Whether it’s website copy, a newsletter or blog post —new writers often wonder what, or how much, personal experience to share in our writing. Particularly when it’s a professional piece.
It piques interest and likeability when we share personal experience in our writing. Particularly the ones that bring valuable lessons. Our readers get to know us, the human behind the 2D text on their screens. We differentiate ourselves from AI authors, like ChatGPT, We differentiate ourselves from AI authors, like ChatGPT, when we write about how our minds interpret our own human, real-life events.
Knowing what and how much personal experience you feel comfortable sharing in your writing becomes more natural over time. We learn what feels appropriate to us; and what’s most useful to our readers.
There is no need to sacrifice the respect of or relevance to your readers for vulnerability or likeability. You can’t please everyone, but you can share enough personal experience to serve your audience and your writing.
Here are five tips I’ve picked up over the years of my own journey of publishing non-fiction writing:
A friend recently told me about an alternative healing technique she’s exploring. She wondered whether to post about it or not. She’s early in her professional writing career: a highly-skilled, dreamy poet. I asked whether the healing technique was something she’d like to be known for.
This is an important general consideration for writers. With the instant, global ubiquity of the internet: it’s not only celebrities who need to consider the personal and professional impact of what we share. We all need to take PR into consideration.
You might want to be known for Cesar Millan-style dog training advice one month, and personal development another. But aim to be consistent enough on each platform that your audience knows what to follow you for. These topics, or “content pillars”, can help you plan your publishing schedule and build your expert brand.
Also, once something’s online, you can’t take it back. Post as if anything you share could go viral, sometimes the most unexpected content does! Last year, I made a comment to a journalist looking for coaching advice on open relationships. This is not a major area of personal or professional interest to me. But my opinion was subsequently shared, and then re-shared, across the internet. As a dating coach, this publicity was sort-of relevant to my work.
It’s best not to mismatch your published work with your personal or professional goals however. There may be something you’re either not ready to share or don’t want to be known for. For example, you may have hobbies, health or family issues that you care deeply about, but don’t want to make public. Maybe they’re too private, or irrelevant to your work or public image. Take care with what you share!
Seven-figure business coach Jesse Elder encouraged me to share lessons learned from personal experience that feel resolved in my writing. This is rather than challenges we’re still in the midst of going through.
For example, I share this after learning how much personal experience I like to include in my published writing. If still struggling through something however, sharing about it can leave an open loop in readers’ minds. Humans like to know how things conclude; exemplified by the hero’s journey story structure model.
Your audience will likely feel empathy and want to help you (good, for example, on a crowd-funding page). But they may not fully trust your authority or leadership if you are trying to build those.
Perhaps share unresolved personal issues with your bestie, therapist or journal: instead of in published works. The emotions felt and lessons learned from life’s alchemised challenges are some of the best fuel for your future writing. Just check you’ve somewhat processed the emotional charge or triggers before you share.
You may start noticing this in other authors’ published writing. Whether in books, Instagram posts or opinion pieces. Sometimes you can still feel the charge of unprocessed anger, fear, confusion or sadness. If not edited consciously, these can distract the audience from your key message. This is the last thing you want for a subject that’s deeply important to you.
The articles I’ve shared about subjects that still trigger me, often trigger readers the most. Like this one about respectfully asking women on dates. If I really want to share something like this, I will triple check my writing to take out as much bias as I can.
As much as possible, I try to share my thoughts on challenging times once I have enough perspective for them to be clear and helpful.
A friend and CEO of a med tech company was recently pondering (over Thai noodles) about which personal experiences to share in an upcoming press interview. Should she focus on her own health, scientific knowledge or entrepreneurial journey?
My advice from personal experience: focus on what you feel passionate about. Especially the parts that are most relevant to your readers. If there are lessons within them that can help others and are relevant to your work, even better.
This aforementioned CEO is a total business badass — growing a multi-million dollar company in a few short years. As a young, successful businesswoman, my friend is super inspiring for up-and-coming leaders. She doesn’t need to focus on her health story if that’s not what she feels most connected to. It’s likely not the most useful part for her audience anyway.
Words (and readers) flow to me when I write about what I feel the need to write about. Article ideas sometimes come to me from deep in my stomach. The words float up through my excited heart, past my throat and charge out of tapping fingertips.
My mind sparks more and more paragraphs, arguments and angles whilst I’m walking around a London park or right before I fall asleep. I get an urgent, excited feeling that doesn’t go away until I pay these kind of ideas enough attention. I need to get them out of me. It feels like wanting to throw up, but in a good way!
When comparing the emotive quality and readership numbers (both signs of success) of these must-write articles to some of those whose subjects were briefed to me: the difference is stark.
Is the former type of writing perhaps channeled from our higher selves, or even a higher consciousness Perhaps we are tapping into our life purpose, a muse, the Universe or God when we create need-to-share writing!
Prolific author and creativity leader Julia Cameron shares many profound and useful creativity exercises in her 2007 book “The Vein of Gold”. This is an excellent follow up (that I personally prefer) to her best-seller “The Artist’s Way”. As an aside, her latest book “Write for Life” is an eight-week creativity guide for writers that I also highly recommend.
If you analyze your memories of events from every seven years of your life between you birth up to this point, you’ll likely find stories that are interesting to explore from each era. In “The Vein of Gold”, Cameron leads us through a journaling exercise to mentally dig for the most memorable events in our lives. What happened, where they were, who was there and how they felt. There will be struggles, triumphs and vivid memories. With your added hindsight and lessons learned, these can make excellent personal experiences to add to non-fiction (or fictional character) writing.
I have an exceptionally beautiful, intelligent and well-adjusted friend, who met her equally charming husband in the first weeks of university. Being perpetually single in my early 20s, I asked her how she came to be so wise and stable in relationships. She couldn’t explain it. She just grew up in a functional, happy home.
Years later, as someone who had to work out how to make relationships work, I realized I’d developed my own process for better dating. I now share this with others through my professional dating coaching. If I hadn’t had to spend years learning this myself, I likely wouldn’t have thought about good methods to share. It reminds me of the saying “your pain is your gift”.
If you’ve always been gifted in love, money, a fit body or academics: it can actually be more challenging to help those who are not. You may find it harder to think of steps to help others achieve the things you’re naturally good at.
The areas of life that we choose to work on, or learn how to live with, can be those where we make the greatest progress. You may perceive these as weaknesses, and they can be for years, or even decades. But every struggle comes with potential nuggets of gold to support our growth and help others with the same problem. These examples of self-progress can be great sources of personal experience to share in your writing.
The questions friends or clients ask you about most are a goldmine for topic ideas. You can even use their questions as headlines. When I’m asked the same question by different people that I feel I have a coherent answer for, I take it as a sign to write something on the subject from my personal experience.
Just before Valentine’s Day 2021, a somewhat involuntarily single friend asked me for advice on finding someone he wanted to date. He could see I had put some thought into finding the kind of partner I wanted. I started sharing steps he might take, and told him I would go away and think about it some more. As I sat down later to Whatsapp him some guidance; I realized I had developed a replicable process to improve my own love life after years of previously unhappy dating. I made my response for him into an article, which subsequently helped thousands of people in their dating lives.
This is one of the best things about publishing useful writing from our experience. It amplifies the impact our hard-earned knowledge can have on other people’s lives.
Multiple friends asked me for professional writing advice which gave me the idea for the article you’re reading. I realized there were tips I’d picked up over the years that I could share; and perhaps help more than a few friends.
Whether it’s by social media followers, family, friends or colleagues – what you’re asked about most can guide you towards the most interesting and useful personal experience to share. If people close to you see you as knowledgeable on a subject, there’s likely some useful perceivable wisdom and experience behind it that can help many others. Why not spread the love!
I hope you found these tips useful for sharing personal experience in your future writing. Whether that’s blog posts, interview questions, on social media or a book. Remember to: write what people ask you most about; know what you want to be known for; look for progress you’ve made; write about what’s most interesting to you; and share things you’re no longer triggered by. Enjoy your writing journey and take good care with what you share!