Binge-watching My Way Into Writing

In writing, the dastardly imposter syndrome often goes hand-in-hand with its bitch of a sister, gatekeeping.

Every fortnight there’s a thread of advice to new journalists, warning these media workers that the industry is shit, we are destined to be broke, and we should get out while we can.

I had always thought that being a writer was like being an astronaut — a career children dream of, but few people actually have the talent or ability to do so. Societal depictions of what a young person who dreams to be a writer weren’t particularly appealing. I can’t even get through The Grapes of Wrath. What was I supposed to do then, major in English Lit or Creative Writing? The idea of gluing my eyes to thousands of pages of classic literature or being forced to churn out piece after piece for four years straight sounded like torture. It wasn’t in the cards for me. Dan Humphrey, I am not. 

A few months into the pandemic, just past the “wow, isn’t this shared experience crazy?” phase, I had firmly settled into the “every decision I have ever made in my life is hurtling me in the wrong direction phase.  

In an attempt to completely avoid those feelings, I binge-watched hours of television during the workday. And that’s when I started watching The Bold Type, a 45-minute Freeform comedy-drama that follows three best friends working at Scarlet Magazine. On a typical day at Scarlet, a love-child between Seventeen, Teen Vogue, and Cosmopolitan, one of our main characters is dealing with some media-related drama. Jane needs to get the big scoop for her story! Sutton wants to prove herself as a serious stylist! Kat is running this entire magazine’s social media with her personal cell phone!

Up until that point, I thought working meant shoving yourself into an office every day, until you were finally allowed to leave at 5 pm, just to return at 9 am the next day and repeat for the next 40 years of your life. But Jane, Sutton, and Kat at Scarlet Magazine had lives where no one day looked the same. They chased stories, got cool perks from their workplace, and had sex with their crush during the workday. 

A life I very much wanted. 

And being able to see yourself in the last 20 years of media depictions of female writers is hard. The stand-out fictional female writer is Carrie Bradshaw, a self-centered, overpaid sex writer, who is literally never doing her job. When you’re not well-to-do, quirky, or based in New York City, it’s hard to see yourself in her. And most importantly, without a formal education in writing or journalism or tons of institutional support, I didn’t think being a writer was possible if you weren’t white. 

However, I wasn’t inspired to become a writer by the diversity of the show. No, it wasn’t necessarily that Jane, Sutton, or Kat inspired me to work in media. Instead, I realized that if they could do it, there’s no way I couldn’t. 

On The Bold Type, media can be fun.

The sickeningly sweet, “everything will work out” attitude of The Bold Type is kind of inspiring. Of course, the Bold Type is a glossy depiction of what it’s like to work at a magazine. And yes, situations in the Bold Type are often wrapped up unrealistically and easily. But what’s the alternative? Making things seem so edgy and doomsday that no one ever wants to be a writer save for archetypal reclusive hermits or pompous assholes?

I should have found inspiration for pursuing something I love doing in the writers I admire. Instead, I found it in The Bold Type. That’s not a coincidence. Writing can tell untold stories, provide insightful commentary, make us laugh, make us cry, really speak to people. It’s really frustrating to see people ignore that in favor of complaining about the material conditions that they’re doing nothing to change (especially when they are in positions of power to do so). 

In writing, the dastardly imposter syndrome often goes hand-in-hand with its bitch of a sister, gatekeeping. By saying to others that it’s too hard, it requires too much raw talent, that you need 7 years of formalized education followed by another 3 or 4 years of indentured servitude (sorry, I meant unpaid internships), you can greatly dwindle down a talent pool until you’re left with same types of people writing the same types of stories.   

After watching The Bold Type, I simply decided that I wasn’t going to do that. I was going to bypass J-school, and media internships. I wanted to live that Bold Type life, and I was going to get to it in my way. 

I love writing. But I changed my career to pursue the kind of life I wanted. Writing is also code for “I like to work independently”, “I enjoy receiving free stuff from PR” and “I will regularly use writing deadlines as an excuse to flake out on social commitments.” Writing is not my dream job. It’s a job I have, that I enjoy doing, that allows me to live a life I enjoy living. That’s certainly not the case for all writers. To let yourself be defined by your job as a writer means you’re destined to get bogged down in the worst parts of being in the industry. 

Most people don’t let Freeform television shows help guide major life decisions. But it’s working for me, and so maybe they should. And The Bold Type isn’t even shaking up the media industry. After all, it’s mostly letting viewers know “you too can be a writer for a media conglomerate that is motivated by money and money only.” But don’t get too bogged down by that. Instead, think of The Bold Type as an inkblot test: You can either see it as disgustingly unrealistic or as inspiring and optimistic. I choose the latter.