A Portrait of the Artist Through YouTubers

I have been a storyteller for as long as I can remember, but I have been a professional writer for the past eight years. I am unsure exactly what defines a professional writer. For me, I suppose it was when I began to submit my work to magazines and literary journals. Nonetheless, during those eight years, I have achieved some definite career goals. I was once a 17-year-old who sat in on her first creative writing course by accident. Now, I'm a 25-year-old who has done readings, fiction columns, submission reading for literary journals, and judged writing competitions. All this, and I am yet to win the Gary Crew Award, but we’ll see. Translation: it’ll never happen.

In this time, I have also undergone a transformation beyond aging. I once wrote “edgy” and “experimental” fiction. Now, I write personal essays about topics that may not be significant to the world, but are significant to me. I still write “edgy” and “experimental” fiction sometimes. For the most part, though, heartfelt personal essays are how I choose to share my thoughts to the world now. Regardless of the genre, writing is still like breathing for me. It flows from me, through the inhales and exhales of my fingers flexing and bending. I never get writer’s block. If anything, I get writer’s diarrhea, but I lack the time to let it all out, so it turns into constipation. The only catch of it is when it all finally comes out, it’s either shit or a hit.

This shift in style could have come about for many reasons, conscious and unconscious. The main one is what I read. I was searching for my voice when I first began to write as a professional. I wanted to shock others because I wanted them to notice me, not express myself. Influenced by Roald Dahl, my all-time favourite author, I wrote short stories with a twist. Then I met a creative writing tutor I became infatuated with. She liked “edgy” and “experimental” fiction from authors such as Chuck Palahniuk. I then became influenced by impressing her by liking the same things as she did. As such, I began to write short stories with a twist that contained more swearing, violence, and sex. I fell out with the tutor, but I continued to try to push this brand as my own. These days, I have a broader personal definition of reading. I don’t read books as much as I used to. Instead, I watch YouTube in a way that some people consider addicted. I don’t count myself amongst those people.

As a human being, I relate to YouTubers in more ways than I can say. As a writer, when I open a blank document in Microsoft Word, I feel as YouTubers do when they start creating a video. I’m on camera and it is time to speak. Yet, unlike vlogging, pursuing success through writing is a path to a smarter kind of fame. A quieter fame. A fame achieved in a shorter amount of time. See, despite my success as a writer, nobody knows who I am. Nobody rushes up to me in public, saying, “You’re Natalie Harman! I loved your reading at the 2017 Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne.” Although me being a professional writer surprises my students, they don’t know a word I have written. This is a blessing, because I recall comparing writing and diarrhea a few paragraphs ago.

When I was starting out as a professional writer, my lack of fame depressed me into inertia at times. All I wanted was to do what I love for a living and meet people who loved me for what I did. I perceive my lack of fame as a godsend now. I can achieve whatever I wish as a writer, and the world will keep on turning as it always does…as long as I don’t defame anyone. Even if I did, any defamation case for a no-name writer like myself would be over in less than 15 seconds. This is not self-deprecation; this is reality. I am a somebody masquerading as a nobody, and I love that.

Recently, though, all this changed. I came down with writer’s block. I even became self-conscious about my ideas. The moment a creator becomes self-conscious, it’s over for them. I forgot about one of my all-time favourite quotes by Andy Warhol: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” All I could think about was making my art, but I couldn’t get it done. I began to stutter, and soon went mute. I couldn’t write, so I read. I turned to the YouTubers I love for a solution. Well, I watched them. I’m not in contact with any of the YouTubers I love. I try, but they never respond to me.

What makes me love YouTube more than books nowadays are the documentaries. Documentaries on YouTube are shorter and a touch more amateur than traditional documentaries. YouTube documentaries are the video version of personal essays. They are a candid, yet dignified platform for YouTube creators, likewise with personal essays over “edgy” and “experimental” fiction for me. The reason I write is to express myself in an authentic way to the world. I will always be seeking the best genre to achieve that purpose.

Shane Dawson is a YouTuber who has recently begun uploading documentaries. These documentaries focus on specific YouTubers and events in his life. One such documentary is ‘$10 Million Celebrity Mansion for a Day.' In this documentary, Shane treats his mother to a meet-and-greet with her idol, Kathy Griffin. Yet, near the end of this documentary, Shane asks to speak with Kathy “in private.” It appears during this “private” conversation that this gift was as much of a gift for Shane as it was for his mother. He compares his career with Kathy’s to revisit several topics he has touched upon in his prior videos:

“There’s so many parallels between me and you. You felt blackballed by Hollywood so many times, and, like, it’s the same for me. Like, I’ve been on YouTube for f***king 15, 12 years? I don’t know. They’ve never promoted me, never publicly said that they, you know, like this s**t I’m doing. It’s just…it is what it is, but I’ve definitely come to terms with it. I’m just, like, I…I fucked up a lot, I made a lot of jokes I wouldn’t make now.”

Kathy clearly understands Shane and empathises with him. She states, “I’ve been doing stand-up for so long and you’ve been doing YouTube for so long. Trust me, go back and look at my old specials. Like, I said s**t that would get me fired. Like, I have a body of work. I think one thing that really is dangerous about your world, or my world, is we shouldn’t be so quick to try to erase someone’s entire body of work.”

Kathy then presents Shane with a solution:

“I hope you don’t hate this advice. I want you to lean in more. I want you to go harder. The more real you are is why you have those followers and they didn’t leave you. The last thing I would like to see is for you to hold back because that’s why we love you. It’s your bread and butter, but it’s also who you really are and people can snuff that out a mile away.”

I'm far from a YouTube megastar, but this advice mattered to me as much as it appeared to matter to Shane.

By Natalie Harman

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