5 Essential Personal Writing Tips
It’s not just us budding writers who are interested in personal writing. Readers are too. There are thousands of people online right now seeking entertainment, escape and emotional release – and many of them get it by reading personal stories on blogs.
Look at some of the most popular blogs in the world and you’ll find they’re personal blogs. Many personal writing blogs like Dooce have become massive hits because of the personal stories they share. Even bloggers like Leo Babauta (productivity) Darren Rowse (blogging) and Penelope Trunk (careers) who aren’t known for their personal writing per se, have risen to the top of their field because their personal story made them unique and interesting.
We all have a story to tell and many of us have a burning desire to get it out. Writing down what’s happened to us can be therapeutic. It’s great to get things off our chest and share how we feel with other people. It gives us a sense of being part of something bigger, it lessens the loneliness of the human condition.
I wonder how many thousands of personal stories need to be told but are still safely locked away in people’s heads? Like skeletons in the cupboard those stories will rattle round and keep us awake at night until we let them out.
We need to write them down and sometimes we want to share them, but it’s essential to at least write your personal stories, even if you don’t make them public. Otherwise the creative process is hampered by those ghost stories we want to write but haven’t.
Getting Your Personal Writing Noticed
There are thousands of personal blogs out there so how do we make our personal writing and our story stand out amidst all that noise? How do we make our personal story resonate with people, make them want to read more and recommend it to their friends?
5 Essential Personal Writing Tips
1. Get Up Close and Personal
You have to get up close and personal if you want to shine at personal writing. You have to be honest and really share yourself. That’s why what should be easy is so hard.
Most of us hate writing about ourselves. It’s almost as bad as public speaking. But you have to do it because you have a story to tell and it needs to be told.
People love reading personal stories and that’s why blogs have become so popular. Because people want to know about YOU. No one wants to hear it from corporate writers, paid stooges or even slick Pulitzer prize winners every time.
People want to read personal writing and stories by real people, quirky people they can relate to. Check out the comments on my post 35 Ways I Don’t Fit In if you don’t believe me.
To begin with it’s all about exploring what you know, what you want to say and how you’ll say it.
2. Be Brave
Just do it. Give fear the finger and start now. You may not know what you want to write about or how to write it until you start writing. So set yourself a workable routine and stick to it.
Writing every week day for 60 minutes and, if you have a blog, publishing one blog post a week would be a great start.
Accept that to begin with your writing will be rusty. That’s normal. They’re called first drafts. From those rough sentences final drafts will spring.
Professional writers are lucky to have ruthless editors to pare, improve and fine-tune their writing. You probably don’t. Of course you can learn editing skills too but the editing comes later. First you need to write. Personal writing, like all writing isn’t about being perfect. It’s about getting started and having something to show for it.
3. Ignore the Voices
You know the ones I mean. The negative voices in your head. I’m not even going to mention what they say here because they’re not getting any space, time or recognition. They don’t deserve it.
It’s our duty as human beings and fearless writers to drown those voices out no matter how. Sometimes, singing helps. Or replacing them with positive mantras like “I love telling my story” or “I write daily because I enjoy it.”
Wine sometimes helps but that’s naughty. Have just one glass if you must but be careful. You don’t want to have too much and end up like Earnest Hemmingway.
You’ll need to write something to discover what your story is. Then you’ll have to rewrite it to work out why your story’s important, and rewrite it again to make the story clear to your readers.
4. Keep it Simple
Some people are brilliant storytellers. They can hop around from one event to the next with ease. There are a few tried and tested ways of telling any story – including personal ones: chronological order, flashback, and starting at the end. Don’t worry about that yet if it confuses you or worries you.
Just concentrate on telling a story from the beginning to the end and getting people engaged and feeling like they were really there with you.
5. Start a Blog
Your blog doesn’t have to be made public, but if you do decide to go public with your personal writing, you may want to change names, places or locations to protect the innocent… and stop the guilty from suing you.
Or you could write an anonymous blog.
Private, public or anonymous, blogging offers a great way to organise your writing, get yourself in the habit of regular writing and manage your stories.
Personal Writing Round Up
I hope you’ll get into personal writing because it’s fun and therapeutic too. But you have to be brave and give yourself away. So stop hoarding what you’ve got and share it with the world if you dare.
Let’s aim to make our personal writing as compelling as fiction and evoke feelings people can relate to. Your readers weren’t there but if they understand how you felt, and if they’ve ever felt that way themselves, you become more than just a writer, you become a friend.
That’s what puts the personal into personal writing and makes it universally popular.
Strong personal writing makes readers love reading and makes good writers great.
If you like the first part in the all new Personal Writing Magic Series subscribe free by email or RSS feed so you don’t miss the rest of the series.
In the weeks ahead we’ll cover story-telling, themes and self-discovery for personal writing. I’m looking forward to it and hope you’ll join us.
I love finding new and interesting writers via their blogs and will often look at the blogroll of a blogger I really love to see what he or she has found. Sometimes I don’t find a match but often I really do.
Thanks for the comment Niki! I like that idea and need to start a blog roll:) I do have a links section tucked down at the bottom of my site but it needs updating. Adding that to my ever-growing to do list!
This looks like a really hot series, Annabel. I try to include persona stories in my blog posts often. Sometimes just a snap shot and sometimes far longer. I find people really do connect with people and it’s through stories and being real. This is a great topic and I look forward to seeing the next parts of the series.
Hi Sandra, I love what you say about mixing up the length of your personal writing. They can be such a great way to illustrate a point. Thanks for adding that:)
This looks like a great series Annabel ~
Re the rewriting numerous times (whilst ignoring the voices) do you think one has to leave space (time) between each draft to elicit an improvement?
And if so, does that mean each post has to be on the boil/on the back burner/ on the boil again to ultimately publish one’s best?
Hi Linda, thanks for asking! I guess it’s different for everyone. Yes, it’s good to have time to let a piece of writing sit a while before you try to rewrite/edit or prepare for publishing. I love the way you put it of on the boil/on the back burner/ on the boil. Sometimes that process can happen over the space of a few days for me but other times it can take weeks, months or even longer! I try to get things out quicker now because sometimes I lose interest in the idea and then it never gets published at all.
Great series Annabel.
The take away for me here, is to ignore the voices.
Thanks Catherine! I’m doing well with that now and I think you are too. It takes practice to give those voices the boot but it can be done:)
Oh I am dying for this!!! I know personal writing posts get heaps of interaction and buzz going… they always do!!! I find it really hard to just start writing them!!! I tend to post “factual posts” or “how to posts” – our blog is question driven and I rely on readers to ask away for post ideas. But I would love to really write something that I think… even just once a month!!!! Generally I have about a million ideas in my head for blog posts… but almost nothing about me and what I am thinking… wwwaahha maybe I don’t have any original thoughts and I am just getting through the day!!! I need to take the first step I am just not sure what it is yet, but once I start I may well open up a whole new era on our blog!!!
Hi Se7en, loved reading this, it made me laugh because we’ve all been there and you worked out the solution and the fabulous possibilities yourself in that last sentence:)
I enjoy nothing more than a well written personal blog. I’ll admit, sometimes it’s because I like nothing more than to read a real life soap opera as it unfolds before my eyes, and sometimes there’s nothing more amusing than a dramatic huff. Then again, they are also comforting. They restore my faith in humanity, and remind me that I’m not alone in my struggles with life.
I started a personal blog not so very long ago, and I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my writing since I’ve been posting in it almost every day. Personally, I’ve kept it public, and my friends know of it and read it. I don’t feel fulfilled in the way I do when I know that my story is being kept safe, secret, private. Part of the therapy for me is knowing that somewhere, someone is going to read it. I liken it to the practise of giving confession to a priest. You may not be able to see one another, and you may or may not know one another, but it’s a whole lot better than baring your soul to a brick wall!
Thanks for starting this series, I’m really looking forward to seeing what else you have to say, and hopefully improving my personal blog even more :)
Hi Bex, thank you for sharing your insights and story. I feel the same about going public though a bit of anonymous blogging is tempting sometimes I do love knowing my stories will be read and knowing that makes me work harder to improve them too:)
I’m joining you Annabel with giving fear the finger. Later today, I’m posting a poem on my blog. People may hate it, but my heart told me to write it!
Hi Alex, so excited about that and love the way you’re following your heart and ignoring those voices. I’ll be looking forward to reading it!
Annabel, The first big ‘aha’ moment for me, in the early stages of blogging, was when I told a childhood story that was true and not very pretty. I got an anonymous comment from a woman who had a similar experience as a child and shared with me how my story helped her deal with her anger. It was an amazing and eye opening moment for me. To realize that sharing your story, good, bad or ugly, can resonate with someone else and help them is life affirming.
She has since become a regular, and has shared some of her own story. I consider her a friend.
It also makes me believe, as you say, everyone has a story. If we can get people to think more about how their story could possibly help someone else, and not worry about being judged, we could get more great stories out there. That’s one of the reasons I co-founded The Blogstress Network. We encourage people to share their stories and enrich the blogosphere.
If this is the kick-off… I’m in! Thanks.
Hi Barbara, that’s a great example of how you shared and trusted your readers and that made them trust you. The network sounds great – so glad we’re in this together:)
I agree that people want to know about “You,” but they really want something interesting, entertaining, and/or helpful that they can relate to. What I did at 9, 10, 11, 12, is a boring diary, therefore stories written by my blogger friend, Miss Footloose from Life in the Expat Lane, are brilliant. She’s a real pro at writing and entertaining.
Hi GutsyWriter, just realising with a name like that you should probably have written this post!
I know what you mean about those diaries. I have loads and mostly so boring I can hardly bear to read them myself. But you have to go through that stage until you can get to the interesting, entertaining, and/or helpful part.
Thanks for sharing an example of a great personal writing blog:)
Hi Annabel, The last blog post I wrote was quite awhile ago. I decided to set up a seven week plan (the seven stages of grief) and blogged about it and what was to come. When I started writing about the first topic, shock I was overwhelmed with the memories that came flooding back. And then I thought no one would really want to read about the day I lost my son. It was just so sad a day. So I completely stopped writing. That was on Jan 12. I think it is so hard to just put yourself out there sometimes. I still want to continue with my blog but I think I have to take a different path. One that shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel of grief. Thanks for this post. It says to me that I can start again and it’s ok to just post once a week and to write about what is close to me.
Hi Annette, I know how hard it must be for you to write that and how hard it is to read it too. But what I’ve found and Barbara has found too is that you never really know if someone will be interested in reading your story unless you hit publish.
It is a brave step and I truly appreciate that. I have been brave and shared some personal stories but to share others I need to be braver still. We are learning, growing and getting more confident together.
Posting once a week is fine. That’s all I can manage here right now. Even posting only once a year would be better than nothing! Thank you so much for sharing your story.
Thanks for your post. Today was actually the first time on my business blog that I have written something remotely personal. And, surprise, surprise it seems to be reaching a wider audience than normal.
I don’t think it will be a regular occurance (and I must say I was rather nervous putting it out there) but it’s nice to know that people can respond to it favourably.
Interestingly I told people to ignore the voices too!
Hi Jen, I love that you did that despite your nerves. My experience is that on a business blog personal writing is essential to let people know you’re a real person and not a boring expert. Of course you need to make it relevant to them and you did that very well in your story:) I’m stoked.
Ssssshhhh, don’t remind me about the voices!
Thank you! I’ve overcome the voices but accepting that to begin with my writing might be a bit rusty, not so much. It’s embarrassing sometimes. I read an older post and wonder why it was so hard for me to form a coherent cohesive, smooth flowing, sentence. Geesh!
Hi Starthrower, thanks for leaving us a comment, I’m intrigued by your name:) Ah yes, we are all embarassed by our first blog posts but hey, if we hadn’t written them our personal and blog writing wouldn’t have got better:) So glad you got started and can see the improvement in your writing.
You have made it pretty simple. Wish I could follow this. But there is not end how much people want to know. They keep asking for mere.
Hi Shirazi, that sounds like a great problem for a writer to have;)
This is so true! I find on my blog that my posts about a personal story evoke much more response than posts that are more impersonal. And when people tell me about posts that stick with them, the posts they remember are the ones that told a personal story. And many of those were the hardest to write, just like you said!
Great post–thank you!!
Hi Galen, lovely to see you here and thanks for sharing your personal blogging story;)
Thanks for visiting my blog! I don’t often comment but I have been reading yours for awhile and I enjoy it very much!
This post could not have come at a more appropriate time for me. I’m in the process of drafting a post revealing a huge personal story of mine, and shortly after that post hits my blog, I’ll be doing a guest post at a Big Time blog about my decision to reveal it.
The instant I committed to this, I automatically started to panic–What if people looked at me differently afterward? What if people In Real Life got mad at me for posting about it? And why the hell did I think it would be a good idea to broadcast my issues to an A-list-size audience?
This post helped to remind me that personal stories mean a lot to people. I hope that sharing mine might help other people to share theirs. Thank you for the (much needed) encouragement!
Hi Cordelia, what a brave step. Courageous Cordelia I applaud you and look forward to reading it:)
For me, writing is cathartic and a by-product of life. So the fuller the life the more interesting the writing. So get out there and live life to its fullest. Life is not a dress rehearsal.
Hi Riley, great to hear from you and love the sentiment!
I have found blog writing to be a source of inspiration and an opportunity to stop and breathe and reflect on my life, where I am going, where I have been, who I am and what I hope for in the future.
The hardest part has always been to share my story, I feel that it just doesn’t seem to be as exciting as others, but I am learning that we are all unique and we all have something unique to share.
Thanks for the tips
Hi David, thanks for joining us and leaving a comment. I think we all know the feeling that other people have a more “exciting” story to share but it’s not just the story that matters, it’s how we tell it… and the fact that we’re brave enough to tell it at all.
Great to read that blogging has been helping you get inspired and in tune with yourself. I find that too:)
Giving fear the finger is something I do everyday without a doubt. When it comes to writing; your only enemy is you. As long as you can conquer yourself. You won the battle. Well at least half of it. Belief in yourself is all you need. Then walk with this belief in hand. You’ll do wonderful!
Sweet post Annabel. I enjoyed every bite!
Good solid advice, Annabel. I love the way you motivate bloggers to be brave and give them the tools to help overcome their reticence. Having written a memoir where I bared everything, I know what you mean. For most people, getting over their fear of being too personal, can be intimidating. In critique groups, I’ve come across many writers who write about everything in their memoirs except for what matters most – how they felt, how they were affected, etc. and always maintain a distance from the reader. Similar to writing about sex, a lot of people can’t get over this hump, but once they do, it can be an awesome awakening.
I am just an ordinary woman, but I have a tradgic story to tell. I am looking for some one to write a book for me to help other women in my situation. It is a story of domestic violence that has resulted in death of a 4 year old child. I believe my story could help many of women out there in domestic violence relationships. If anyone is willing to help me or if you know how I can find someone to get started just email me at :[email protected]. I would like my story told….
“Giving fear the finger” is something that I need to learn to do!
Thank you for sharing :)
Great post, and can’t wait to read the rest of the series!
I’ve maintained a personal blog for about a year which is enjoyed by family and friends. But, now that I’m embarking on a freelance business I’ve been thinking I need to start another more professional blog that I can share with potential clients. I’m struggling to figure out a ‘niche’ and really not sure if I should try to maintain two blogs, or just professionalize the personal one, or what?? Problem is the personal one doesn’t have much of a focus – besides my tagline: Ruminations From An Empty Nest. But my posts vary from updates on my grown daughters to fun stories about life, to travel stories, to the occasional social justice rant.
I may just post “Give Fear The Finger” by my desk. REmembering it can only make for better writing.
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