How Personal is Too Personal?

An extract from Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness By by Greta Solomon

The lowdown on online sharing 

Whether you resonate with the term or not, the fact is that we’re living in the age of authenticity. And personal sharing, in some form or another, has become a prerequisite for writers and authors. However, it can be a minefield when it comes to sharing personal stories online. 

It can be difficult to know how much to share. And many of us end up in a push-pull dance of being seen and unseen – we can alternately share too much and too little. My philosophy is that we need to resist the temptation to overshare. We can connect without putting all the pieces of ourselves OUT THERE. And in doing so, we prevent ourselves from becoming addicted to trading fear, pain and suffering for likes, comments, shares and follows. 

If a story makes you cry while you’re telling it, then I believe it’s too soon to tell it publicly. This is quite different from feeling all the feelings while writing and releasing tears through catharsis. And it’s also different from feeling nervous to hit publish because you feel vulnerable. ONLY YOU truly know what’s right for you and your wellbeing. 

Once a client came to me for a mini writing coaching session, where we explored her personal story. She wanted to use it in a talk she was giving to an organisation the following week. She told me an incredibly personal story, that moved her to tears. And then she admitted that she hadn’t told it to anyone before – not even her husband. But yet, she was willing to share it with a group of strangers. I explained to her that I thought the story was too raw to be shared publicly, and that she needed to properly process it. And if, in the future, she did decide to share it publicly, she needed to first tell her husband and those closest to her, as it was so sensitive and personal. 

And that’s the thing with intimacy. Sometimes it can be easier to talk to a stranger than the people closest to us. Usually a (non-therapist) stranger who won’t hold you accountable. They won’t really unpick the issues, and there’s virtually no chance of them now viewing you in a different light.  A stranger doesn’t know you anyway, and so judgement is often suspended. 

Once, at a blogging conference, I saw two women read out blog posts that made them cry. Their emotions were incredibly powerful, and they filled the room. But afterwards, I felt sad for them. I worried for their mental health, and what kind of support they had then and there, when they had just unpicked the scabs that were over their temporary healing. Their reading session was the last item on the agenda before everyone departed for a boat party. And I wondered how safe-footed they would feel, literally floating the night away when they were so ungrounded in their own personal power. 

This freeing feeling can become addictive. But it’s not real, and I don’t believe that it’s the true purpose of creative self-expression. We’ve got more work to do than that. Our stories need to be grounded in our lives, because we want to use them to make changes in our lives, not as an escape mechanism before we return to the same humdrum existence. 

The criteria for sharing isn’t just about the topic; or how personal it is; or who it involves. It’s also about whether you are sufficiently healed to tell it without wincing–so that you don’t have to pull off the plaster at all because the skin is healed. There may be a scar, maybe even an angry, red, raw one. But a scar indicates healing and for me that’s a great barometer for protecting yourself online.

So, what should you write about? 

The first thing to remember is that personal stories can be both light and dark. And don’t over-think or fall into analysis paralysis over what to write. You can and ought to write about anything and everything. It’s not an exam, and you don’t have to pick a niche, or make a business case for what you post. Just write. And make it as trivial or as serious as you like. Can’t think of anything? What was the last conversation you had with your hairdresser, best friend, or the lady on the checkout at the supermarket? Write about that. The things you think and talk about are the things you need to write about. 

When should you write? 

The key thing to know here is that you don’t need to be ‘in the mood’, and you don’t have to always rely on creative inspiration. Writing can be true and heartfelt, even when it’s carefully crafted and not divined from the skies. 

Creative inspiration is just one way to write a blog, or social media post. This is about getting yourself into an inspired state by walking, showering, chopping vegetables and doing other activities to switch off your conscious brain and activate your artist’s brain. 

For instance, a couple of years ago, I went to Vogue House in London to meet the new editor-in-chief of British Vogue, Edward Enninful. He had agreed to meet 100 people to do a meet-and-greet and sign special hardback copies of his inaugural issue of Vogue. For a magazine junkie like me, it was an incredibly exciting experience. That night, buoyed by the amazing day I’d had, a blog post, which I later published in the Huffington Post just flowed out of me. I was in the right ‘state’ to write an entire piece, which I only edited for typos and minor style later. 

A couple of weeks later, a friend asked me what I thought Meghan Markle’s then-engagement to Prince Harry meant for black people. She asked me this via email, and by answering her questions, I saw I had the germ of a blog post. 

This is another way you can write. By getting someone to ask you questions and by writing down your answers and then piecing them together. You don’t even need another person to question you, in fact. Write down the questions that spark your curiosity and then answer them. 

The third way of writing is to piece together all the information, thoughts and ideas you have–a little bit like a jigsaw puzzle. In this method, you write down everything you can think of, in any order and then get a pair of scissors and cut up all the sections. And then you piece them together based on how you think they best fit. Get some sticky tape and play around with this. You can also colour code all the similar sections. So that you find it easier to find which bits need to go where. So, if you were writing about leadership at work, you could colour code all the facts in orange and all the examples in green and then the quotes in blue–and, so on.  

The act of putting your personal words out there is amazingly transformative. Each time you share, you grow just a little bit more. And if you’re a professional writer, having a personal blog can support your career.

For me, a blog is a boat that a writer can rest in as they charter the choppy seas. Magazine pieces may be killed, or that amazing start-up you wrote for may suddenly go under, leaving your invoice unpaid. But if you have a personal creative blog–essentially, it’ll be for you. Sure, people will read it but it’s your agenda, free from editorial guidelines or style guidelines. You are the editor-in-chief, the publisher and content creator. And as a writer it’s liberating to have a vehicle that puts you in charge of your creative destiny. 

If you liked this extract, you’ll love Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness. It’s full of writing exercises, tips, techniques and food for thought to inspire you to fully express yourself in writing, and in life.


Greta Solomon is a British journalist turned writing coach and the author of two books about writing. Her latest book is Heart, Sass & Soul: Journal Your Way to Inspiration and Happiness. In 2006, she discovered a talent for helping people overcome the blocks, fears and shame that stops them from fully expressing themselves. Through talks, workshops and online programs, she teaches real-world writing techniques and inspires others to live rich, full lives. Her work has been featured in Forbes.com, Writers Digest, Kindred Spirit and The Numinous. She is a published poet and songwriter, a psychology graduate, certified life coach, trained lifelong learning teacher and holds a specialist certificate in lyric writing from Berklee College of Music. She lives in London with her husband and their daughter. Visit www.gretasolomon.com to find out more.

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