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Is Privacy Possible For Writers in the Digital Age?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Social media has flung open the door on our private lives. For writers moving toward publication and beyond, this phenomenon of sharing and baring ourselves to any and everyone, can be exciting and intimidating at the same time.

We’re thrilled to meet new friends, find support, and connect with readers. But we’re also afraid of facing rejection and misunderstanding. Maybe we’re even worried about safety for ourselves and our families—after all, criminals still troll the internet.

In striving to be public authors in a digital age, we can’t stick our heads in a hole and hide away. Most of us agree we need to be involved in social media. But do we necessarily need to fling the door wide open on our personal lives to build an online presence?

I’ll offer my opinion on a few questions I've recently received, but bear in mind, they’re only my opinions. I’d love for you to chime in with your thoughts.

Should writers use blogging as a form of public-journaling?

Yes and no. Yes, we should all strive to uniquely express ourselves through our blogs. Whatever focus we give our blogs, our posts will often resonate best with readers when we’re real, authentic, and open with both the joys and the pains of our experiences.

On the other hand, blogging is not private. Obviously anyone in the world can visit our blogs. And as professional writers who desire to use our blogs as a way to develop a platform, we’re not just writing our posts for ourselves. We’re writing with our readers in mind (the same way we are with our books). We need to give our readers something if we hope to keep them coming back. That won’t happen if all we do is ramble on about ourselves.

What should writers do if they’re shy or hesitant about sharing personally online?

By nature of the writing process, we already pour our most intimate thoughts on the page. Sure we can conceal those deep feelings within the folds of fiction. But when our books are made public, we’re revealing ourselves and making ourselves vulnerable.

If we’re seeking publication, we have to resign ourselves to the fact that we’re going public. Readers and reviewers will search us out (especially if they like our books). They’ll want to learn more about us.

In fact, Guardian had a recent article Engage With the Public or Fade into the Past: “There's a new generation of readers who crave an interactive experience with writers. Is it not enough to read and enjoy the book in private? Apparently not . . . If you don't engage with the social media, you'll get left behind."

We can learn to step out of our comfort zones, little by little. And as we get used to opening up before publication, we’ll be better prepared for the spotlight after.

How much should writers share? What should writers keep to themselves? How can we be “real” but maintain healthy boundaries?

The thing with social media is that we can portray an image or create an illusion of who we want people to believe we are. And it may or may not actually line up with the real person.

When we only open the door a crack and reveal small bits of information about ourselves, we risk alienating people. They may perceive us as unfriendly. If we share primarily the positives, we might come across as conceited. If we share mostly the negatives, we could earn a reputation as a complainer.

When we open up the door all the way and let everyone in to every minute detail of our lives, we may give too much information and risk turning people off with all of our problems.

However, we can strive to put ourselves somewhere in a balanced middle. We can try to be as real online as we are in person, but then set boundaries for how far we’re willing to open the door.Yes, we want to be authentic, but the public doesn’t need to know all the details about our personal and family lives. There are just some things that need to stay within the confines of our inner circles.

Your turn! I’d love to hear your thoughts! How much do you share online? What kinds of things do you think writers should keep to themselves? Are there any areas you think are taboo?

27 comments:

  1. think as long as we are being professional social media will work well. I’m a big fan of blogging, Facebook and Tweeting but it needs to remain relevant, tasteful, and beneficial for those who are reading / following us.

    Social media is a great way to interact and like the meaning implies – it is social, so we should be social and apply the same etiquette as if we were dealing with each other face to face.

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  2. I'm often surprised by the number of Facebook status updates I read that are about marital/relationship struggles and complaints about jobs. Like the comment above stated, I think it's important to use the same social etiquette you would use in personal interactions.

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  3. I think it remains a personal choice. I like reading writers' blogs when they talk about the craft, and it's nice to hear a little about their personal achievements. I don't need to hear very private info or revealing facts about their families.

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  4. Jody, This is one of those areas that no one talks about, but anyone in the public eye, even an author still struggling for name recognition, must face. I don't have a pat answer, but when posting on Twitter or Facebook, I try to ask myself these questions: Will this interest anyone else? Am I comfortable letting the world know this? Does this come across as self-promotion? There are probably other gates my posts must pass through, but these are the big ones.

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  5. I think long and hard before I post something that I'm emotionally charged about. Don't get me wrong, I may feel strongly about a topic or passionately about a post, but I'm careful not to put things out there that I know might hurt someone (or myself).

    Process first. Post later.

    And you make an excellent point about remembering the reader. I think when people do that we see less pointless complaining and more thought-provoking posts.

    ~ Wendy

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  6. Everytime I blog, or comment on a blog, or post something on FB, I think to myself: How will I feel if this resurfaces in 20 years? You are right Jody. We should share honestly, but we don't have to share everything.

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  7. Goodmorning, Everyone! I'm appreciating getting a glimpse into the filters you use for knowing what to share on social media. This is great stuff! Thank you for sharing! :-)

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  8. I think the keys to what we share online, whether via blogging, Twitter or Facebook, are wisdom and just basic social etiquette.

    What, exactly, we share, depends on the calling we have on our lives. Someone writing fiction may not necessarily be called to share what a nonfiction writer would. God has called me to share the good, the bad and the ugly, but always for a purpose. It's a delicate balance and I strive to honor God but keep it real...all while keeping in mind the people who will be reading it all.

    Excellent, thought provoking post, Jody!

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  9. It is so interesting how you can shape a personality that may not be your won through social media. That whole idea intrigues me so much and actually makes me want to write about it. :) Great topic for pondering.

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  10. Jody,
    You have a knack for posing questions and issues that generate thought and discusssion.

    One filter on what to reveal through an online medium: Am I revealing more of myself to the public than I am to my own family?
    Isn't it funny in the digital age that it is often easier to talk through a computer screen than to an actual person sitting across from us?

    Another filter: Am I using this outlet for a rave against someone? I have read negative rants against a spouse. Not good.

    A question: Pictures to post. FB and a blog is a great way to share pictures of fun and family times. But it is a sobering thought that there are men who make their living scouring internet sites looking for vulnerable people they can exploit financially and morally. Readers do want to see pictures of an author and their families (especially if you write a book about family!). How many to show? Mmm, don't know.

    Very good post, Jody.

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  11. One writer suggested creating a list of "no-nos" before even starting to build an online presence. This list should include people, situations, subject matter you'll never talk about online. It works! I find myself readying to respond to a Tweet, say, then I catch myself. No, I remind myself, I don't want to open up that can of worms.

    The downside to any social media presence is there's only so much you can do. I've had complete strangers hop onto my blog and insult me, sometimes in quite scary ways. We can't forget to protect ourselves and make sure there's no identifying info out there.

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  12. I stay away from personal stuff. I don't give out any specifics. A good rule of thumb is if you have even a sliver of doubt whether you should post something, then don't post it.

    I think most people participating in social media are good people. It just seems like there are predators everywhere because that's what makes the news. But it's smart to be cautious, because you never know who could be watching your blog or website.

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  13. It's still unnerving to me that a simple search brings up images of me. This would not have happened before I was on blogger/wordpress/twitter/facebook. I'm one of those people who will always be uncomfortable w/ this. But I'm also willing to change and grow. One change I need to make, and soon, is my facebook page. It started out personal, pictures of family, etc., but now I'm adding friends I've made online.

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  14. I don't have a separate Facebook page for authorly things, so I've set up categories to organize my friends. Those I don't know personally don't get information on my children and can't access pictures. Makes me comfortable this way.

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  15. This post is very helpful on what people want to hear and don’t want to hear. I think sticking to the craft and setting boundaries are very important. Have a great weekend.

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  16. You're all providing so much wisdom to this topic! Thank you!

    And, Julie, I agree that with non-fiction bloggers, what you share will likely be apart of building your platform and tie in with your books. But I'm sure even then, you have to be careful with HOW you present your information.

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  17. So you are saying that I should stop tweeting my Social Security number and notes from therapy?

    Thanks for yet another awesome blog. It is bloggers like you that make me try harder.

    Kristen Lamb

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  18. Thanks, Jody, for another great blog. Some of us on our Facebook writing (NaNo) group have been talking about the whole Social Media thing and your recent posts have been very helpful. It is scary to take these new steps out into the public arena (eye), especially with some of the things going on in the world. Starting on Facebook was the biggest step for me and it's been a wonderful connecting experience. It's going to be so much easier to move into the world of blogging (down the road) because of the shared wisdom from those of you who have had to learn from your own experience.

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  19. Jody,

    We've dealt with this for years, since my husband is a new editor. What I finally came up with is a simple visualization exercise. I imagine that I am sitting in a Sunday school class. We are sharing about our week. Would I share this?

    If I wouldn't share it in a small group setting, it certainly should not be shared online.

    Anyway, it works for me. It keeps me personal enough for readers to feel like I'm a friend (which I am) but it doesn't make them feel uncomfortable.

    Now, if you don't think I've struck the proper balance, you are hereby commissioned to tell me so. I'll send you some great coffee for your honesty!

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  20. Cassandra, It sounds like you've struck the perfect balance! Although I'm tempted to tell you otherwise, just so I can get some great coffee! :-)

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  21. Your 'balanced middle' is where we need to aim. I think there is a difference in the information people seek about celebrity authors and the up-and-coming ones, but there will always be personal details that nobody outside our closest friends and family should be privy to.

    I love the new online friends I've been making, but I'm not naive enough to forget there can be dangers out in cyberspace. I don't like to discuss or post anything that involves or identifies other members of my family (especially children and grandchildren), or personal friends. My DH and a writing DD don't mind a little exposure, but the lives of the others aren't mine to publicize. I find it a bit scary how much some of them choose to share, especially on Facebook, but that's their decision.

    What is worrisome is the access my FB friends have to each other's information. When our group of 'friends' begins to widen and include virtual strangers it's probably time to switch to a Fan page so that a private page can remain private... or as private as any social media locale can be.

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  22. I don't post very personal things (um, although Friday's post may seem as if I did *laugh*) but, I am pretty open and honest.

    One thing I am strict about: I do not post personal things about my family unless it is something they want me to or we've discussed. There are other things I'm strict about, but that is a number one.

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  23. I definitely don't post very personal things or complain. My blog is probably 80%-20% about writing and me. I celebrate blog following milestones, awards, and do the "7 things about me" that go with awards so that people know who I am more.

    Good point though about being conceived as standoffish and unfriendly if there isn't enough personal info. People want to relate to a person, not just empty words on the page of a blog. :) I don't really like it when people don't post their photo--I like to see what someone looks like! Not an avatar or their puppy or whatever.

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  24. It is so interesting how you can shape a personality that may not be your won through social media. That whole idea intrigues me so much and actually makes me want to write about it. :) Great topic for pondering

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  25. Yes, I've had the same struggles, but then I look at all the debut authors (my friends!) in the last three years and I KNOW that it can happen to me, and it did! Patience, growth in craft and persistence is the key, and ultimately it's God's timing! I thoroughly believed when I was ready (not just in craft but in life circumstances) and if didn't give up, I would be published. And my FIRST novella with Barbour comes out in Jan 2011. It can happen for others!

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  26. I should have read this last week before I posted today:) I like to minister through sharing some personal struggles etc. I do try to keep a good balance but I want to let people know who I am and why I write like I do.

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  27. Great post, you've once again given me food for thought!

    I'm a very open person in real life, I share a lot with friends and people I trust. I've been a youth leader for many years and really believe in living an open and transparent life, to live the gospel so to speak. That shines through in my 'online personality' I guess. I share personal stuff, but I do think about what is interesting for my readers/followers.

    I do have some very specific boundaries online: I don't discuss my marriage (I'm still surprised at what people share in this category...talk about too much information!), I'm fairly reluctant to share stuff about my family and I don't write about anything that people could use against me, like financial things.

    And I made a 'pact' with myself that I never write or tweet when I'm angry or frustrated, because I might say things I regret. I won't treat social media as therapy, it isn't healthy for me and it sure isn't good for my readers! That doesn't mean I won't write about frustrations or struggles, but not when I'm still on an emotional high (or low for that matter).

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