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How personal should you be in your blog posts?

personal journal with boots

© nancy waldman, journal page with boots, via Flickr

Blogging is a medium for personal self-expression. And some people write about themselves, whether it's about a happy occasion, their everyday lives, or whenever they're sad or suffered a misfortune.

Certainly blogging can be seen as a release value. Somewhere to get stuff off your chest. A dumping ground to clear the air.

But how much should you really say?

Therapy through writing

Writing what you feel can be a great healer. It can also allow you to clarify your thoughts, release your emotions, rant against the world, try and explain how you feel.

I've used blogging in the past for this. There was the time I gave up my business and went to work for someone else. I was totally miserable and really missed my previous lifestyle, and the only consolation was to blog about it.

Blogging allows you to say things you cannot say verbally. The process is slower, more considered, you have time to reflect and read back what you've written. This is not possible when you say it. You don't have the liberty to have ample time to think before you speak.

There are plenty of people who write to say things they cannot physically do. Many people are tongue-tied and cannot express themselves adequately. Not everybody has the gift of the gab, or can produce a witty retort to win the situation over. Sometimes writing is their only way of properly communicating.

Personal blogging

In the old days you would write everything in a personal diary. It was totally private, a haven for your thoughts, ideas and aspirations.

Nowadays we use blogs for this. The American word for diary or record keeping is a log, and a log on the web is a weblog, hence 'blog' was born.

But blogs are not normally private. They are essentially publishing machines that allow anyone who has internet access to read what you've written. And we want people to read what we say.

Has the personal bit gone out of the window? Has social media, a place to spontaneously say what you think, respond to what you see, and share with whoever you want, taken way what is personal from our lives?

And this can creep into our writing. We are encouraged to write how we speak, as if we're having a conversation with our readers. This is all part of the self-expression, taking away the barriers that stop us, and the hindrance that keep us back, or even under check.

Pause before your publish

Who has ever written an email when you're angry, sent it, and then wish they hadn't? Plenty of you, I expect. There is the saying that does something like 'respond in anger, repent at leisure'.

The world is so immediate, so responsive, all the mechanisms, the checks, that were there in the past have been eradicated. We don't have to submit everything in triplicate for approval. There aren't endless committees to wade through before a decision is made.

The 'Publish' button is so available. A writer's fingers itches to use it, rather than the 'Save Draft' option that would be much more applicable. There is nothing wrong with saving your latest post, going away for a couple of hours to do something completely different, and give your subconscious time to sort out your head.

Blogging isn't like sending a text or pinging an email. It shouldn't be immediate, especially when you're writing about personal stuff. It can be very dangerous to act before you think – even when you can edit your post later to take out the offending bits. The damage has already been done!

Hindsight doesn't always help

Regret is an awful emotional state. It can eat away at you. Even if you manage to delete what shouldn't be there, nothing is ever really eradicated from the Internet.

I find the older you are, the more likely you are to stop acting impetuously. We've all been there, read the book, seen the film, got the T-shirt. If we can remember past experiences in our lives (hopefully not painfully), let's hope they rear their heads in time to make us stop and think.

This isn't the same as being hesitant to publish in the first place. That's a different story, and is a matter of self-esteem and worrying if anybody will like what you've written. It is very unlikely you post will fail to meet its mark, even the early ones when you are still trying everything out.

Let us all learn from hindsight, wisdom, past experiences and natural sensibleness. This may seem slow and laborious to the younger set, who want everything to happen now. But in a sense the midlife blogger has in place a natural check for publishing personal content. There is that little nagging voice in the back of your head reminding you what happened the last time you did something like this.

How brave are you?

As I grow older, I need to psyche myself up to publish personal stuff about myself online. There have been plenty of times when I have left personal stuff in a blog's comment area, only to regret it later – even when it has sparked off interesting debate.

The Internet is a huge place. It is so available to all. It is extremely difficult to keep anything to yourself. Big Brother knows so much about you and what you do, it's scary.

Somehow to avoid being personal isn't an option any more, unless you lock yourself away in a cave and become a hermit. But this doesn't give you the green flag to write what you want. Be careful what you say, who you write about, things you divulge about yourself and others. Things have a tendency to come back and bite you on the bum. Nothing is invisible any more.

When my boss found out I was blogging about missing my old business, she was not a happy bunny. She actually forbade me to blog any more. Of course I didn't, I just went underground and changed my tactics, but it was a wake-up call that there are plenty of people who won't like to read whatever you want to write. It's a cruel world.

Look before your leap

They don't create sayings like that just for the hell of it. All those old crones in the village that dished these out knew what they were doing. It's important to stop and take heed.

OK, the young need to make mistakes to learn life's lessons. You can't wrap your children in cotton-wool, it's not fair to them. The butterfly has to go through the indignity of squeezing itself out of its chrysalis, or it will otherwise die.

But it's also important to give guidance where it's due. Protect your personal life, it's the only one you've got.

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Alice Elliott writes the Beginner Bloggers blog for beginner and post-beginner bloggers to “explain things really simply” about blogging and WordPress. She specialises in simple, easy to understand, highly visual courses and tutorials using ordinary, everyday words. Why not also visit her award winning Fairy Blog Mother blog to learn some more.

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