One of the things I love about social media is that we get a rare glimpse into the creative process of so many writers, artists, photographers and makers. I love seeing how people create, the different drafts, parts and stages of a project. I love learning what inspires them. I love seeing how they arrive at the product, more so than seeing the product itself.
But, as we’re all-too well aware, there’s another side to social media: censoring ourselves. We know that others will read our words and view our images, so naturally we censor what we post. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We don’t need to reveal everything about ourselves, and it’s important to protect ourselves online. However, because we know that others will be seeing our stuff, we might be less than honest in expressing ourselves.
That’s where Sharon Jones’s new book comes in: Burn After Writing encourages us to share nothing. Instead, it’s a private journal that features many different prompts and questions to get to know ourselves. Really know ourselves — without anyone watching, without worrying what anyone else will think.
In the below interview, Jones, a graphic designer from northern England, shares what inspired the book and what inspires her work. She also shares what she’d like readers to take away from Burn After Writing, along with the hardest part of writing the book.
Stay tuned for another post this Thursday, which will feature my favorite questions from Burn After Writing.
Q: What inspired you to create Burn After Writing?
A: Burn After Writing came about through discussions with my teenage daughter about things that we both valued. I was conscious that she was constantly engaging in online discussions about a multitude of personal things, retrospection, plans, dreams, contemplation and creativity and was expressing these things openly.
The question for me? Was it possible to do that honestly?
I didn’t think so.
I compiled a series of questions and tried to answer them honestly. I then engaged various friends to do the same. It became immediately apparent to me that our true values and beliefs are in a profound way compromised when it comes to our social media self.
The concept for Burn After Writing came as a direct result of that challenge. To create a device that would allow the contemplative individual the opportunity to try to answer the questions honestly for themselves without any pressures from outside.
‘Truth’ is the hardest thing to write about or for that matter whether you’re even prepared to tell ‘the truth’
There is a line in the book that says: “However you choose to use this book, think about ‘the truth’ before you answer. At least then you might know if you’re lying or not.”
Take Facebook, for example: Facebook status updates are there for other people to comment; or [for] affirmation; or [for] likes. People are constantly looking for validation of their own choices. Burn After Writing is the opposite of that; it purposely challenges the individual to share nothing.
Q: What do you want readers to take away from the book?
A: Burn After Writing (BAW) is like an interview with yourself. You can answer it honestly, or creatively or just have fun with it. Blank paper is intimidating; BAW provides the writer with ideas and a framework to work within and in the end it becomes its own time capsule.
Studies have shown that when you’re writing by hand as opposed to keying on a keyboard your answers are more thoughtful, considerate and studied.
How many things do you remember clearly from your teen years? Your thoughts, values, beliefs. Probably not as many as you might think. Certainly with any clarity of certainty. Looking back it can be stored away and revisited in the future.
When the power finally does run out, there will only be your paper efforts for Tom Cruise to discover in a post apocalyptical landscape.
The journal can be many things, cathartic, reflective, a road map, a catalyst to do new things. More than anything, it’s a companion. I’m acutely aware that some sections are fundamentally painful, while engaging with it allows you to ask the question in your mind as soon as you try to commit those thoughts to paper, you start to pull back and compromise those answers.
The whole journal is fluid, you can have fun with it, take it seriously, or both. It’s up to you. The answers that you commit to paper could be monumentally different to those you might give in the future, even 24 hours later; it’s all dependent upon your frame of mind. It’s inevitable that our values and beliefs will change.
Q: What was the hardest part of writing the book? How did you push through it (I’m sure deadlines help 🙂 ?
A: The journal came together over a long period of time. Very early on in the process I became immediately aware that the book was a snapshot in time, that’s why the “present” is bookended with the “past” and then the “future.”
It was basically a brainstorm scenario. A massive list of ideas and gradually over time whittling it down to a core with edit after edit after edit.
One of the pivotal points in the process was when a friend brought round a leather bound journal from the 1800’s, which was all written in beautiful fountain pen script. In it the compiler had asked a series of questions of acquaintances, including who is your favorite artist and what is your favorite food. The answers were compelling and varied and provided a unique snapshot of that individual and the time. It felt like a validation of the process of journaling.
The book was a huge collaborative event; I was constantly asking people around me for ideas, and once you start looking, the reticular activators kick in and suddenly there are thousands of questions that you could include.
When it was completed we gave dummies to people to fill in, not just with honest answers, but with creative, off the wall and funny answers too. Just to see how creative people could actually be. It was a lot of fun.
Q: What are your favorite ways to create?
A: I must have read every book ever written on the subject. In the main I’m driven by function over form every time. I’m from “the less is more” school of design, and as a result of that, I try to keep things simple.
I also aim to work within my capabilities. I’m a total believer in collaboration. To get the best out of any project, I’m happy to realize where my limitations are and bring in help when needed.
Ultimately, I admire everyone out there that is creative. In any capacity.
Q: What inspires your work as a graphic designer?
A: I’ve worked in graphic design since I left school, through paste up, advertising, newspapers and publishing, and I’ve witnessed huge leaps in technology.
We’re really spoiled with regards to the tools that we now have available to us. When you see what is possible now and compare it to even 10 or 20 years ago the industry has come so far. Sat at an easel in the 90’s with a set of marker pens, some paper and ruler, I couldn’t have dreamed of what was to come.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about journaling, creativity or your book?
A: This book will be a unique picture of you as you are right now, as you will never be again. Remember that while you engage with it.
I think the thing that people will underestimate about the book is how long it takes to complete. At 144 pages the reader probably thinks they could knock it off in an evening.
The book will challenge, provoke and intimidate the reader. It really can be painful at some points (as well as being fun and engaging). I love the word association questions; you can fill them in and then come back to it and say to yourself “now where did that come from?”
Do I think people will burn it after writing? If they’ve answered honestly they just might.
Do you feel like you express yourself authentically online? Do you feel pressure to express yourself a certain way? How do you express yourself when no one is watching? What do you reveal?
Again, stay tuned for Thursday when I’ll share my favorite questions from Burn After Writing.