How To: Write About Your Feelings On The Internet (Without Losing All of Your Friends)
If you read Nicole’s blog regularly, then you’re probably familiar with me. I’m one of the Ashleys she mentions often. The one who blogs at Writing To Reach You. I’m here because Nicole asked me to write about “feeeeeeeeeeeelings” and then to write a post about “feelings and laundry” as my alter ego @smugtoreach. We settled on a post about how to write honestly on the internet when you’re not anonymous and you don’t want to offend the people in your life. I have a lot of experience with this.
I think the first step is to realize that writing about yourself honestly is a risk, but it is probably not as big of a deal as you think it is. This is just a blog. Everyone who is reading has their own stuff going on. Most people will not be too alarmed when you admit you are a real person with feelings who sometimes struggles with things. Most of what you think is a big revelation will not be a big revelation. I think people sometimes think they can’t write about things they’re just scared to write about, and that’s fine, but you should recognize that the problem is fear. Most of your favorite writers have taken those risks and not only did they create great art, but the world didn’t crumble down around them.
The rule is that you should only tell your own stories, but your stories are going to involve other people. Anne Lamott says: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” I love that quote for its angst, but my life isn’t exactly full of people who have done me wrong, so I just need the reminder that what has happened to me belongs to me and I have the right to tell it. I would never write anything to intentionally hurt someone, even someone who has hurt me, but I do want to tell the truth about myself and my life.
So I try to be very specific about how I feel and vague about the details. I don’t hide the fact that I’m being vague. I will actually say things like, “A thing happened and [this is how it made me feel].” I try to keep the focus on myself, which is not exactly a challenge for a personal blogger. I’m writing because there’s something that I need to work through, and I won’t go as far as saying that the details are unimportant (and I share them whenever I can), but people can relate to what I’m saying even if they don’t know exactly what happened. Some feelings are universal.
I like to say that I gave up being passive aggressive when I was 25. The temptation is still there sometimes, but I don’t let it in. Don’t be vague to make yourself sound mysterious or to get attention. That’s manipulative. To me, it’s like ellipses. I hate when people use ellipses as a way of suggesting something without actually having to say it. I hate it because it’s weak and puts the burden of actually doing something on the other person. If you’re going to say something, then really say it and put a period at the end of it. Let people react how they will. It’s the same thing with writing about your feelings on the internet. Don’t do it to try to say something to someone without actually having to say it. That’s unfair and there’s a really good chance you’re going to be disappointed.
I don’t expect anyone in my life to read my blog. It is really nice that many of them do, but it’s not a condition of friendship. Unless they tell me specifically that they’ve read something I’ve written, then I just assume they haven’t. That makes it easier for me to write. Let blogging be this weird thing you do, and continue with all of your relationships as normal. Most people will rarely mention it, even if they read your blog regularly, some will comment occasionally, and others will bring it up at a bar in front of a bunch of people, and you will change the topic as quickly as you can.
You’re making yourself vulnerable by sharing your feelings on the internet, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept whatever reaction anyone has to your blog. It’s up to you to set the boundaries. You don’t have to answer any questions you don’t want to answer, you can glare at the person who brings it up in front of a room full of people, and if someone reacts in a way that’s not appropriate, you should tell them so. If you legitimately offend someone, then apologize and learn from it, but don’t stop writing. Keep telling your stories. They belong to you.