Meet the Mollys! Social Network Sweeties Tumbl Upwards

Coquettishness reigns for lissome lit-world lasses seeking writing gigs; "HOW OLD ARE YOU?" befuddled editors wonder.

Molly McAleer

Molly McAleer

What makes a Molly?

Three well-known Internet writers–Molly Young, Molly Lambert, and Molly McAleer–share more than a name. The three have long attracted attention for their similar methods of self-promotion on the blogging platforms Tumblr and Twitter.
Ms. Young, an n+1 contributor, had a (now-deleted) Tumblr showcasing slightly goofy glamour shots and offering chapbooks for sale. Ms. Lambert used the photo-heavy format of the website This Recording as a jumping-off point for a sort of post-writing writing career as curator of several Tumblrs, including one comprised entirely of GIF files. Molly McAleer was the former Gawker Media videographer whose personal blog featured videotaped confessions and thoughts about Yogurtland and other elements of life in Los Angeles.They were three exemplars of the value of a well-constructed personal brand, and each is now more than merely Internet-famous. Ms. Young contributes regularly to New York after leaving a job at the Daily; Ms. Lambert works for Grantland, where she now sticks images of celebrities between her paragraphs on ESPN’s dime; Ms. McAleer launched a women’s-interest site, HelloGiggles, with the actress Zooey Deschanel, and is a writer for the new CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls.Despite their different endpoints, the three writers are frequently lumped together, having risen to e-inescapability around the same time and using the same means. A typical Molly blog post is aggressively quirky and a bit manic in its desire to make you laugh; it represents the triumph of the voice, a voice at once coquettish, self-promotional and knowing.

While that name brings to mind certain female protagonists of canonical works (the archetypal confessional blogger Molly Bloom, the cutie-pie Molly Ringwald), you don’t have to be a Molly to write like one. Remember those photos of former Gawker writer Emily Gould sprawled upside down in bed, tattoos on glorious display? Sure you do! It was for her Times Magazine cover story, “Exposed” (the jumping-off point for her memoir, And the Heart Says Whatever), in which she detailed her experiences in blogging and in love. The piece appears to have set the tone for a generation of female writers, and the self-presentation even influenced striver-y men.

I Gchatted a friend who works in finance to tell her I’d been assigned to write a piece on “the Mollys.” She replied “write it in the p.o.v. of edith z.” The Hairpin blogger Edith Zimmerman may be the Molliest of Mollys. She wrote bizarre and fantastical fake letters from women’s magazines for The Awl and ghost stories on her personal blog. She brought that brand of flustered, wacky pixieishness first to The Hairpin, the women’s interest site she edits, then to a GQ cover profile of Chris Evans. The piece, which was controversial even among the magazine’s editors, was more revelatory of Ms. Zimmerman’s half-self-deprecating exultation of her L.A. exploits than of anything Captain America had to say, in the same way that Molly Young’s New York articles sneak in turns of phrase like “weenie-tuggers” and “girl crush,” and Molly Lambert smuggles fan-fic footnotes about how Kate Moss is like “the cool best friend who knows all the good shows and parties to go to and brings you” onto Grantland. Another freelance writer, Marisa Meltzer, posted a photo of herself doing the “hand-heart” gesture on her Tumblr after publishing a piece on the phenomenon in the New York Times Styles section; she also posted a picture of her bedroom, suggesting that she considered submitting it to a blog of teenage bedrooms though she is “aged way the fuck out” now. Mollyish writing hinges on a cute mashup of ingratiating cuteness (hand-heart! Weenie-tuggers!) and hard ambition (the TimesNew York!), starring a narrator in on the joke.

Such is the appeal of Mollyism—especially to straight, male dude-itors—that the literary eye-lash batting generally manages to survive the delicate transition from personal blog to print. (Whether Ms. McAleer’s voice will make the trickier leap to TV remains to be seen, but examples like that of Ms. Zimmerman and Ms. Meltzer indicates that the blog voice can thrive in print.)

According to Wired editor Bill Wasik, the Mollys are doing what writers have always done. “It’s pretty common and always been common that you start with voicier writing in less established organs,” said  “and you move to better- established organs that pay better and you bring the writing, but you show that you can report out and structure and bulletproof a magazine feature.”

But voicey is one thing. The Mollys have taken it to a whole other level. The intimacies of Tumblr have vastly amplified the confessional mode. As Maud Newton noted in a recent essay in the Times Magazine (which briefly employed Ms. Zimmerman as a web columnist), there’s a frantically conversational tone on social media: “‘Oh, hi,’ people say at the start of sentences on blogs, Twitter and Tumblr these days, both acknowledging and jokily feigning surprise at the presence of the readers who have turned up there.” Ms. Newton phrased this as a universal concern–perhaps we’re all a little bit Molly.