“I have a really terrible memory” is not something a memoirist usually confesses to a journalist.
But when a social media celebrity writes an old-fashioned, dead-tree memoir–as Justine Ezarik, better known as iJustine–has just done, the script is flipped. Ezarik wound up writing a sort of work of investigative journalism about herself by digging into a morass of tweets, photos, and videos to help remind herself who she is.
In an even more bizarre inversion, at one point in our interview, iJustine goes off the record to discuss something published in her book. It becomes clear that she views her print memoir as something of an appendix to her identity, a safe backwater where she could confess things she would prefer that her digital-only audience not know. iJustine, an Analog Memoir, hit stores this past Tuesday. Fast Company caught up with Ezarik to learn more about this new media star’s foray into a more traditional medium.
After years as a social media celebrity, what was it like writing a book?
After so many years of doing so much online, I began to think, “You know what, I’ll just save that story for the book.” It got to the point where I was tweeting things, but that wasn’t really what was going on. I’d tweet, “Wow, what a great day,” but that was the day my tires got stolen from my garage. I originally thought of calling the book Behind the Tweets, or Tweets I Never Sent.
I’m guessing this is the longest-form writing you’ve done.
The challenges of writing a book are very different from writing a blog or tweets. I’ve been writing a blog since I was in the 6th grade, so I had this style of writing that was definitely not proper for writing a book. At first, when I started writing the book, everything sort of ended up as 140 characters, and then I’d hit return. Basically I was writing the book in tweet form. The people around me started to read it, and they’d say, “Justine, just want to let you know . . . a paragraph is at least five tweets.”
So how did you finally get in a book-writing groove?
One of the biggest things for me–especially since I’ve always done everything myself online–was allowing other people to come in and help. Creative people feel huge ownership of our content, we want everything to be done ourselves. But in book writing there’s a process: editors, PR people. In particular I worked with an amazing cowriter on the book, Courtney–she’s C.L. Hargrave on the cover page. She helped me get my ideas out, get me organized. We’d go back and forth. I’d tell her stories and send her things I’d written, and link back to this crazy timeline we created: Facebook photos, photos from Flickr, stuff from websites that don’t even exist any more.
Memoirists work from memory, and biographers work from archives. It sounds like the starting point for you was your digital history.
I have a really terrible memory. Even simple tweets back from 2006, I’d read them and they’d have so much meaning. It could just be a few words: “I’m eating a cheeseburger,” and I’d go, “Oh my God I remember that day, this happened, and this happened . . . ” It’s daunting to go back through the past, to read tweets and come across Facebook profiles of people who have passed away. It stirs up memories you never actually shared online or never will share online. It was a very emotional process. I learned a lot about myself.
Going back, when were some of the biggest disconnects between your online and offline life?
In 2007 I did this thing on Justin.tv. It was lifecasting, where I was live-streaming my life 24/7 for six months straight. Three or four months in I got super anxious and paranoid. Sometimes I would just turn off the camera, cry, and say, “What am I doing? Why am I doing this?” I wasn’t locked into a contract. I could have stopped at any time. Yet I would log on a few hours later. One of my best friends was there for all this, and I saw how it emotionally affected her as well, to have the camera around constantly filming. I’m still really paranoid about streaming live. Years after that, if I do anything live, I have flashbacks to doing the Justin.tv livestream.
Has your YouTube fame strained your friendships or relationships?
I have a friend–we’re still really good friends–but at one point she said, “I don’t want to be on the Internet as much as you do.” Mostly everyone has been very supportive of the random weird things I’ve made them do. My poor sister gets the worst of it. I’ll go into a restaurant dressed like a lobster and dance, and she’ll film it. She filmed me dancing on a Southwest airplane. She says, “Yeah, it’s embarrassing for you, but it’s embarrassing for me, too!”
This interview has been condensed and edited.