Not a Writers Club is a bi-weekly newsletter. Here you’ll find musings written by me (Celeste) along with writing prompts that you can try out yourself. If you’ve been looking for a sign to keep writing, this is it.
There’s a TikToker I follow who’s whole bit is pretending to be various kinds of teachers that you’ve probably encountered at some point in school. If you’re on TikTok you definitely know who I’m talking about.
He impersonates a teacher during their lunch break, smacking on a salad, with a hand covering his mouth. To the imaginary students out of the frame he says, “Guys, this is the only period I have to eat. I’ll help you next period.”
In another TikTok he impersonates a teacher lecturing their class after no one turned in the homework from the previous day. “Your college professors are not going to be lenient with you,” he says in a tone that actually catapults me back to the portables at North High.
My favorite thing about this TikToker is the way he has mastered the quintessential teacher body language. The way he purses his lips and holds on to his wrist to display disappointment. How he often shuffles into frame, slightly bent over, just like my 4th grade teacher Ms. Roberts did when she used to shimmy up and down the aisles of our classroom, passing back our math tests.
Since joining TikTok a few months ago, I’ve been amazed at the way TikTokers utilize hyper-specificity as a way to connect with people. It has further solidified my suspicion that, in many ways, we all had the same childhood.
Like this TikTok I watched the other day of a girl impersonating how Black people act when someone in their neighborhood gets a new car.
Everything down to the way she walks up to the car and says “Aw, look out now!” to the way she shakes her head and says, “That ain’t bad. That ain’t bad.” after inquiring about the car’s monthly payment – it feels like something out of a scene from a movie written about my very own life. I know exactly who this person she’s impersonating is. I can name him. His name is Charles. He lives across the street from my parents. But there he is on my phone screen too, in the body of this random girl on TikTok.
It reminds me of this episode of the Rookie podcast (RIP) that I love and continually refer back to in conversations about writing. In the episode, one of my favorite writers, Durga Chew-Bose, talks about how specificity in writing has a way of bringing the reader closer to the work:
There’s nothing more alienating to me than vague writing with banner statements. The more someone brings me into their world – like deep, deep into their world, the more I feel like there’s room for me to bring my world with me too.
2020 ended in pieces
Of a puzzle on my dining table.
A fitting end to the year—trying
to put back together something
that was once whole.
The border was the hardest part.
Like boundaries, like processes, like habits:
Once I assembled all my flat edges, I was ready
To work on the inner stuff.
You probably look so peaceful when you sleep. We can’t be sure, of course. But it’s safe to assume given the fact that most people look beautiful and calm when they’re in a different world.
And it has to be true that when you’re dancing with friends they look over and smile because your ease makes them feel free.
How do you look on week 18 of recording your show about the NFL? You look 10 feet tall and funny. You’re brave and careful with every step you take.
What about when you’re focusing on work? God, I’m sure you look so inspired. And if not, you must at least look resilient. It takes so much resilience to sit at your computer every goddamn day.
The newsletter goes on like this, and because Alex is my best friend, it occurs to me at some point that each line is a real description of someone she knows in real life. As I read through it, I begin to guess what lines are about who, based on my knowledge of the people in her life. And then I get to this line that makes me cry:
How do you look after moving back to New York? Grounded. You’ve always looked so grounded. Your skin is clear and soft and you keep adding things to your room. You have an investment in yourself that makes other people feel safe.
If you couldn’t tell, this line was about me. By the way, here’s a pic of my room, which finally feels sort of finished after living here for 6 months:
Maybe this is cheesy, but I think the greatest gift someone can give you is the gift of feeling seen. Most of us don’t write for other people, we write for ourselves. But I think hyper-specificity in writing, inadvertently reels people in, making a thing that was meant to be for you, a thing that everyone can take part in.
Prompt: Let’s get specific this week. Write about a moment or experience that feels very utterly specific to you. Write about:
Where you were
Who you were with
What you were wearing
What you could smell, taste, feel
Why this moment was important to you
Write about it in your journal or in your notes app or in your newsletter or on your blog. And if you feel like it, share it with a friend.
Most importantly, copy and paste the link of a TikTok that made you feel seen in the comments below. (This is required.)
Required Reading 📚
The Audre Lorde Questionnaire to Oneself from Aminatou Sow’s newsletter.
Astro Poets newsletter (happy belated full moon!)
Quick Tip 📝
Today’s quick tip is less of a tip and more of a though is brought to you by this Instagram post:
You can find me online in most places at @celestuhl.
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