Ariana Burrell is a writer and poet living in Southern California. When she isn’t writing, you can find her directing plays and spending time in her garden.
I know you read the title of this post. Let me warn you now. I never became YouTube famous or became an influencer. Most of my videos have less than one hundred views. I didn’t build a media empire. You’ve mostly likely never heard of me. However, I did land a few jobs because of my experience making YouTube videos.
The year is 2008. It was before everyone had smartphones and Wi-Fi internet was slow. I’m obsessed with film and TV but I don’t realize yet that working in entertainment is a real job I could have. I’m in high school and I post unedited clips of outings with my friends to YouTube. I thought it was so cool.
I’m in college now, studying technical theater and film. I feel inadequate in film school because I don’t know how to edit and I’ve never made a feature film. Everyone in my class has.
Four years later, I graduate from college and have no idea what the next steps are. How does one start a creative career? I desperately want to make things but am afraid of judgment. My imposter syndrome ran SO high in film school. I have a smartphone with a mediocre camera. Because I want to explore film without anyone else involved, I become my own subject. I turn the camera on myself and start talking… and the videos are terrible. Grainy footage, bad audio, choppy editing. But I keep going.
Over the next few years I make over 150 videos. I learn to edit and speak confidently to the camera. I start to figure out what I want to make and most importantly what I want to say.
Through YouTube I meet some amazing people all over the world. I am now active on social media and love that I could connect with anyone. I talk to my favorite authors on Twitter. I make video responses to people. People leave a handful of comments on each video I upload. I feel less alone, a little less lost. I start to feel like maybe my ambitions aren’t too big.
I attend multiple VidCons (a YouTube convention). I participate in The Bridge Exchange, an exchange program between VidCon and Brave New Voices, the poetry slam convention. Through the exchange I was able to professionally film one of my poems (see below). The Bridge Exchange is the brainchild of rapper/poet George Watsky. Through meeting him, I saw what could be possible in my career. He successfully melded together a career in creating YouTube videos, music, poetry and writing. I fell in love with poetry and I started posting my own poetry online. I even enter the YouTube poetry slam (unaffiliated with YouTube). At the end of one of the poetry slams, a survey is sent out. In the comments section, I offer to help with their social media. Eventually I work for the company that put on the slam. I work as their social media manager and occasional writer for their blog. There was no job posting for a social media manager.
Through YouTube, I learn about the Geek Girls Pen Pal Club. It’s exactly as it sounds: a pen pal club where you get matched with someone and write each other snail mail. They have message boards and a blog. I write book, film and tv reviews for their blog. Even though this existed mostly online, I did meet several of the woman involved with the pen pal club in person.
Next I work for a YouTube channel as a ghostwriter, video editor, and social media manager. I am hired because of my experience running my own YouTube channel and the work I did with the YouTube poetry slam. At this job, I write over 100 articles, edit over 300 videos, send out a weekly newsletter and create the company’s instagram page. This job was listed as a part time, 10 hours per week video editing job that turned into a full-time job. My past skills with YouTube allowed me to expand my role at this company and turn it into really meaningful work.
I know past me has read articles like this one and still wondered HOW someone accomplished this. The short answer is time and reaching out to people. I gave myself permission to start my own YouTube channel. I reached out to people even though I was nervous. I applied to things like The Bridge Exchange even though I didn’t feel qualified enough. This does take courage but it is completely doable. Teenage me posted random clips of her friends on YouTube and many years later, has a creative career that I really love. I don’t know where I would be without YouTube but I know I would have missed out on some really great experiences. All of this happened with fewer than 100 subscribers on my YouTube channel. I am so grateful to YouTube and past me for picking up a camera even though she didn’t feel good enough.