Public and Private Writing

Today, on the morning of this second day of the new year and the last day of winter break, I’m drawn to write. This is nothing new. Writing is a big part of who I am. It always has been. I imagine it always will be.

Like many other writers, as I contemplate my thoughts and capture words that pass through me in this creative process, I recognize that different kinds of writing serve different purposes in my life and that the audience for whom I write changes largely depending on the topic. I have public writing — this blog is an example, and everything I write on a regular basis for work. Social media has also filled in for some of that public “sharing” and expressing of ideas as well.

I also have private writing — usually it’s handwritten, sometimes typed. It’s writing that helps me process ideas, navigate challenges, and it’s a raw record of my journey. It’s writing that I both intend to keep private, but at the same time hope will eventually be for others to read.  Often I wish to share these ideas out immediately because I can write about things that are hard for me to speak of, the challenges I am working though, disappointments that I face, what some people might even call hardships. In a way it would be so much easier for me to share out these experiences in real time so that friends and family can know why I may not call as often as I want to or why I am not as social as I’d like to be. Perhaps it’s my nature (as an introvert), or perhaps I’m socially conditioned, either way I don’t want to burden anyone with my troubles. So that writing all stays private.

The same has been true of my most celebrated and exciting moments in my life. I’ve kept many of them private as well. I think in the same way I don’t want to bother or burden anyone with troubles, I also don’t want to brag or boast.

The thing is, as a reader I know I benefit greatly when others share their experiences through tough times, and I love to read about celebrations and expressions of joy. I read through these accounts and they help me put my own experiences into perspective; they give my ideas for how to address my own circumstances and opportunities. I know in my heart that this kind of raw, experiential writing is the most powerful writing of all. It’s something that my public writing has been lacking, and I’m afraid it’s been holding me back from becoming the writer that I’m meant to be.

This blog post itself, about public and private writing, feels very personal, very private to me. It makes me wonder if our public and private writing is merely an extension of our public and private selves, and if these are fixed or fluid.

Do we as writers, as artists, ultimately need to merge these two selves? Can we be successful in our craft if we keep them apart?

A dear friend recently shared with me that she wanted to be more proactive in this new year with accomplishing the goals she’s set for herself and asked me for advice for how to do it. I was taken aback a bit, because it’s honestly something I think I need work on myself (and something I write, privately, about quite often). After reflecting on her request, I realized that I may appear proactive and productive to others because of the public writing that I share. There is, however, so much more that I’d like to do and accomplish, so much that I’ve kept safely guarded in my private writing.

While I can’t make any promises, and this is not a resolution, I am going to try to be more mindful and intentional this year about my writing practice. I will try to push myself out of comfort zone and tackle projects that I might have shied away from before. They may not all make it out to the “public” just yet, but I am going to work on better merging these two sides of my writing process in hopes of creating more meaningful and authentic work.

Happy new year and happy writing.




Teaching the Personal Narrative

In the beginning of the school year, we always begin with teaching the students to write about their own lives.  (They are the experts, after all!)  I have taught units before where students write a small vignette (which I always feel is similar to a prose poem – and actually kind of difficult for middle schoolers to do well) and units where they write an autobiography covering their entire (or most of their) life up to that moment.  They are two very different types of writing!  This year, our piece is a personal narrative, so I think that it falls somewhere between the two genres that I have taught before.  It is not as event-centered as a full autobiography, but is more like traditional prose writing than the vignette.  The samples of my own writing that I have used in the past aren’t quite what I want to model for my students this year.  I’m hoping that they will choose one or two aspects from their life to write in great detail about.  So, it is back to the drawing board (or back to the notebook!) for me.

I started writing a new piece today that I will model for my students.  I began, of course, with the first stage of the writing process (prewriting) and brainstormed what I could possibly write about.  I used listing, stream of consciousness (which to them I just call “writing what you are thinking”), and outlining in my prewriting stage.  I came up right away with what I would write about.  (See, following the process works!)

I continued on to the second stage (drafting) and quickly became aggravated at myself for “telling” a lot of the story rather than “showing” it.  As I was drafting, I kept trying to “show” but it was much easier and faster for me to “tell” instead.  So, I gave in and got a lot of the narrative written out – though I was very unhappy with the quality of the writing.  Then, I realized that this was actually a good thing because I can use this to model for my students how to truly utilize the next stage of the process (revising) and how sometimes it is “radical surgery.”  

Next, I will go back and rewrite all of the “telling” so that it is actually “showing” in a new draft and will make the narrative much more like what it is supposed to be.  This first draft (though not the type of writing I ultimately want my piece to be) is really important in the process because it is taking me to the next step.  I didn’t set out to have these things happen in the piece that I will model for my students, but I am very glad that they did!  

Today is Day 9 of my 1,000 Word Pledge, and I have been at 1,000+ words each day.  It does feel really good to keep track of the progress.  This was a good idea.  How is everyone else doing?

~Melissa 🙂