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A Barbie Girl In A Writer’s World | A Handful Of Things I Have Learned About Writing Through B

Barbie dolls have been a staple in girlhood for generations. Over the years, her appearance has evolved alongside the fashion trends of each decade, as have her various roles and career paths, yet she is a constant of pop culture in a pretty fascinating way. I did have a number of Barbie dolls as a kid, even naming the pet mice I had in elementary school after Anneliese and Erika from The Princess and the Pauper, and winding up with a literal heard of pegasuses (pegasi?) one Christmas after everyone got me the same toy from the Magic of Pegasus film, which Mom and I ended up at exchanging for basically every other doll in the collection Toys R Us. And we can’t forget the time in the fifth grade that I got head lice and had to basically send all of my dolls on a retreat/exile in a garbage bag until that was resolved. I lost interest in Barbie when I hit my tween years, and it’s admittedly been a while since I really thought about her. We tend to see Barbie as a fashionista first, doctor-scientist-dog sitter-astronaut-princess-architect-teacher-life guard-pilot-cheerleader-Olympian-mermaid-fairy second. But it seems there’s a new career being added to her resume: motivational vlogger. Around the time of this past International Women’s Day, a video from Barbie’s Vlog Series popped up on Facebook after being shared by a couple of friends. In it, Barbie discusses her experience in a volunteer group where it seemed like the guys were favoring their own opinions in a brainstorming session while ignoring the ladies. “…anytime I made a suggestion, he kind of glossed over it and asked if anyone else had any suggestions, almost as if what I had said wasn’t worth discussing or that maybe I didn’t even matter, which would be even worse.” She goes on to talk about how frustrated this made her feel, noting that her thoughts were really only acknowledged and praised in an experiment where Ken would repeat the ideas she and Teresa had shared word for word. Ken wasn’t out to take credit for Barbie’s ideas, but just wanted to make sure they were heard. Barbie then pauses to make note of how difficult it can be for women’s voices to be heard in fields where men seem to dominate despite all of the contributions women have made, and how upsetting it is to see still happening in this day and age. “I felt pretty bad in that brainstorm. I wanted to quit and go home. And I don’t do ‘quit.’ But I wanted to quit…[but] we stayed. But Teresa and I made a point of making sure we were heard by supporting each other. And I would say, ‘Oh! Teresa! That was such a great idea. Did you hear what Teresa just said?’ Or she would be like, ‘Oh, yes, like Barbie was saying. I think that’s really interesting!’ And I think it actually made a little bit of a difference.” Barbie closes with the message of how we shouldn’t be afraid to speak up for and support one another by, “letting each other know that we’re not alone in what we’re feeling and by staying in the conversation.” The video itself was only about four minutes in length, but I was able to take a lot from it. In writing and in general, it does feel like I’m sometimes getting drowned out of the conversation, like my own thoughts don’t matter in the bigger picture or that I’m just there to fill the seat but not able to bring anything to the table despite how much I want to jump in. As Barbie says, finding support when you feel like you’re on the stuck on the sidelines and left out of the game can be helpful, because you do have important things to say, and your perspective might direct others to something they were previously missing out on. It seems to be an unfortunately common experience, but one we can take small steps towards mending every day. Out of curiosity, I decided to check out some of Barbie’s other vlogs to see what else she’s discussed. The series is a lot like other vlogs on YouTube, featuring clips of her attempting the mannequin challenge, her and Ken taking on the “Boyfriend Does My Makeup” trend, baking, and others. But on some occasions, her videos are of a more serious variety speaking about things that inspire her or tricky situations she and her friends have encountered and the advice that can be taken from them. Without further ado, here are some of lessons I’ve learned from Barbie’s vlogs.

1. Don’t Feed The Trolls

Episode 25 Here, Barbie shares one of Stacie’s experiences with a peer who had a habit of making snide comments in class and laughing at her whenever she spoke in class. “It made Stacie feel really nervous and self-conscious…so she stopped speaking up in class~which is such a shame because it was English class and it was her favorite and she had so much to offer.” Barbie and Stacie’s mom suggested she not show a reaction whenever she was being teased by this girl and ignore her. Stacie went on to continue raising her hand in class, and this eventually resulted in this girl no longer picking on her. “One way to take the power away from a bully is just to walk away.” Writing, like most art, is one of the professions that is the most open to criticism. One of the things new writers are always told to expect is harsh judgement. Haters and internet trolls, rejection letters from agents and publishers, bad reviews, and so many other things that can feel like personal attacks and bullying. A lot of times, this can make you feel like your work is not good enough, or that you’re not good enough to be a writer. Except, you are because you are willing to put your work out there. I like to think authors scatter little pieces of their soul in the stories, so being brave enough to share that with the rest of the world is an incredible feat. The thing is, there are people out there who are going to pick on it and take pleasure in finding flaws. This is different than an editor sending your work back with a zillion recommended changes or an agent saying they are not able to or interested in representing you because your book doesn’t fit their specialties. There’s constructive criticism, and there’s downright-flat-out-criticism. Constructive criticism might say things like “Well, this character doesn’t work for me because he blends into the background even though he is the protagonist” or “This scene should be taken out because it’s extraneous and does nothing for the overall story arc.” Downright-flat-out-criticism, which the internet is known for, might just blurt out things like “This character is such a freaking bitch and I hate her” or “This book sucks!!!” It’s snarky. It’s often without as much merit. And it’s frequently in the interest of hurting the writer rather than helping them. Criticism is necessary for writers. It’s how we grow and learn. But when the criticism turns to bullying, that’s a problem. It can be hurtful. You might want to snap back in a tweet calling out the user for not understanding what so many others have or starting a feud. But this only makes you, the author, look bad. It’s something people might misconstrue in a way that only damages your reputation as a professional writer. When you are met with haters, don’t engage. Walk away. Don’t interact with them. Just step back and let it pass.

2. Be Your Own Muse

For her birthday, Barbie talks about one of her favorite women, Frida Kahlo. “We all have the vision to inspire ourselves and the strength to overcome anything, right? And that doesn’t mean you’re never gonna be afraid or that bad things are never gonna happen. It means we can overcome.” In this vlog post, Barbie provides a brief narrative of artist Frida Kahlo’s life, discussing how she had wanted to become a doctor, even being admitted to a prestigious medical school, before an accident left her bedridden and unable to continue that education. Kahlo spent a lot of her recovery time painting, later going on to decorate the medical corsets she had to wear as part of her condition and turning them into a means of self-expression. I’ve known Kahlo’s work mostly though her self-portraits, but I find the mention of painted corsets to be more interesting. What I love about it is how she didn’t let the accident be just a thing that happened to her, but let it become a part of her she embraced in her own way. Authors are said to get their revenge in print, that we take things that have happened to us and turn them into the stories we write. I cannot speak for everyone in this regard, but I do know there have been times where I have written a scene only to realize later on that I had experienced something similar in my own life. What’s more is that I use it as a learning opportunity, as a way of looking back and being able to better understand what another person involved in that event was thinking and keep that in mind moving forwards. I used to be a little afraid of letting myself do this, to bring in past experiences, but in some ways that’s just the same as ignoring the past. I’ve come to accept this aspect of my writing and allow myself to explore my own history, even if there are some areas I would rather not own up to. But these rough patches, such as losing my father when I was eighteen, are a part of me and something I’ve slowly let find their way into my writing. As Barbie says in concluding this video, “You are who you are, and that is beautiful and powerful. Find the life you want to lead. Paint the world as you see it.” (For a different perspective on Barbie’s relationship with Frida Kahlo, check out my mention of the Sheroes collection in my opinion piece about using historical figures in fiction).

3. Breaking It Down

Episode 63 Ken stops by for this post to share a tip Barbie shared with him: “Remember how I used just to get completely overwhelmed by big projects? I’m the kind of person who just wants to do everything at exactly the same time and then my brain just freezes up. But Barbie taught me to just take a step back, to just breathe a little bit, and to visualize what I wanted to create or accomplish and break it down into steps.” An algorithm is a set of instructions to accomplish a task, like the commands in a computer’s code or the list of steps in a cooking recipe. In this post, Ken talks about tutoring a kid named Sam, who can sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by his schoolwork. By breaking it down into smaller steps, it can make a challenge seem less daunting. It helps to establish a direction to go in and how to get there. Bit by bit, it gets done. I’m the kind of person who likes to know exactly what is going on and how it needs to be done. At work, for example, I have a habit of double-checking with my boss on what others might be comfortable figuring out as they go along just because I want to be certain I’m doing it the right way. This gives me a sort of algorithm to go by. In my writing life, I’m very much like Ken. I have about twenty ideas for novels I want to write, and I often allow myself to be spread all over the place with my projects between editing Guises to Keep and writing the first draft of Against His Vows, and creating new content for my blog~and that’s not including the non-writing things in my life like my job and other projects I’m working on! This way of writing is made even more difficult as a Plantser, meaning I don’t write with too clear of an outline for my stories. I have a list of major plot points, but I let my mind wander and go with the flow as I’m writing. Unfortunately, this can sometimes mean I get overwhelmed with how much I want to do. Creating an algorithm of sorts lets me define what I need to do in order to reach a goal. For example, after I get home from work, I use some of the time before bed to work on blog articles or write another chapter of Against His Vows. When I have a day off, I use that time to edit Guises to Keep. My editing process itself is also comprised of an algorithm because of how I break it down into several phases. Barbie’s vlogs are short and sweet, but there are a number of messages that can be taken from them. This might be a post I come back to some time and expand on in the future. If anything, these videos are a good way to take a quick break between writing sessions, especially when there’s something to learn from everyone’s favorite fashionista-doctor-scientist-dog sitter-astronaut-princess-architect-teacher-life guard-pilot-cheerleader-Olympian-mermaid-fairy-turned vlogger. In the words of Barbie herself, P.A.C.E! ✌



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