Transparency: How Much of Yourself Do You Put Out There?

Saturday, June 23, 2018

When my son entered high school, the principal had a talk with the students and their parents. “Be careful what you put out there,” he said. “A photo of you drinking at a party can cost you a scholarship down the road. Anything you put on social media can come back to haunt you.”

I’ve been wondering lately just how many writers worry about this. We post about attending protests and knitting hats. We share and forward and tag - #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t put these things out there. If you look at what I write, it is pretty clear where I stand in terms of politics.

I write books about race and social justice. I also write about evolution and for a prayer blog. Those things are all out there and anyone can find them pretty easily. So I do post about politics and religion both, but I don’t post every time I write a letter to my congress person or sign a petition.

There are a lot of other things I don’t post about. My personal life is personal. I may drop a bit of info here and there but there’s a lot I don’t talk about online.

Other people are much less circumspect. This morning I was reading an interview with one of my favorite writers. She told the interviewer that she and her spouse have an open marriage at least in theory. Why only in theory? Because with the progeny in tow it is really hard to have an open marriage in practice.

Can I just say eww? That may be the thing you let your closest friends know. Maybe even your Mom. Heck, I don’t know that type of relationship you and Mom have. But really? I did not need to know that. In my opinion, a little mystery between writer and reader is perfectly acceptable. In this case, it would have been preferable.

Am I old fashioned? Quite possibly. I am a historian.

What you reveal in an interview is very different from what you post on Facebook. But there are similarities. Once the information is out there, it is out there for all to see. Is this the kind of thing that can hurt future sales? It may depend on what you write. But it is something to think about when a simple search can reveal what you had for breakfast as well as details about your would-be sex life.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins July 9th, 2018.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--I have to be super careful because my middle schoolers are obsessed with finding videos (Listen to Your Mother performances) and pictures of me online.

The whole social media thing is definitely a tool we can (and do) use for good, but there's an evil side we always need to keep in mind.

Margo Dill said...

Right--I think people don't realize how often employers do a Google or Facebook etc search for potential employees (or maybe even current ones) and how what you have posted or do post can affect your possible employment.

I heard someone's good advice: If you wouldn't say it to your grandma, don't post it online for the public to see.

Maybe the author you are referencing thought it would help her gain credibility with her readers, depending on what she writes. Hopefully if she shared that personal detail, she thought about it carefully and what that information out in public might do.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I think it depends on the situation. I mean, if the author is talking about her open marriage to help others in some way, then I think it's important. But an interview is kind of random. If it were a personal essay where she had the space to create an argument or find truth, then that's a different story.

I'm a super private person, so it's something I struggle with. I'm taking a WOW writing class right now and sharing some personal writing about an eating disorder and sexual assault, and even though it's not public, the students are our WOW audience/writing peers that are reading this stuff about me and it makes me nervous. But that may be all ego, because I'm sure they don't really care about me personally! Lol So, as an artist, you can't be afraid to try everything, explore the topics that are bothering you, and maybe, maybe put it out there. Medium and format is important though. Would I talk about sexual assault in an interview? No way. Not unless it was tied to a piece of writing and needed discussing.

I was chatting with a nineteen-year-old the other day about tattoos. He's like, "You're established [unspoken: old], so you can get whatever you want, anywhere you want. But I can't because I won't be able to get a job." It's true. I'm never going to work for someone again. Yes, if I write a book and it's published with a big five then I'd be working with/for someone. But I'm at the point in my life where I can't worry about what others think...because I already do that automatically, and if I do it any more, then I'll never submit anything! lol

You've brought up some interesting points as always, Sue, and made me think! Thanks for this. :)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

You see a lot of headlines about teachers who forget the lesson that their students will look for things online.

My grandmother was a flapper. Anything that shocked her? I don't even want to think about it. She knew where all the gin joints were and I'm not joking.

I think you've found the heart of the matter. If you are exploring a vital topic, that's one thing. If you are being sensational? That's another.

And your place in the writing community makes a huge difference. I remember hearing an editor say at a conference that we needed to be careful modeling our behavior off that of another writer. Ms. Big-Deal Writer can get away with things that Mr. Brand-New Writer can't.

Writing about topics that people find uncomfortable is so important. Thus all of my writing about race. I'm glad that you are exploring so much in that essay class. It sounds like a great opportunity to push yourself.

As always, the responses here also make me think!


Renee Roberson said...


Such an interesting post! I think one of the reasons I've been afraid to share my fiction is because there are parts of my life and experiences always scattered throughout and I worry about being judged. There are things I'll share on here with the WOW! community that I wouldn't necessarily share with other friends and family for fear of feeling "weird." I'm happy my teen daughter is pretty private online, and doesn't feel the need to post bikini selfies of herself every five minutes. I think part of that may be that she's a bit of a computer forensics expert and knows people can find just about anything online if you put it out there. Whew! Like Angela said, I can see sharing certain things with readers if it relates to your platform but I won't be sharing sex-life details anytime soon :-)

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