Lara Parker is an editor and writer and at BuzzFeed in Los Angeles. She first caught my attention when a friend shared a piece Lara wrote titled "Becoming the Person I Hate on Social Media". Not only was it a post I could very much relate to, but it was extremely well-written which inspired me to read more of Lara's writing. Lara writes openly and honestly about her personal and professional challenges and I immediately knew I wanted to talk to her and learn more. She shares her path to writing, how she got into her role at BuzzFeed and how she manages the information overload that comes with her territory.
Tell me about what you do?
So professionally I’m an editor at BuzzFeed and unprofessionally I have a personal blog where I write a lot about women’s health issues specifically, and more specifically endometriosis, and vulvodynia and vaginismus which kind of all go hand in hand. They all affect women and reproductive systems and cause painful sex, chronic pain and that type of thing.
I started writing about it back in 2012, I think when I was first diagnosed with endometriosis and was just going through a lot of pain and feeling really, really alone. I just felt like I needed to get it off my chest so I started writing about it and I still do to this day. That’s basically how I would sum up what I do. I also run some support groups and try and be a support leader from time to time for women who are just newly getting diagnosed.
How did you get started with writing?
The first time I realized that I liked writing was when I started a blog to share my experiences with my family when I was studying abroad in Australia. It was honestly just something that I did for fun and I thought it was kind of dumb and no one would read it but then people kept reading it and connecting with what I was writing.
I was going through a really hard time with my diagnosis which I hadn’t opened up to anyone about at the time, so writing for me was this therapeutic way of dealing with it without telling anyone that I was dealing with it. When I got back from Australia I didn’t stop writing. I was a senior in college at the time and I was going to school for public relations which I realized during my senior year that I absolutely hated, it felt too late at that point so I just graduated with it. I don’t want to say I wasted four years because with reflection now I definitely did not but at the time I was like“holy shit what am I doing?”
I just kept writing on the side because it was the one thing that I really looked forward to every day. I would plan out blog posts and look for ideas and think about how I was going to write about different things and new ways to make my blog look cool.
So I graduated and started working at a public relations firm and hated every second of it. I kept writing on the side and I read a lot of BuzzFeed and eventually applied for a job there. I got turned down at first which I was really bummed about but I kept writing and I even wrote about being turned down on my personal blog and again people kind of connected with these things, that I always felt I was alone in feeling. Which is kind of crazy if you think about because there’s so many people on this earth that you’re never really alone in this kind of thing but you can definitely feel like you are at certain points of life. The Internet and blogging always allowed me to realize that I was never alone and so I just kept writing.
How did you end up in your current role at BuzzFeed?
I started out as a travel intern at BuzzFeed actually. I had applied for the writing fellowship which is basically a four month training program that they still have and they still hire people for to this day. You go through four months of training and you learn how to write for BuzzFeed’s audience. I thought “oh this is perfect for me”, and I was sure that I had it in the bag. The interview went so well and then I got the email that I didn’t get it and I was really, really bummed out. I sat on my couch and cried for a couple of hours and then I looked at their job application site and I realized there were other positions there that I could apply for, and I definitely wasn’t going to give up that easily. I saw the travel intern listing and who doesn’t like to travel right? So I gave it a shot and I ended up getting hired for that and then 2 weeks later I was moving to Los Angeles, I sold all my furniture, I’m from Indiana originally so it was quite the move.
I’ve been at BuzzFeed ever since, I started out as a travel intern and then got hired on as a staff writer for BuzzTeam which is basically just general BuzzFeed. After about a year or so of being a staff writer I was promoted to editor and now I lead a small team there.
What would you say are some of the most challenging aspects about what you do?
Oh definitely, 100%, people on the internet. Comments are basically people inserting their opinion onto something that you poured your heart and soul into. I write about very personal things sometimes which is both good and bad in that I can connect with people on a real level, but then there’s also the people who will just tear you apart. It’s nearly impossible to bounce back from that when it’s something that is so personal. That is by far the worst part of being a writer in general I would say.
It can be something that takes me 15 minutes where I find a bunch of really cute dogs to make people smile and somehow, someone, somewhere will find something really wrong with that and feel the need to let me know about it. It comes with the territory I guess, and I guess the other part of it that’s difficult is opening yourself up and allowing yourself to be personal. It’s one thing to tell your best friend “hey, I have this thing that causes painful sex”, or “I’m in pain everyday”, or “I’m really feeling down about this, I’m struggling to be happy,” and it’s another thing to write that somewhere where potentially thousands of people will see it and be able to judge you based off of a 1000 words or less.
How do you handle that and manage it on a daily basis?
I’d say it’s definitely just day-to-day. Depending on the type of things I’m writing I kind of have a policy where I just won’t read the comments. I always read the comments on my own blog but that’s on a much lesser scale than BuzzFeed of course. That’s easier to digest.
I don’t like reading the comments and I know some people say comments can offer good insight but if someone really wants to talk to me about something that I’ve written, I feel like they’ll find a way to get a hold of me that isn’t leaving a comment on my article. You can find my Twitter, my Facebook, my email is literally listed on my page. I feel like in general if someone really wants to talk to me they’ll find a way.
But, then there’s times when I write about endometriosis or painful sex and I want to make sure that I’m thanking every single woman that comments and shares her story, so I’ll go through and read all of them.
Sometimes I just avoid it completely and other times I just read them, see the shitty ones, cry for a little bit and then remember that none of these people are writing about themselves on the internet so who are they to really say anything?
Do you find it important to stay on top of trends and how do you go about doing that?
I definitely do feel like it’s important to stay on top of trends but I also feel overwhelmed when I think about trying to stay on top of everything. In all honesty I judge things that I need to know about based on Twitter. I try to follow a lot of different people in the media and also different professions and if I see a lot of people talking about something then I’ll think “okay, maybe I need to know about this.” Otherwise I would rather just keep to myself and keep to my own interests, which sometimes isn’t good because I need to know these things to be able to write about them but also if you tried to expose yourself to every single trending topic or know about all of these things that are happening you could potentially go insane. Sometimes I just need to turn off the internet and read a book.
We have some amazing people at BuzzFeed and I honestly don’t know how they know the things that they know all the time. I stay well informed enough to be able to do my job but I definitely find myself when I get home from work having to just turn off my phone because it’s never ending, it honestly is. There’s always something that you’re going to miss and you just have to accept that I guess.
What are some of the tools that you use regularly?
Notepad - I’m a very classic notepad girl in that I use the Notepad on my iPhone. Anytime I see anything or think of anything or think of something to write about I will put it down in my Notepad.
Social Media - In general this is my go-to. Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook. I use Facebook a lot more than I ever thought I would but I feel like if I see all the people that I went to high school with posting about something then there’s something in that. Facebook is such a big place for traffic and if someone is willing to share something on their personal Facebook, which I feel like is so much more personal than Twitter in some ways, then it’s gotta be something that’s worth sharing in their opinion and I want to know why and what it is.
BuzzFeed Notepads - I go through several of these a month. I just write down things from a brainstorm or write “pay your car payment” and those kinds of things instead of using a Google Doc or something like that. I don’t know why it just feels better sometimes to literally write something down with a pen.
Best way to stay on top of email and communications?
I think it’s a matter of prioritizing. You have to pick and choose what you’re going to make important or what you’re going to respond to. I use the mute feature on Gmail quite often, every day actually. There’s just some things that you just don’t need to be exposed to. Sometimes it definitely feels overwhelming.
For example, today I’m home sick and I’m not really checking my email so when I recover hopefully in a few days I will go back to work and there will be 3 million emails in my inbox. It’s just a matter of going through and asking myself if this directly affects my life and if no then I just delete it.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’ll wake up in the morning and check social media and see if anything happened over night, Twitter has that great feature now “While you were away…” which I actually really appreciate it’s a good update. I’ll get on Facebook of course, I’ll check to see how my posts are doing if I’ve written a blog post, check to see how people are reacting to it and then I’ll check my email. I sometimes try and wait to get to work to check it because it can give me anxiety if there’s a lot of emails that I need to answer but I’m not at work yet.
Then I’ll get to work and again I’ll browse social media - it’s a god awful trap but it’s also so necessary. Then I’ll just figure out what I want to write about for the day if I don’t already know and kind of lead myself in that direction.
I’ll do some brainstorming, have some meetings, delete some emails, read some emails - it sounds really boring [laughs].
It depends a lot on the day I suppose but every day can be summed up by trying to figure out how to write content about something that people will care about and also trying to make it relatable.
Why do you do what you do?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I think it comes down to the fact that I have the ability to get people to think about something. I’m not telling people what to think but I’m telling them what to think about and I think that is such a powerful thing.
This sounds corny in a way but with everything that goes on it life and everything that goes on in the world on a day to day basis it’s really, really easy to get bogged down in negativity. People kind of poke fun at BuzzFeed sometimes for these dumb listicles about cats or whatever but I look at it as like, if I’m making people smile and laugh and kind of forget about the day-to-day negativity then that’s worth it to me.
Every once in a while I have the ability to write about something deeper like chronic pain and endometriosis and I get to let people think about that and I also get to let people know that they’re not alone. Ultimately it’s a little selfish of me in a way because I just wish that I had had someone writing about these things when I was first diagnosed, so I kind of do it in a way to just satisfy that. And also it helps me to know that I’m not alone too. I hate knowing that other women suffer but it’s also comforting.
What's the best career advice you've ever received?
There’s this quote that someone sent to me when I was doing an internship my senior year and kind of contemplating life and the quote is “build your dream or someone will hire you to build theirs”. I totally might have misquoted that but basically you have to follow your own dreams or someone else is just going to hire you to build their’s and do you want to follow yours or someone else’s? It sounds so cliche to follow your dreams, but honestly you should. That doesn’t mean that you’re going to get your dream job right away or be able to travel the world and do this all this crazy stuff but I guess I’ll sum it up by saying find what makes you come alive and just do that.
Who would you want to see on Ways We Work?
The first person that comes to mind which is weird but I was just stalking her on Twitter earlier, she’s one of my favourite writers at Jezebel. Her name is Kara Brown and I just find her to be a really intriguing person. I’m fascinated with her and whenever I have free time I always go to her page on Jezebel.