Burn After Writing: the book that’s red hot with millennials

Burn After Writing: the book that’s red hot with millennials

Thibaud Genevois Franchi Published on 9/3/2021

Everybody’s writing

Lots of people dream of being writer. According to a recent YouGov survey, 60% of Britons say their dream job is to be an author. And ever since the first lockdowns, publishers have been inundated with manuscripts. So much so that some prestigious publishing houses have even asked aspiring authors to stop sending in their work. Many long for success and acclaim. And most would agree that you need a good story and nice writing style to get to the top of the best-seller list. But not necessarily…

A book that says nothing

“Push your limits; reflect on your past, present and future, and create a secret book that’s about you, and just for you. And when you’re finished, toss it, hide it or Burn After Writing.” So goes the blurb for Sharon Jones’ book. It’s a sort of diary in the form of multiple choice questions and fill-in-the-blanks sentences. Over 160 pages, there are dozens highly personal questions: What is the single most profound act of kindness that I will never forget? My first concert? My first kiss? If I could do it all over again, I would change… How cool would my 16 year old self think I am right now? The one thing I’m most excited about…My greatest heartbreak… If I had to sacrifice one of my relatives to save the world, it would be… You get the gist of it: the author provides the structure and the reader writes the story! It’s a book that you write yourself, but without having to be an author.

Burn After Writing. Credit: thelindsayeliz

An anti-social media book…

The story behind Burn After Writing began in 2014 when Sharon Jones, a graphic designer from the North East, saw her teenage daughter was spending an inordinate amount of time on social media and openly sharing all manner of highly personal information on her plans, dreams and preferences. In her day, Sharon just had a notebook and a pen for jotting down her thoughts, which she certainly didn’t share with hundreds or even thousands of “friends” and followers. So she wanted to create a “place” that would belong to just the writer and would remain private. Indeed, as the blurb explains: “In a society where we ‘share’ our everything, Burn After Writing goes against the grain and politely asks you to ‘share’ nothing.”

…whose very success is driven by social media

For several years after it was published, the book didn’t have much success. But at the end of 2019, sales suddenly shot up when a TikTok influencer declared Burn After Writing was her favourite book. And so the Burn After Writing craze took hold among millennials. The influencer’s post was reposted thousands of times and the hashtag #burnafterwriting now has over 80 million views on TikTok. The book has now been translated into dozens of languages and has flown off the shelves around the world. There’s no doubt that the pandemic, a period that forced a degree of introspection from us all, was the perfect time for this type of book to take off. Now, on TikTok and Instagram, fans from all over the world film themselves opening the book with meticulously manicured hands, then write their most secret thoughts in it, often burning it afterwards. Because the book owes its success above all to the imaginative concept of burning your thoughts so that they stay secret forever.

Burn After Writing. Credit: the_bookish_astronaut

A sequel book that doesn’t say anything either…

Sharon Jones seems to want to ride the wave of success of Burn After Writing, because she’s recently releases a new book, This Is What My Soul Looks Like. This sequel follows the same principles: questions that the reader must answer to see what their soul looks like. The blurb explains: “Think of this book as Self Therapy. Take command of your own personal growth. Recognise your biases, feelings and motivations. Fundamentally increase your self-awareness. Understand your values, beliefs and principles. Gain an insight into how those closest to you influence your life. Enhance your emotional intelligence and gain a unique insight into just who you are and what makes you tick.” However, now the concept is no longer a novelty, it remains to be seen whether the book will be a success.

This Is What My Soul Looks Like. Credit: Sharon Jones

So, to wraps things up, we’ve seen how today an offbeat creative concept, despite ostensibly being anti-social media, can become a viral success. Now it’s for you to decide if this book is actually any use…

This Is What My Soul Looks Like. Credit: Sharon Jones