Friday, 7 November 2014

How I overcame social anxiety and became a successful writer

In November 2014 I was invited to give a couple of presentations to organisations in London about how, as an individual, I've managed to build up a social media reach that dwarfs the reach of so many worthy activist causes that each employ dozens of people and call upon hundreds of volunteers.

I was perfectly happy to give away some hints and tips on how to achieve a large following of politically engaged people, because I have no interest whatever in hoarding my secrets to prevent others from achieving what I have. As far as I'm concerned, I want to be at the crest of a wave of new, alternative media. An inundation of independent citizen journalists and social activist organisations to erode away the edifices of the establishment friendly corporate media.

By advising people on how to use social media more effectively in order to spread alternative political messages I hoped I could play a part in helping more and more people assert themselves as individuals and present distinct analyses to the recurring narratives pushed by the mainstream media and the Westminster establishment. The only way we can prevent these institutions from totally dictating the spectrum of political discourse is if those of us who think differently have the means to express ourselves and to be heard.

The first event went really well, especially considering it was my first effort at public speaking since I said my wedding vows over 10 years ago. It consisted of a speech, a questions and answers session and a short workshop on how spectacularly easy it is to create powerful infographics. I thought it went well, and the feedback seemed to be very positive.

As I was making preparations for my second event, it occurred to me that the process of becoming a successful writer began a long time before the day I decided to set up a political blog, eventually settling for the name Another Angry Voice simply because I couldn't be bothered wasting any more time trying to think of anything better!

At the time I set it up, I obviously had no idea of how much time and effort I would end up putting into it, or that one day it would provide me the power to spread my political views into over 3 million Facebook news feeds per week! At that time I just had something I wanted to write, and I quickly cobbled together a blog to write it on. However, the process of becoming a political writer didn't actually begin there.

For me, the story is incomplete without an explanation of my previous efforts to become a political writer. I've decided against "naming and shaming" the three organisations in the following section, because I don't actually feel any ill will towards them over what happened at all, and I wouldn't want to give them any unnecessary bad publicity.


My first effort to become a political writer in 2004 manifested as an effort to seek out an alternative media website and attendance of one of their meetings, which took place in a pub around a number of small tables. For someone like me, even getting to the stage of going to a room full of strangers was a monumental effort. Gradually, as the evening progressed, people shifted around to talk to each other, so that at one point everyone around me was sitting with their backs to me. If that happened now, I'd simply relocate myself to the centre of the meeting, drawing attention to myself in the process. Back then I suffered quite serious social anxiety, so I just sat there on my own feeling ignored. At the end of the meeting I plucked up the courage to make one last effort to speak to someone, but they were not interested, so I went away feeling bitter and defeated and never went back. In the week prior to publication of this article over 100,000 people had engaged with (liked, commented or shared) my work on Facebook, whilst fewer than 100 people had engaged with the work of this particular organisation.

After that failure I gave up for several years, during which I slumped into several prolonged periods of depression. In 2007 I contacted another organisation who were campaigning on an issue I felt very strongly about, however my efforts to contribute to their campaign were also fruitless. Once again I gave up, feeling defeated and unwanted. In London I had the honour of meeting one of the leaders of this campaign. I told them how I'd tried to volunteer my services with their organisation, and they explained that (as I suspected) they were simply so busy and so short staffed at the time, there was no way they could arrange to meet everyone who emailed to volunteer their services. This didn't stop me feeling rejected at the time though, so once again I ended up setting aside my ambitions to write about political issues and spent the next few years slipping in and out of depression. 
This organisation continues to do incredibly good work in a field I am passionate about, and I will continue to promote their work.

My third effort to become a political writer manifested as a concerted effort to reach out to a mainstream news website in 2009-10 in order to submit an article about a specific political issue that was adversely affecting my family life at the time. Once again my efforts were rejected, and once again I gave up my ambitions to write about political issues.

Why am I telling you this?

The reason I'm explaining this is not about self-pity, nor about gloating that I'm now over 1,000x more successful on social media as the organisation that rejected me ten years ago. It is about consideration of the way rejection works. In my view this is useful for two purposes:

Firstly I want to help individuals understand how important it is that we do not let rejection destroy our confidence and our will to make a positive difference. This is particularly important for people like me who live with conditions such as 
social anxiety, depression, stress, and obsessiveness. We must never give up our ambitions in the face of rejection. The success of my Another Angry Voice project is a perfect illustration of the fact that information technology and social media now allow all manner of "outsiders" and neuro-atypical folk to reach out to huge audiences as individuals, without the need to work through the prism of collective organisations. If your efforts at political engagement have proven fruitless, there can be no harm whatever in trying, as I did, to set up your own political blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, Youtube channel, Buzzfeed profile, or whatever. 

It took me almost two years to pick up my first 1,000 followers, but now I've got so many that hundreds of people tend to start following things when I draw attention to them on my Facebook page. In order to help people with a quick blast of new followers I'd gladly consider giving people a helping hand with shares and retweets if the content is really high quality and interesting, so don't be afraid to Tweet your work at me or spam posts on my Facebook wall if you think I might be interested in them. I'll gladly give people a bit of a head start with a few hundred new followers if I think their work is really good stuff.

The second issue my experiences of rejection raises is that it may be useful to those who work within activist organisations to consider improving their engagement strategies. After all, the painfully shy bloke sitting at the back not saying anything may actually have turned out to have been the greatest asset you ever had, but because nobody spoke to him, he went away feeling rejected and defeated and never came back. In my view, effective first engagement and retention should be absolutely critical issues to any activist organisation. If your organisation does not have a good first engagement strategy, perhaps you should consider taking the initiative to establish good practice, so that nobody who wants to join your organisation ends up giving up and walking away because they feel unwanted.

Why I'm no longer bitter

At the time I experienced these rejections I had very low social confidence and I took them extremely badly, but in hindsight I retain none of the bitterness and negativity of the immediate aftermath. I've come to realise that these experiences were absolutely crucial steps towards the process of building myself a political platform where I have complete liberty to discuss whatever topic I like, and 
achieving the mind-bogglingly large audience I have today.

Had I had the social confidence to persist, and keep attending meetings at the alternative media organisation until I was accepted, it is certain that I would not have ended up where I am today. Had I badgered them until they let me write for them ten years ago, I would have learned to write within the paradigm of their organisation and gone forward on a completely different path in life.

It was only because I experienced such rejections that I eventually decided to do it all by myself, belligerently ignoring the norms and conventions of political writing style, graphic design, website layout, social media strategy and moderation policy, and developing my distinctive independent semi-anonymous status as a writer.

In my view the fact that I've ignored so many of the conventions I would have learned had I been accepted by any of these organisations, is actually one of the key factors that has driven the exponential growth of my audience, so I hold no grudges whatever. We are defined by our experiences in life, and without these experiences of rejection I wouldn't be who I am today.


Whether you have experienced rejection from campaigning organisations or not, I would advise anyone with strong political views to try to write them down and publicise them on social media.

Whether we do this through the prism of an established campaigning organisation, or as an individual blogger, it is really important that we at least try to spread awareness of the issues that are important to us.

The more of us who take the time to express our own political views, the bigger the alternative media tide will become, and the harder it will be for the mainstream media and the Westminster establishment to continue their near complete domination of the political debate.

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.