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!
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.