A couple of months ago I wrote what was supposed to be a funny post about the quirks of Pennsylvania drivers. A few people who are close to me didn’t find it humorous and felt like the post was immature at best. At the time, I was indignant-- was what I wrote really that offensive? I thought it was hilarious! In the end I ended up requesting the piece get taken down from the site where it was published. I felt embarrassed-- the editor thought I was just afraid of some negative comments-- but I must have known in my gut that it was the right decision. At the time I lived in Rhode Island and couldn’t have known I’d be working in Pennsylvania a few months later! It most likely wouldn’t have cost me the job, but I’ll say I felt better not having that piece floating around throughout the interview process.
For someone who loves planning, I’m often impulsive about what I write and publish. I can’t count the number of times I’ve written something, only to delete it hours later.
Take this piece, for example. I wrote that as a gut reaction after reading an article about a millennial who quit his full-time job to do something that makes him happy. A few hours after I posted it, I made the piece private--it really didn’t say anything valuable, it had a negative tone to it-- only to get a response a day later from someone who had read the piece before I took it down. We had a few back and forths and everything was ok-- until that person called me out on the post being private and my pride forced me to make it public again. I actually made the whole thing private again this morning because another one of my posts started to pick up momentum, and I didn’t want the negative stuff to show up on my profile.
As a writer, your most private experiences are fodder for some of your best writing. We all know when we as readers read something that’s honest. Funny writing is funny because it says the things everyone is thinking but too afraid to say. Beautiful writing is honest and raw and makes you feel like the writer is telling your own secret to the world. You can identify with honest writing, regardless of whether it’s funny or beautiful.
That said, it’s smart to ask yourself a few questions before sharing your work with the world (if I had done this for the above posts, I would have saved myself some trouble):
Is this piece adding value? Is it sharing a new perspective? Relaying a personal experience that helps someone else?
Is it honest without unfairly/unjustly harming someone else’s reputation? The truth is your best defense, but you should also think about what impact your writing has on the people who are closest to you.
If this piece is controversial, am I sharing my authentic perspective, or am I looking for attention? It’s okay to stir the pot, but only if what you’re sharing is truly meant to engage thoughtful discussion. It’s also okay to be provocative, but only if you’re comfortable with the blowback.
Would I be comfortable showing this to someone whose opinion I respect? Is it a piece I can be proud of?
Does posting this feel right in my gut? Did I give myself enough time to edit and let the piece “settle” before posting? If something feels off, get some feedback or wait a few days and come back to it.
I routinely go back through my profiles and do a digital clean of pieces I want to take down or edit-- you’d be surprised how much better your editing eye is after giving a piece space and time. In the end, it’s important to be somewhat personal (not sterile) in your writing so people can connect with you, but doing a litmus test is never a bad idea.