When you’re a memoir blogger, someone who packages up your personal stories into bite-sized chunks for public consumption, finding the tightrope wire between authenticity and oversharing can be a near-daily challenge. Or at least it is for me. Nadia Bolz-Webber, author and Lutheran (ELCA) pastor, says that we should speak from our scars, not from our wounds. And that has been one of the single-most helpful pieces of memoir-writing, personal-story-sharing advice I’ve ever been given.
Wound-writing is important. I’ve found that when I write from a wound, something that still stings and aches like hell, I’m able to heal a little more. It’s a way of saying goodbye just a little more to that story or situation or doctrine. It feels a little less raw after I write it all out. It stops bleeding a little bit more.
Wound-writing is a necessity for those of us who process through writing. But it’s also something we have to be careful with. When I write from my wounds I’m more apt to overshare, but in some ways what bothers me the most is the tone. When I let the wounded-words fly, I don’t come across as safe. I come across snarky, judgmental, and harsh.
There are places where wounded-words are safe to share. I can tell my inner circle. I can tell drafts on Word that I’ll never do anything with. I can tell letters I’ll never send. There are ways for me to process without telling all of my blog followers.
It’s not that I’m not allowed to share wound-writing on my blog, because I certainly could if I wanted, but I don’t want to. I want to stick to scar-stories because when I write from a scar the story is still raw but the bite has been softened, the venom has been diluted. (Yes, there’s still snark but every sentence doesn’t have be to dripping with it.)
I’m making wound-writing a regular part of my healing process. But those pieces are things I only share with a very select group of people. And sometimes I don’t share it with anyone at all. Sometimes it’s just for me.
And then later, when it’s had time to turn into a scar, I might rewrite it and share it on the blog. Or I might never share it.
I’m slowly learning how to identify when a story is something I can tell without oversharing. And I’ll give you a few pieces of advice that I’ve learned the hard way.
1. Before you push that publish button ask yourself, “Is this a wound? Am I still emotionally bleeding?” And if you are, save it as a draft and come back to it later. It’s not going anywhere.
2. Ask yourself, “How do I want to present myself? How do I want people to feel when they’re around me?” For me, the answer is safe. My goal is to write for the people that I want to feel less alone. I want my blog to continually say “Me, too” and “I understand” and “I’m so sorry you’ve been through that also.”
However, in order to be supportive, in order to be welcoming and kind and just basically not an asshole, I first need to heal. This doesn’t mean that everything has to be totally figured out. If I waited to write about church stuff until I was totally healed from all of it, I’d never write about it at all (or at least not in this decade). But instead I write about the specific events, the specific things that I’ve gotten enough space from to be able to breathe. The stories that are no longer eating me up inside, no longer bleeding all over the floor.
3. Ask yourself, “Which people have I already told?” If the story you’re thinking about sharing as a blog post or a Facebook status or wherever else relates to a pain or a struggle that you’ve never shared with anyone before, then it’s best to not push that button because you’re most likely oversharing.
One of my personal goals is that my husband never learns something about me via my blog. I don’t want him to come to me and say, “Kelsey, I had no idea this had happened. I’d never heard any of this before.” If I’m writing about something that is raw and I’ve never talked it out with him, then I’m oversharing. It doesn’t mean it’s not something I can write about later, but it’s not something I can write about right then. And that’s okay.
I’ve found coming up with an order of people to tell has helped me to see what would be oversharing. For me, my husband and counselor are the first people that I share the wounded-words with. Then, I talk with the family members I’m close to and my best friend. And then I tell my close friends. And so on.
My blog in some ways is like my ongoing memoir and personal newsletter all rolled into one. So sometimes things will come up that maybe I hadn’t mentioned to someone or maybe hadn’t explained fully. Sometimes my blog is the way I tell friends about something that I’m feeling or thinking or have experienced because writing feels so much more natural to me. But I make sure that my inner circle, specifically my husband, doesn’t learn new things about me via the blog.
I think memoir bloggers can easily turn into shock-and-awe bloggers if we’re not careful. In the pursuit of our next big break we can share too much, we can share too quickly, we can be too aggressive or snarky or edgy, we can hurt others, and we can lose the tone we want to maintain. Usually blogging is based on what someone did today. “Today my child did something cute” or “Today I finally mastered this recipe” or “Today my cat did something weird.” But memoir blogging isn’t about the here and now. It’s storytelling.
If you’re going to be a memoir blogger the best advice I can possibly give you is to hang onto your stories. Sit on them. You’re not a journalist. You don’t have to get the story out before dawn. You don’t have to pick a catchy title and get the whole damn thing to your editor stat. You’re a memoir blogger. You’re a storyteller. And when they need to, stories can wait.
Tell your stories, but slowly. Give them a soft opening. And wait. Wait to share them with the entire internet until it’s no longer bleeding. Wait until you get a little distance. You can always post it later, but you can’t take a post back if you post it too soon.