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Hello!

I’m Tammy Strobel. Thanks for visiting my digital home!

I write about creativity, living simply, everyday adventures, digital minimalism, and more. Hope you have a nice stay!

How I Navigate Writing About My Personal Experiences

{I’m running a series on the blog where I answer reader questions in a letter format. My epistolary responses are based on my experiences and reading. I’d be happy to answer questions about living simply, creativity, health, photography, and more. If you have questions for me, please leave them in the comments section. Thanks!}

Tammy,

What a great post series! And hey, we started blogging at the same time (December 2007 here too). I’m also a fan of keeping one’s Periscope Down, and last year I took my first break from blogging (for three months – eeek) only to discover that far from being forgotten, it elicited a renewed infusion of creativity and an expansion of my work. It’s like we’ve been Jedi-mind-melding for all these years (or was that the Vulcans?).

So I have a question for you–how do you navigate writing about your personal experiences in a way that doesn’t leave you with a vulnerability hangover?

Sas Petherick

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Sas,

Thank you for your awesome comment and question! Vulnerability is a great follow-up to my first letter about keeping blogging and social media enjoyable.

As I wrote my letter to you, I realized my answer had more layers than I expected because being vulnerable online can be complicated and scary. In this letter, I’m going to thrash out how I navigate these issues by making a clear distinction between being vulnerable in my writing and over-sharing. I consider being vulnerable a good thing, but over-sharing isn’t cool—at least not for me.

First, I’ll start with Brené Brown’s definition of vulnerability. Brené defines vulnerability as:

“… uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow — that’s vulnerability.”

Thanks to Brené's definition, along with her books and research, I’m less fearful of being vulnerable in my writing life. Exposing my fears and uncertainties, and taking emotional risks is still scary, but I’m slowly overcoming my fears because Brené’s research suggests that being vulnerable is tied to positive outcomes. For example, it felt vulnerable to share essays online about grief, depression, tiny house dramas, and more. Yet, when I’m vulnerable, readers resonate strongly with my writing.

Vulnerability in my writing is always accompanied by a “vulnerability hangover” (a term coined by Brené). It happens when I share blog posts, photographs, do something new, or share a new creative project online.

When I experience a vulnerability hangover, I wake up the next day and think, “What have I done? Why did I share that story? What will everyone think of me?”

I then ponder hiding at home for days to avoid the world. For instance, after my talk at York College, I had a vulnerability hangover because I shared so many personal stories—both the good and bad—about living in our tiny house. I also got teary when I talked about my stepdad’s illness and death. The morning after my talk, and for the following week, I felt raw.

These types of hangovers frequently happen in both my personal and professional life. But I don’t try to prevent vulnerability hangovers anymore because I want to connect with my readers on a deep level. My antidote to the hangover effect is to keep sharing my stories. Sharing and owning my stories helps me feel less alone and more connected to my readers.

With that being said, it’s important to make a distinction between being vulnerable and over-sharing.

As Brené said:

"Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. It’s not oversharing, it’s not purging, it’s not indiscriminate disclosure, and it’s not celebrity-style social media information dumps."

I want my writing to be personal and real, and I definitely don’t want to sound like a robot. However, what I share online is only a small slice of my life. It’s also highly edited and filtered. And I think that’s a good thing. Posting either my journal entries online or the struggles I’m still processing isn’t in my best interest.

The stories I share online—especially the difficult ones—are always processed in deep conversations with my loved ones, in my journal, or with my therapist. These conversations occur before I hit the publish button because my loved ones and mentors have earned my trust along with the right to hear my stories.

In addition, before I share anything online, I ask myself one key question: Would I share this story in front of 1,000 people or with a stranger in a coffee shop?

Answering this question with clarity gives me the space to be vulnerable when I write about my personal experiences. The subsequent hangover effect is okay with me because I want to live a wholehearted and courageous life. And that means being vulnerable, honest, real, and holding true to my boundaries online and offline. I don’t always hit the mark, but I’ll keep trying.

With gratitude,

Tammy

P. S. I highly recommend reading—or rereading—Brené Brown’s books. My favorites include:

Also, Brené’s TED Talk is amazing!

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