Let's Get Personal: 5 Tips to Being Yourself On Paper

Writing is hard work. Ask any journalist, author, or even blogger out there – creating original content is hard enough; expressing yourself in an interesting, clear, and accurate way is even more difficult.

But what if the subject you’re writing about is yourself? Or, what if the topic you’re writing about is a personal experience you had? That’s a whole other playing game. 

Those who have written a personal piece of content know how hard it can be. Putting your experiences and feelings down on paper is difficult. For whatever reason, the witty thoughts and ideas you have in your head don’t always translate.

This is something I’ve discovered in the past year in an experiment I gave myself to write more personal essays on my blog. And guess what? It worked. I’ve written several pieces that are about my experiences as an expat, my issues with insecurity, as well as personal pieces for sites like Bustle. By writing these pieces on a regular basis and publishing them in forums where I feel comfortable I’ve learned that there are a few things that can be done to help ease the pain of writing a personal piece of content.

Here are 5 ways to authentically bring your voice to the paper when writing a personal narrative:

Take the pressure off: As any introvert or awkward-party-attender knows, sometimes the hardest thing to do is be yourself. But you need to find a way to be yourself, to access that self on a regular basis, and to accurately express that self on paper.

What works for me: 

  • Stop everything and write: As soon as the idea comes to you, stop what you’re doing and starting writing immediately. Even if it’s in the draft of an email at work (oops), even if it’s on a napkin, even if it’s on a notebook by your bed at 3am. When real, worthy words come to you, you listen. More than likely, this will happen during your golden hour – your most productive hour of the day. Take advantage of it if you can. 
     
  • Relax: Maybe it’s a bath, having a good laugh with a friend, or maybe it’s drinking some white wine – though you didn’t hear that recommendation from me. Whatever it is, the key to finding your best writing is finding your best self. Do what you need to to relax, and then get ready to write.

Find experiences that are unique to you: Imagine this: You’re in a class and are going through an ice breaker exercise where everyone in the room is asked to share one thing that’s “interesting” about themselves. (It’s the worst, isn’t it?) Still, this somewhat stale exercise can be helpful when it comes to writing. We’ve all had experiences in our lives that are relatively unique to us. There might also be something particularly private that you’ve never shared before, but would like to. Think about what makes you interesting, and share it with your audience. Real life example: Jess’s post called “Always the Sick Girl”, which was a look at her chronic nausea. Most readers of June Letters knew nothing about Jess’s nausea, so when she shared her story in an honest, real way and it created both discussion and connection amongst her readers, and gave us a peek inside Jess’s life.

Write, and write often: This is advice I give constantly and for good reason. Write way more than you need to, then allow yourself plenty of time to edit. This will help with anything you’re writing, but is especially important when it comes to writing a personal narrative.

Be yourself: This is an experience that you and only you know truly. Don’t try to overwrite, overcomplicate, or over explain. Imagine yourself telling the story to a friend and try to accurately recreate that experience on paper.

Read outloud: I read everything I write outloud. (I also talk to myself, but we’ll save that for another column). I find this to be a helpful way to not only proofread your work, but to also get an idea for the tone of the piece that you’ve written. When you read aloud ask yourself how the piece sounds. Does the story read clearly? Are there any components of the story that are missing? Do you feel like you’re accurately expressing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences?

Ready to write? Here’s an assignment: As you may know (and desperately be dreading), Valentine’s Day is around the corner. If you’re interested in writing a personal narrative, write something about a relationship. This doesn’t have to be an air the dirty laundry, tell-all thing, but write about an experience you had related to Valentine’s Day or a past relationship. Think about something you learned, something you grew from, something that happened to you. Share it in a blog post, post it as a series of tweets, write a really vulnerable Instagram caption. Share it with me and Jess, or keep it to yourself - this is a practice that should guide you in finding your voice and learning how to accurately share it. Good luck!


ROBIN REETZ

I’m Robin – a freelance digital journalist with about seven years working in media. My primary experience lies in fashion, lifestyle and design writing, and I've worked at places like Teen Vogue and Refinery29. In addition to my work, I also write about the independent fashion community (which I love) and chronicle my experiences as an expat on my blog

I've worked in many sides of the industry – from magazines to agencies to e-commerce. I'll be sharing what I've learned about writing and digital communication both from my professional experience, and from the experience I've gained as a blogger. 



January

This month has been crazy. That is about the only word I can think of to describe it. From the very first week of January - everything has been a little bit nuts. There has been a lot of good but also some challenges. This has definitely been my hardest freelancing month so far. I have been tasked with a lot of really fun and rewarding work, but have also had to play 'collector' which hasn't been fun. So far I have been pretty lucky and feeling financially secure each month - but this month, I think with the pressures and costs of the move - I have been feeling downright stressed financially. I absolutely hate having to dig into my savings, but the reality is, in order to have a smooth move and settle into our new place - I have to. I am just hoping that in the months to come I can replenish my savings and not feel so stressed about money. 

I realize this is pretty personal - but hey, we all worry about money but rarely talk about it. As a salaried worker for many years I did not have to worry as much, it was predictable how much I would make each month. But now - every month is variable and some have much bigger payouts than others. But still, I love freelancing, and don't have a desire to go back to a full-time salary job. I am just hoping as I grow as a freelancer I will start to have a bit more predictability in my payments.

On top of the money stress, I have been feeling really sick. A cold I can't shake, plus nausea and fatigue - is making it hard for me to work at my same usual pace.  I am used to being really fast, so feeling like I have to slow down has been frustrating. Hoping I start feeling better soon! 

This month has been nuts, but luckily it is almost over. February is really looking up - a new city, a new apartment, some new exciting clients, and some personal news. Looking forward to starting 'anew' next week!!

xo , Jess

Image above is a scan of some of my sketches for an icon design. One of my favorite things that I did in January.

WIP: Tranquil & Modern Mood Board

After a stressful few weeks (and it ain't slowing down!) creating this soothing mood board was just what the Dr. ordered! Seriously I felt calm looking at all of these beautiful natural textures and clean shapes. Clearly, I am an overly visual person.

The client provides Mediation services (not Meditation - though I totally read the brief wrong at first!).  But in either case, a tranquil environment is necessary! We are working on the logos now, will update when I have more.

Xo, Jess

Loft Living

It is hard to believe that in two short weeks my husband and I will be packing up our San Francisco apartment and moving across the bay to a loft in Oakland. This change is really really big for us - we have been living in our cozy apartment on Valencia street for over 4.5 years. We have loved living in San Francisco, and are very sad to leave. But the reality is we are ready for a new space - and after an exhaustive search in the city, we discovered we simply could not afford the kind of space that we desire. After spending so much time looking at the city we started occasionally looking in the East Bay - and on a whim went to see a beautiful loft we saw on Craigslist. The space was all open, with full walls of windows, a dishwasher, and a washer/dryer (seriously a dream after hand-washing and coin laundry). We loved the space but we were pretty sure at the time that we did not get it, since there were so many people at the open house! But a few days later we got the exciting news that we were selected. It was really thrilling, but also so scary - because the reality set in that we would really be moving! 

Once I got the news I almost immediately started a Pinterest board to gather inspiration for loft living. The space is all open floor-plan style so we really have to get creative for how we are going to arrange the space. I have started sketching, and will be sure to share some of my ideas soon! For now take a look at some of my inspiration imagery. 

You can find all the sources and more images in my Loft Living Pinterest board!

Xo, Jess