June 26, 2018
When I first started my career as a freelance writer, I had one goal and one goal only: to make enough money to leave my job as a nurse.
Say what you will about my aspiration, but I’m of the belief that it wasn’t a completely misguided one. At the time, I was working night shift while pregnant with my third baby and I was exhausted. I dreamed of finding a way to put my degree to good use while being home with my kids and still bringing home a paycheck. I didn’t care about writing literary prose that could be deemed as “art” or whipping up the next great American novel. I just wanted to write as much as I possibly could during naptime and after my kids were in bed to pay the bills.
And while there’s nothing wrong with that, my single-minded focus on churning out as much work I could with three kids four and under, major sleep deprivation, and no formal training in writing, meant that I also made some major mistakes along the way.
Namely, I didn’t put much thought into what it would feel like having so much of my life existing online. I threw up facts and stories and even pictures of my kids without a thought in the world about how it would affect us later on. Now, years later, I definitely wish I would have. It’s a dilemma that many writers have faced, so here is what you might want to consider before writing about your own life online. (And what I wish I had thought about before I made these mistakes myself!)
Will this hurt anyone I care about?
I once wrote an article for an embarrassingly small sum because 1) I was in a rush and had a limited amount of time before my kid woke up from his nap and 2) I needed some money for groceries that week. I filed it away, thought that it would end up hidden in the recesses of the Internet just like most of my work, and forgot about it.
Lo and behold, though, of course, that article ended up going viral. And it was awful. The piece was edited and changed to be more “sensational,” it contained words I never wrote, and it was downright inflammatory and insulting. Worst of all? It ended up hurting people in my real life. That one piece hurt relationships in a way I still feel and I am feeling a wave of shame just thinking about it.
The point is, I fell prey to the belief that I could just write a silly article for a paycheck and it really wouldn’t matter that much, but you know what? Words always have power. So, it is worth considering before you accept an assignment if the article could hurt anyone in your life, in any way. And what I’ve learned now is that if you have to question it, that’s a pretty good indicator that you shouldn’t take the assignment.
Can this message be misconstrued?
You may be perfectly clear on what your message is, but it might be worth considering if your words could be twisted by a reader.
Will this become a privacy concern later down the line?
Especially if you are writing about your family, there may be some privacy issues that you need to consider. Early on in my career, I pretty much put “everything” out there and now, you had better believe I regret it. Frankly, I didn’t know any better and nobody warned me that it could be a concern later.
After I received my first death threats however (yup, writing about your life online can have some ugly repercussions), I changed my tune. I started to get a lot more careful about what I wrote about, realized that I could say “no” to editors who wanted pictures of my kids, and considered the long-term effects of what my writing could have.
In the end, I hope you take these lessons to heart, especially because I have learned them the hard way. Writing about your real life online can lead to a lot of regrets, so before you hit “publish,” be sure to consider if your words could hurt anyone you care about, be twisted, or become a privacy concern to you later on in life. You get to control your work, not anyone else, so decide early on how you’d like your words to appear in the world.
How to say no to editors. Yes, Virgina, there are writers who say “no” to editors. And it’s a skill you should definitely learn, especially if you’re writing about your own life online. (This article is empowering but does contain some adult language. If that's not your cup of tea, just skip this link.)
What to do when your article goes viral. You might not be expecting your article to go viral, but trust me when I say that no one whose article has gone viral expected it either. It’s a good idea to prepare yourself for the “what if,” just in case.
Chaunie Brusie is a labor and delivery nurse turned writer. She lives in Michigan with her husband, four young kids, and a flock of chickens. Find her at chauniebrusie.com.
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