way to tweak that topic into a piece that stands out from the crowd and that’s exactly what you need to be doing, all the while relating back to your audience as much as possible.
3) Writing outside of your comfort zone. My writing roots were in fiction stories and pop culture for a long, LONG, time. Now I’m at business. At first, I was terrified to write about business because I felt completely out of my element. I could tell you way too much about Saturday Night Live and what celebrity was out and about getting white girl wasted last weekend, but as far as discussing starting up a business goes… cricket silence. So what I did for a time was link it into pop culture and intertwine what I knew with what I didn’t which equaled a lot of 30 Rock themed articles. Then I started doing some research and realized business isn’t as complicated as it looks. It just gets a bad rap for looking like it does. What I like about business writing is that it’s to the point and subsequently, my writing started to changed to reflect that. It also helped my voice to grow up and not stagnate too. I like to credit that to the fact that it wasn’t something I thought I would be good at doing either. Now I don’t want to write anything that is gentle or muted in nature. I write to offer advice and about my own mistakes made, usually in a self-deprecating manner. I write for a good debate to stoke the fire in the blood. I write to show another side to the story. Sometimes I write for the cute too or fashion which also matters. These are all important areas to me.
And I also write to complain here and there on Tumblr but whateva whateva, this blog isn’t super serious times either. By now, you’re probably noticing that this post got long, wordy, and involved too…
Reading through my former blog is so strange.
I cringe a little bit doing it, because of age and writing evolution and all, but overall what I like seeing about it the most is just how passionate younger Heather was about every conceivable thing. (Still am, but college me was next level.) That blog was from some of my college years merged with the first (terrible, horrible) job I had post-college and one I wound up closing in 2011 to transition over to Tumblr. There are so many pop culture references and stories scattered all over the place in it which ages it a little, but it’s a good age if not still super recent.
Sometimes I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write something that doesn’t have an expiration date stamped on it somewhere. There will always be a reference to an Apple product or some top 40 song or a website like Facebook. But that’s okay because you can still mingle in real thoughts and snark and sew in happiness with a fair amount of sadness and still make a reference to Flavor Flav and make it work.
Life doesn’t have to be all F. Scott Fitzgerald “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Passionate writing can still convey a very real feeling today while giving props to Taco Bell burritos, internet memes, and oldie but goodie Lil’ Kim song lyrics.
Y’all can’t tell me that isn’t a shred of poetry to saying, “I got the magic stick. I know if I can hit once, I can hit twice.”
In the pilot episode of Six Feet Under, there is a moment where Michael C. Hall is smiling politely at guests at his father’s wake and then suddenly he starts screaming at the top of his lungs. This scene cuts to just the part of him smiling at the guests with the realization that the screaming bit was all imagined in his head and he didn’t actually do it. For a few weeks now, I’ve kind of been in that place. It’s been extremely hot out in SoCal, to the point where it turns you lethargic and listless. I’ve been working hard too, with not a whole lot of play included in all of that work. There were far too many days where I also just wanted to make like Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen and reconfigure all of my particles and atoms on Mars and just be. But y’know, in a more urbane environment where you can find a Coffee Bean nearby.
I went back to San Francisco for a few days where the point of this trip was going just because. Just for me. Just because I said I could. Just.
And also because I wanted to wear a coat and Oxfords and tights again. Facebook, you can have your Palm Springs/Vegas/Disneyland visits - I will take that 60 degree weather that allows me to get nice and pale and walk to all of the places!
My hotel was right across the street from the Ferry Building by the Bay Bridge. Typically I like to stay deeper within Union Square, but I also like to mix up the hotels too. This allows me to try out new eateries and embrace the environment surrounding where I’m at.
A roaring fire in the lobby! Oh, autumn and seasonal weather how I have missed you so!
Going out early in the morning in my red trench and pants! PANTS. I felt right. I felt right.
Overcast in the morning by the Bay Bridge. My kind of morning.
I don’t know who this girl was but I liked her flowers. There were a lot of people running around this weekend with bouquets of flowers on them which was beautiful because I knew quite a few people would be happy when they received them and also sad because I rarely see this happen in my LA neck of the woods.
The ever-lovely and inspiring Cafe Zoetrope as I made my way down to the Wharf.
But not before I stumbled upon another eatery, fashioned out of an old cable car. (!!!)
From far off in the distance, you can see sailboats and the Golden Gate Bridge. Note the bright blue sky, as it swiftly changes once you turn your back…
… to face the rest of the city again.
Stopped at La Boulange after leaving the Wharf behind for a mid-morning meal of fruit, granola, and yogurt.
I also ate said meal outside, where tbh if you weren’t eating outside in the sunny and lightly breezy 64 degree weather, I had some serious judgment for you. Outdoors, I was surrounded by lots of chic SF ladies at their respective tables with topknots in their hair and light blouses, discussing their jobs with yoga mats as their tableside buddies. I had that moment as I always do sitting there, idly staring at the trees and the people walking by where I wondered if people looked at me and thought I was a local there, just getting her Saturday morning breakfast and enjoying the calm of the day. Not a visitor, but a resident. I wonder how many people we look at like that and envy the life we imagine they may have that way sometimes.
Then I went to City Lights bookstore after and promptly read for a good half an hour as the light shone in through the windows and the breeze floated in from the doors constantly opening and closing. This particular moment, for as happy as it made me, also added in a twinge of sadness as it reminded me so much of how growing up my dad and I would go to the bookstore every Saturday morning together and read for hours and hours and go to the art galleries and get lunch together after for our father-daughter time. He is the only person I’ve ever been able to go out to bookstores with and it has been years since we’ve had a proper bookstore visit together.
There is a spot in my heart where an ache is beginning to form to share that kind of moment with a pile of books with a new, different, but still quite special person again. And there is a spot next to that ache that fears that moment never happening due to circumstances and time and distance being out of my control. That fear is a lot like running down a corridor and never making it to the end because there isn’t one. The corridor keeps getting longer and longer.
But I only have one thing to say to that kind of fear: nobody fights harder and refuses to give up like Heather Anne Taylor does. Time will tell, and it will be right when it does.
Leaving the gates of Chinatown and heading into the k-hole of shopping at Union Square.
I didn’t buy this dress at Zara, but it’s quite nice don’t you think? Reminds me of something a modern-day Joan Holloway would wear.
Dinner at Perry’s, grilled artichokes with lemon aioli sauce. Perfection!
Sunday, the day I was leaving, was spent out and about bright and early getting my Blue Bottle roasted coffee on. I will be firmly in this coffee’s camp till the day I die.
And a farewell to my dearest, most darling, cable cars!
As you can tell, I have a lot of feelings about this city, but none that change regardless of how many times I revisit it. It has carved out a strong place in my heart and never fails to leave me wandering out and about with the biggest, most silliest of smiles plastered all over my face.
Ever thine, ever mine, ever ours,
Want to hear something spooky? In less than a few days, it will have been 2 years since I graduated from college. 2 years!
ZOMG GUYZZZ I AM SOOOOOO OLD.
Just kidding. BUT AM I.
Graduating from college was a fairly underwhelming experience as I’ve noted every major graduation ceremony in my life has seemed to be. There’s a lot of waiting to get your piece of paper and handshake and then it’s all over and everyone clears out faster than lightning and has a meal together and goes home. Everything builds and builds and builds for at least a few hours and it all dies away too fast ending with everyone rolling back into the same routine as always. That never fails to stun me. You always think that post-grad your life will evolve into some sort of movie: scene one at the graduation reception with friends and family, scene two at a huge loft apartment signing a lease, scene three waltzing into your first day at work. Not so much. More like all the scenes take place at home and will continue to for a moment there because all these grown-up things after college take more time than you’d think. And there’s never a montage with ’80s music either.
I didn’t have a single blood relative present at my college graduation. This is not unusual behavior from my family. We don’t celebrate graduation ceremonies like the rest of North America does, all dolled up with a bouquet of balloons and presents and like 45 extended family members including grandparents and godparents and long lost cousins in attendance. In our family, graduation isn’t this crazy huge milestone you need to achieve in your life. It’s implied that you’ll obviously graduate from middle/high school but college is an entirely different matter. College for me has always been one of those “do it if you want to or not” matters. Being a part of a rather long military based family tree has the vast majority of my relatives rooting for all of us to do the army/navy route and when someone doesn’t (i.e. me) the ball is in my court to prove that my decision holds worth after graduation.
For my 8th grade ceremony, my parents went home immediately after with my brothers and didn’t stay for the reception which embarrassed the hell out of me because literally everyone in my grade did. I wound up walking home alone that night and crying. I do remember what I was wearing though- a very mature for my age LBD that I had bought myself with money from my first job.
In high school, my dad outright refused to attend the ceremony which in retrospect was kind of smart. It was a Catholic high school and the damn thing lasted for 3 and a half hours. My mom and brother went though. But they almost didn’t take me to my grad night lock-in after because of the ceremony going on and on into forever. I went to the lock-in, got a very cute caricature of myself as a superhero, won a mini fridge by basically laying on it in the prize room, wanted to tell a cute guy from my trig class that I liked him BUUUUUUT I shook his hand farewell instead because being cordial always wins out with me over expressing stronger emotions, went home at 5 AM with my mom, threw up on the way there because I hadn’t eaten anything all night but a stale cupcake, and went to work two hours later.
I’m still more or less the same person I was then six years later.
College! Nobody in my family went to that ceremony either. My old dorm roommate and her boyfriend (now fiance and also my intern coincidentally) went with me and took me out to lunch after which was so nice of them both that I wanted to cry. It made me feel special. Graduation is many things but above all, it’s a celebration. And for the first time, I got to experience the flip side of the coin that most graduates are accustomed to- toasting and cheering your scholarly accomplishments and the fact that for the most part, they’re over and it’s time for the real world to begin.
Since it’s that time of year again and both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post are handing out life lessons you won’t hear at commencement followed by a couple more you definitely won’t hear, I thought I’d add my two cents into the mix. But I’m not going to tell you what other people won’t tell you because you’ve probably already heard it all and thought “ENOUGH ALREADY WITH THE OVERLY SAPPY OPTIMISM/PSEUDO WISDOM FROM A TWENTYSOMETHING/DOWNRIGHT DEBBIE DOWNERISMS.”
Those are the three categories most of this advice typically falls under:
a) the “you can do it eventually!” stats based gold star smiley faces advice.
b) some twentysomething writing in Thought Catalog about their two years “on life’s journey” that their parents co-signed for.
c) a big mess of anger masking itself for an educational article that was probably due to the writer having a lousy college experience and not drinking as much as they should have.
These are just 10 things I did post graduation and learned from.
1) I ate cheaply and budgeted all of my grocery things. There were a lot of Ramen noodles, waffles, and quesadillas happening in my world. Over the summer upon graduating I did have ONE weekend where I went crazy with the grocery store budget- for a BBQ that my friends were coming over for- and I bought like $70 worth of food. Even got the brand name BBQ sauce. CRAY. But otherwise it was hello, coupons and sales.
2) I lived with another set of roommates. For the most part, post college this is a smart thing to do if you want to live with people who aren’t your parents and save money at the same time while living in (hopefully) sweet quarters on your own. My first apartment is still my current apartment for the sheer reason that it is 100 times nicer than anything I expected to be living in. Hasn’t even been two years in the joint yet and I still absolutely adore it.
3) I took on a job that I hated to pay my way through life for nine months. Sometimes the first job out of college blows and you do it for survival purposes. If you’re in that situation, suck it up and deal and keep looking for something better. It’s really all you can do, outside of unemployment.
4) I didn’t give up on the things I liked. I still wrote quite a bit in an old blog of mine. It was one of the biggest releases I had after a long day of awful. The nice thing about blogging is that it just is. You can dump all of your words and issues out into a space and bitch and moan. Not everything you say is going to fall out of you painstakingly tidily and with eloquence in every single sentence and nor should you make it either. Just be and express yourself as yourself. Same goes for artwork, music, and most every other creative outlet you can think of.
5) I spent a lot of time reading in bookstores. This was awesome because I was finally able to catch up on books I didn’t have the time for during college.
6. I blew through my savings. Inevitable when you aren’t employed for two months and then get hired on a very crappy minimum wage. To almost run out of money is a terrifying thing when you don’t have a lot to begin with, but steady yourself and face that fear head-on. Money is replaceable. Money is liquid. I often thought of Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias) from the Watchmen graphic novel and how he purposefully gave away all of his money he inherited to build himself from the ground up financially from absolutely nothing. Aside from the whole not having an inheritance thing, I found the image to be one that was comforting. Don’t worry though, I don’t plan on attacking the world with a giant squid or anything.
7. I stayed optimistic and kept job searching on a daily basis. It is and was a terribly, terribly hard thing to do, particularly when the news increasingly got more and more realistic day in and day out. I can’t tell anyone how to be hopeful that things will get better. I can’t create hope in anyone. It takes you to make it in yourself, corny as that may sound. However you find a glimmer of hope, in whatever capacity, take it and hang onto it and don’t let that sucker go for nothing. Find a way to make it grow and burn brighter with each day.
8. I kept up with my networking contacts. Ironically enough, I was almost hired by a company that the company I currently work for is partners with. To date, one of my best contacts has been my university. It has an excellent reputation out here and everyone knows at least one or more people who work there.
9. Sometimes I’d dream myself to a better place at night. This was especially true when I had that terrible job. It was as though my head was like, “Alright your waking life is blowing the big one right now, let’s put you someplace nicer in your nightdreams.” And it usually was. I’d have dreams about sunlight and riding bikes and fields of flowers and laughter and spending time with people I used to know and didn’t know and in places that I had never been to before. I say sometimes here because you can’t determine how your dreams will go, but for the most part mine were quite pleasant.
10. I still hung out with friends. During my two months of unemployment, my awesome former internship boss let me return to the office to work so I wouldn’t look like I had this gaping hole in my resume. I explored my new neighborhood. I learned how to cook. I put together my own set of furniture with nails and hammers and lots of swear words. I bought my first bed. I even went to Vegas that first year. Okay, maybe that’s not a good example of scrimping and pinching but all saving and no spending makes Heather a very dull person indeed. I also still found ways to laugh or make a joke which to this day I still find incredibly important to getting through the tough times. The remarkable aspect was that I found a way to make jokes or find something that made me smile multiple times a day. Times may be a’changing and hard for dreamers but you have to gather yourself up and keep on living (L-I-V-I-N).
… I think that may be the most pop culture references I ever stuffed into one sentence.
"Why did I hate being a teenager so much? Being a teenager is awesome. Nothing you do matters. Nothing. Teenagers, I’m not trying to put you down; on the contrary. I’m trying to empower you. Don’t you realize how awesome it is when nothing you do matters? You can do anything. Anything! Go to school, don’t fuck up your grades, and then do whatever the hell you want."
-Almie Rose, Apocalypstick
I’m not trying to put Almie down (she’s pretty rad actually), but I could not disagree with any of this sentiment more.
It’s easy to get nostalgic today. And if you don’t feel like doing it today, there’s always tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Which already makes me nostalgic for a certain shitty Jake Gyllenhaal end of the world film I saw many summers ago with my dad and little brother and stole all of their popcorn during. Nostalgia, like love, is all around. It’s on the ’90s pop radio station on Pandora. The millions of blogs on Tumblr and links to articles on Flavorpill and The Atlantic. It’s even in our movie theaters right now- Titanic is back in 3D and along with it are my 5th grade memories of wearing out a VHS copy that didn’t even belong to me.
What I don’t get nostalgic for is being a teenager. And I’m not talking about for the fashions or culture or songs that were associated with this time and made it slightly easier to deal with. It’s the pure feeling of adolescence I don’t miss. Back then, I was much more volatile. My anger was constant and the need to argue with everyone on pretty much anything they said was overwhelming. I hated the world and felt it didn’t give a damn about me but I had to comply with the rules of life and keep working hard because of oh so many reasons. It was expected of me for one. I was the eldest of my brothers and also felt pressure to be a strong role model for another. Nothing I did never not mattered because everything I would work toward I was certain would pay off in the long run and then maybe the world and I could come to a truce. And if not a truce, maybe the world would do what I always hoped it would: allow me to pursue my passion and let me be alone while doing it. Sort of like a helicopter parent who keeps badgering you when you’re painting to move the easel out of the living room until you fling some paint on them and they step aside and let you concentrate.
It’s nice for me to say that at this moment in my life, I do have this agreement with the universe working in my favor. I’ve been working since I was 11. I had my quarter life crisis at 13. I began working two jobs simultaneously when I was 16. I was first published at 17. I received my first salary when I was 23. As you can see, my professional life and my teenage/adult years have all neatly merged together in a strange coordinated chart, making it absolutely impossible to view anything I did then and now as being something that wouldn’t matter. Because it all has and will continue to for who even knows how long. I can’t imagine my life being in any other fashion.
So… what are those feelings I don’t miss about being a teenager?
a certain lack of control
I used to get frustrated as shit when I was younger because it seemed like everyone I knew and looked up to (the big kids) were always moving on to bigger and better things and I was trapped in one place, doing the same thing over and over again and really couldn’t change it because I was in high school and underage. Times were slightly more different in 2004 than they are now. Interning in high school was not a common thing. An after school barista gig dealing with snooty customers at a bakery cafe was much more par for the course.
There was a weird routine you fell into line with this kind of work with- walking the same path to work, wearing the same apron and hat, working with all the same folks and making every drink on the menu that, surprise surprise, you already knew how to create! And then you would go home and do homework because it was due tomorrow. And then one of your favorite coworkers would suddenly announce they were leaving which would cause a rippling domino effect across the board and leave you terrified that you’d be trapped with new people that you didn’t know and oh dear god when is it MY turn to get out of here?
In high school I worked at a Panera Bread. I had two managers Bettie and Roxy that I adored and to me, were like the cool older girl cousins I never had. Both of them were leaving the company at the exact same time and breaking the news to some of us team members in the back of the house (read: the back of the restaurant by the coffee makers).
I was devastated.
With no Bettie, who would write Shakespearean quotes on all of the trash bag boxes?
With no Roxy, who would I make a food animal out of a piece of baguette, toothpicks, olives, and a twirly onion for a tail with?
"It’s not fair that you’re both going! I don’t want you to! I don’t want to get left behind!" I wailed out. Drama. So much drama. Because I was a teenager, remember?
Bettie only laughed quietly, “You won’t be Heather. Your time is coming.”
And even though I stubbornly refused to believe it, even though it felt like she was only saying it at the time to make me feel better, I did eventually leave Panera for a future at the time I could have never imagined in my wildest dreams embarking on.
See my above outburst that was selfishly induced.
Drama in high school flowed like the Pepsi machines everywhere in the building. And drama in a small private high school is its own special kind of trouble. You know pretty much everything about everyone whether you want to or not. You create drama even if you don’t mean to. Even teachers get all up into your business. By the time you get to senior year, the need to care has worn thin. The need to want to be a part of it or at the very least, know it, is gone. Over it. So over it.
I remember a girl in my yearbook class as a senior came up to me at my locker one day sobbing hysterically about somebody who was being mean to her or something like that. And all I could think to myself was, “Why are you even complaining to me? I don’t know these people or your life and you don’t even speak to me as it is. Shut up. Shut upppppppp. Now get outta my damn way, you’re blocking the exit outta here. Let me just go home and watch old episodes of SNL and eat chicken taquitos already.”
expectations versus reality
Go to school. Get good grades. Get into a good college. See neighbor next to you got a higher grade. Strive to beat them. Need to do an extracurricular activity to look engaged. Need to do all the extracurricular activities. Don’t sleep. Second guess yourself on picking d) A and B or e) B and C. Don’t eat healthy foods. Get furious when people move slowly in the hallways. Discover you left your wallet at home today. Realize your school does not offer healthy food options. Use SparkNotes. Smile at everyone. Get on the honor roll. Get on the national honor society. Pretend you aren’t tired. Wonder why the boys you pass notes to do not find you attractive and like the girls with the horse faces. Wonder why it is that everyone in the history of life will always have a boyfriend and you never will. Never tell anyone how much the cafeteria terrifies you. Hope that your fake doctor’s note gets you out of gym class. Hope that you can take a nap in homeroom this morning. Hope that you don’t actually wake up this morning. Hope that somehow your school burns down in the middle of the night. Realize your house is across the street from said school. Don’t wish for that anymore because it puts the Dairy Queen next door to the school in jeopardy.
everybody clearly having a social life and you’re not a part of it
The Great Pyramid of Giza. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. All three are a part of the seven wonders of the ancient world. But there is one in theory that should also be added on as an eighth: The Mystery of Why My Peers Don’t Think I Like to Drink. Actually that sounds more like a Nancy Drew book. Or Harry Potter. I am my own spy/wizard. With a sentence like that there is literally no mystery anymore in wondering why nobody my own age thought I liked to drink. Along with these classic other titles from my high school years…
Heather Taylor and the Hot Topic Frequent Buyer Cards
Heather Taylor’s First GreatestJournal Blog Fight
Heather Taylor and Too Many Dooney and Bourke Handbags
Heather Taylor and the Mixed Signals with the Boy in Trig Class
Heather Taylor’s Totally Lame Not Panama City or Cabo or Cancun or Road Trippin’ Anywhere Period Spring Break
They’d all be bestsellers.