I’m Kim and I’m going to be guest blogging for next two weeks. I am thrilled to be here and have been looking forward to this all summer. Thank you for reading! If you’re on Twitter, I’d love to connect with you there: @kimconte.
As introduction, I’ll tell you that I live in Brooklyn with my boyfriend and a dog I talk to constantly. I work as an editor for a parenting website (despite not being a parent, which I’ve come to accept as one of life’s great ironies). I’ve done a lot of writing, both professionally and for myself. For years I wrote about food. I’ve also worked as a feminist blogger covering issues in the news like reproductive rights, healthcare, ignorant policy makers like Todd Akin, and wage equality. Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about my life.
Something that happens when you write about your life for a while—besides not being able to shake the worry that you are the most narcissist person on the planet—is a smudging of the line between what in your life is and is not appropriate to share. You lose perspective about whether you are being brave, open, and honest or blatantly oversharing. It’s a topic that writer Sarah Hepola insightfully addressed in her article for the New York Times Magazine, “Watching a Spectacular Public Meltdown With Just a Hint of Jealousy.”
Her piece is primarily about Cat Marnell, the former beauty editor for xoJane who became equal parts famous and infamous for writing about drug abuse, mental health, and other messy parts of her life. But the more sticky part for me is how Hepola responded to this woman’s work based on her own experience as a personal essay editor and writer. She admitted that there’s value for both reader and writer in personal essays about private pain—for her it was alcohol abuse—because they can be powerful aids in helping to process what you’ve been through. Then she said:
“Yet sometimes, I feel as if we’ve tipped the scales too far. Way too much skin on display. People are too readily encouraged to hurl their secrets into the void.”
It’s tempting to rationalize that people overshare because they want attention and to pick up a slew of followers. Of course, that plays a part. But I think it’s only scratching the surface of people’s motivation for “hurling their secrets into the void.”
A while back I wrote a blog post about my divorce for the website where I worked. It’s a topic I occasionally write about, but this post was different. Different in a bad “Holy crap did she just write that?” kind of way. It’s not that I was spilling juicy details of what went wrong in the relationship. (That’s what the screenplay is for! Oh, I kid! Sort of!). But it was very soon after the initial separation. And, I was unabashedly open about the pain I was feeling in a way that begged readers to shower me with sympathy and virtual hugs to help me feel better—versus, you know, find comfort or come to some bit of understanding of their own failed relationships through reading about mine. I get nauseous when I think back on it.
I published the post on the website, and then a coworker submitted it to the Huffington Post. Once it went live, I had a really icky feeling. It wasn’t that off-kilter feeling you get when you put something you are proud of out there and are a little worried about how people will react to it. Instead, it felt exactly like: REGRET.
I’m purposely not including the link here, but if you really want to read it, you could probably do some digging and find the train-wreck of a piece. But you have a life and, frankly, it’s not about my piece. It’s about the fact that at some point we all overshare.
We all have stuff, sloppy stuff, that’s happened to us that we want to talk about. If you choose to write online—a blog post, a comment to a blog post, an update to your Facebook status, anything at all—then you know first-hand how we are all constantly negotiating what is and what is not a good idea to share. It’s the upside and the downside to instant publishing. And sometimes we misjudge it. There’s no getting around it. It happens.
Here’s how I worked through this particular miscalculation: I forced myself to process why I wrote it in the first place. I wasn’t looking to ramp up online traffic or become a divorce influencer on Twitter. No, not at all.
I wrote that post about my divorce because I was really, really sad.
I don’t have to tell you that reading and writing about shared experiences can be tremendously therapeutic and healing. Why else would you be here? And I’ve always emulated writers who are able to get in touch with their emotions and aren’t afraid of what bubbles up to the surface. I’ve gradually become less hard on myself about the divorce post because I sincerely believed that’s what I intended to do in writing about it.
But, did I write about it way too soon? HELL YEAH I DID. My mistake was not writing about the experience, it was failing to process the experience before I unleashed it on the world. In other words, I had underestimated how awesome awareness can be. And I learned the hard way that writing without it can be a stinky idea. I accept that, too.
The last thing I want to be is a self-conscious, too-careful writer editing the heart and soul out of my work for fear of sharing too much. But this experience did teach me to put at least a little space between writing about my private life and pushing the “publish” button.
Did you ever share something online you regretted?