“I let people steal my creative work without consequence. Now I’m fighting to regain control.”
I am a creative.
I am unreasonably passionate about the results of my creative process, and that’s never going to change. I couldn’t change that if I wanted to.
I try to temper that passion with a business-minded approach to life, a thorough daily task list, and a disciplined schedule. It helps me to work fairly consistently as a full time entrepreneur and freelancer. It allows me to channel my creative energy into creating sustainable working habits. It will never temper the intense emotions I associate with the ideas that I choose to bring to life.
My creative work centers on my words. I am a writer. I am a storyteller. I am a passionate communicator. I want to use my words to encourage, enlighten, uplift, humor, and engage people. I’ve been gifted with words since I got the most “reading points” in my grade for 5 years straight in elementary school. I employ my words in a number of different ways to be consumed by the world - social media copy, personal narratives, music critiques, informational articles. The list goes on.
It’s a fulfilling process, but it’s oftentimes draining. When I write about experiences I’ve lived through, I feel the emotions I associated with that situation just as strongly as I did when I was in that moment. As I attempt to string together a narrative that can truly take you into how I felt during those particular moments, I feel like I’m continuously reliving that point in my life.
Details are of utmost importance. I pay attention to how sentences flow. I make an effort to paint pictures in the heads of my readers. I’ll reread things that I write an embarrassing amount of times, because I’m afraid of not conveying something the right way. I’m rarely completely satisfied with my writing, but I still draw satisfaction from the completion of a piece.
My writing is a painstaking, detail-oriented, art form. In the same way that a sculptor chisels and chips away at an empty, square block of stone to create the visions they imagine, I write. And erase. And revise. And write. And think. And struggle. And erase. And write again.
Writing is how I express a small portion of the countless thoughts that are constantly storming through my brain, pulling my mind in different directions, and distracting me from the task at hand.
"Writing is how I express a small portion of the countless thoughts that are constantly storming through my brain."
When I see my words being stolen, it hurts, because of how passionate I am about the creative process behind them. It feels invasive. It doesn’t matter if someone takes a sentence, a whole paragraph, or half of an article. Either way, it’s insulting that someone felt entitled to take what I created.
I wrote this tweet back in November 2016. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and I was enjoying some newfound perspective in the wake of time I had spent relaxing and eating and eating and eating with family for the holiday. With the extra rest and relaxation came an opportunity to reflect on my life more than I had in recent months.
I was in the midst of fighting to make sense of my newfound freedom outside of the constraints of my day job. It was a constant, draining battle. It didn’t leave me much room to think about anything outside of the problems right in front of me. That battle was the only thing I had the capacity to think about. Sitting around with family and taking time for myself gave me time to realize something important: I had been fighting so hard to keep my head above water that I hadn’t even given myself any credit for what I had been able to accomplish thus far.
Love yo self.— #LetMyPeopleGLO (@MichellCClark) 26 November 2016
Appreciate yo self.
Congratulate yo self.
Embrace yo self.
I pressed send, and saw that it quickly got a significant amount of interaction. The strong response felt cool, but didn’t have much significance to me beyond that. I went to sleep off all of the turkey, ham, stuffing, monkey bread, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, pecan pie and relative happiness that I was full of.
I ended up posting a screenshot of my tweet on Instagram about three months later, in February 2017. I’m a writer over anything else, but I was in the process of trying to figure out how to best use Instagram. I figured it couldn’t hurt to cross promote my social media platforms a bit. Within a few hours, I got another resounding response - even stronger than that of the original tweet.
I'm working on doing this more often... because I tend to mentally beat myself up more than I'd like to admit. But it's important to take joy in the process of self-improvement (insert other cliche phrases here). Because there's always more to do and to learn, and there's never a final destination. There's never gonna be a time when EVERYTHING makes sense. Might as well be proud of how far I've come so far.
In fact, this is still one of my most popular Instagram posts, to date. What do you do with a popular Instagram tweet though? Can you show it to your landlord when you’re late on rent? Can you give it to the cashier at checkout? I ignored my IG notifications and got back to work.
A few weeks after I posted the tweet on Instagram, my friend E shot me a text. E is an incredibly hard worker, and a more experienced writer than I am.
The first text was her standard: “Yo.” You know how New Yorkers are.
“Yo,” I replied back.
“I’ve seen a lot of people copying that tweet you posted,” she said.
She sent me a screenshot of MY tweet. On SOMEONE else’s Instagram page. The exact same words, and the exact same spacing. My twitter name, picture, and @ had been conveniently cropped out. I rolled my eyes and smirked, as I typed my reply.
I felt moderately irritated, but mostly indifferent. It was just an internet stranger, after all.
E told me, straight up: “you need to protect your work. A lot of people are taking your words from you.”
“I hear you,” I replied noncommittally. I had a lot going on at the time. How was I going to pay rent this month? Would I have enough money for food after that? Was I focused on the right income streams? I didn’t think that the theft of my words by random internet strangers was worth focusing on, because I was being pulled in so many directions.
Plus, it was just a tweet. Less than 140 characters. Was this even something worth being mad about? “People steal tweets all the time. It’s just part of the game. Don’t be too sensitive,” I told myself.
As I write this article, it’s June 2017. Why should a tweet that I wrote over seven months ago merit even a slight degree of thought? Well, it didn’t, until I was scrolling my Instagram timeline and I saw my words, again. My profile cut out, again. No credit, again.This time though? It was a friend of mine.
My initial reaction this time wasn’t indifference. It was anger. This wasn’t an internet stranger. This was fairly close to home. How could someone I know personally as a friend disrespect me like this?
My mind was racing, my phone was in my hand, and I was ready to react.Thankfully I’ve lived enough to understand that I should let my anger cool before attempting to attack the root of my frustrations. I had to sit and think about it. I started to piece things together in my mind. This wasn’t the first time I had seen this stolen tweet making its rounds. This also wasn’t the first tweet of mine that someone else had copied. At this point, it was very likely that my friend hadn’t even associated the tweet with me, because it had been floating around the internet for so long without credit. There was no way that I could reasonably be mad at them for not giving me credit.
In fact, the only person I could reasonably be mad at, months after seeing my words stolen, was myself. I regretted not taking E’s advice four months ago. I should have listened sooner. The fact that the tweet was still being shared about seven months later meant something, and it was way past time for me to act on that. Those words resonated with a lot of people. As someone who was fighting to succeed on their own terms, I decided that I owed it to myself to reclaim ownership of these words of mine in the best way that I knew how.
"The world doesn’t care about my feelings. It's my job to figure out what to do with them."
My feelings are important to me, but outside of my little bubble, which might include family and close friends, my emotions are insignificant within the scope of the billions of people inhabiting this planet. It’s important for me to channel them in productive ways, for my own sake. I am a very emotionally driven person, and I can easily get lost in waves of strong emotions for days, sometimes even weeks at a time. I decided that I’d much rather use this frustration and irritation to motivate me to do something positive for myself. Attempting some form of revenge might bring a temporary degree of satisfaction, but it wouldn’t make sense at all, given the situation. It also would do next to nothing for me in the long term.
After coming to that revelation, I quickly fired off an important text.
I reached out to my friend Carmelo, who prints t-shirts.
“Yo. You wanna work with me on this project? It’s time to make some t-shirts. Maybe some prints, too.”
This is what brought us to where I am today.
The t-shirts and prints that you see below are my way of beginning the process of reclaiming my words and my thoughts. Please feel free to purchase for yourself, or for others. Additionally, feel free to share this story so that people don’t make the same mistakes that I made.
...we’re all still learning, right?
Thank you to Lydia Mitchell for the photography.
Thank you to my fellow influencer Charlie G for modeling the shirt.
Editor's Note: "Influencer" and "Social Media Coach" aren't necessarily compatible in the traditional sense. The former calls for a "cool factor" and perceived impact. The latter calls for a transparent, systematic breakdown of how you can be more impactful on social media.
As I continue to grow as both an influencer and a coach, I seek to make my efforts more synergistic. I want to use my experience in both realms to help you avoid the mistakes that I've made, and achieve your goals faster than I did. If you want to learn more about how I can help you individually on your social media journey, check out my coaching page here.