Ask the Expat Freelancer: What’s Too Personal for a Story?

June 14, 2011

in reflection, writing

I have some good story ideas, but there’s a catch…they all happened to me. I think they’re lessons others can learn from which is why I want to pitch them but I’m also afraid of exposing myself. Is it a bad idea? — M.W.

What’s too personal is anything you may read online or in print years from now and regret revealing.

What’s too personal is anything that may elicit a negative or judgmental reader response you’re unprepared to handle.

What’s too personal is anything that may get you charged with a felony if you write it out and put your name to it.

If your story is one from which you grew or learned and one that carries wider societal implications or impact, then it may be worth telling. Anything that is complaining, blaming or victim-shaming will probably not take you far. Anything that shows you made extremely poor judgment without learning from it  — you wrote letters to a convict, then he showed up at your house upon release ready to skin your cat, and now he’s back in jail, but you two are thinking of getting engaged — is probably not a good idea. If you fell for a scam, got an incurable STD or channeled Winona Ryder’s shopping habits and want to tell others how to avoid these pitfalls and behaviors, go for it.

Get my point? Make it relevant, timely, service-oriented and clearly-stated. Make it clear you’ve learned from the ordeal and have reflected enough to be able to tell your story without going off the deep end and blaming the world for whatever happened.

Have you ever stopped yourself from writing something because it’s too personal?

5 Comments - Add Yours!

  1. Hugh Jass (Springfield)

    All good points shared in your blog, but I think it also depends on the purpose/mission statement of the blog. If your blog is primarily about say the latest in news or trends, it could then seem outside the scope of your blog and maybe hard for your readers to process a sudden change when offering up a candid personal portrait of your life.

    1. Lauren Post author

      Are you related to Anita Mann or Ivana Humpalott? I think this writer was talking more about stories for magazines or web sites since she said “pitch,” but you bring up a good point. A lot of bloggers who want to be taken seriously do put personal stories on their blogs, and the same could be said for them. That being said, I’ve heard a lot of blog readers say they like when a blog is varied in its content. If it’s still tenuously related to your blog’s overall theme or mission, then the switch to a more personal post might not have a negative impact.

  2. Pierz

    Every time I write something I put something personal in it because (a) it’s a natural way for me to tell a story and (b) I feel that it makes the piece more authentic (for lack of a better term). There have been so many times when I have deleted or severely curtailed the details.

    For most of my life I have treated it as an open book and I occasionally (but not often) regret it for myself. Unfortunately, most of the time I involve others and my way of being honest could/will/does hurt others so I keep that in mind now.

    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks for a great comment Pierz. I know you’re a pretty straight-forward dude in real life, so it makes sense to stay true to yourself online or in writing.


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