Private Writing Vs Public Writing

This week I started sharing these emails with a much bigger group of people, and I have to confess that this has made me quite nervous.

Since I started writing every day, back in late 2020, I’ve really gotten in a good flow with them. Most days I’ll have a fresh idea ready to go by the time I sit down to write the email each afternoon, and it will take me 45 minutes or an hour to get it done.

But this week has been much harder. I’ve been psyching myself about having all these fresh eyes on me, but luckily, that got me thinking.

(Honestly, the fact that humans have brains that observe themselves — so crazy.)

I’ve been thinking about the performative aspect of public writing.

All writing that is going to be read by someone other than the author has an element of performance to it.

It’s impossible to separate the writing from the reader (and nor should you). Knowing who your reader is defines what you write — the tone you use, the material you include, how you make your point.

Writing for an audience is an excellent way to practice the hard skills of writing. It will absolutely make you a better communicator, and it’s thrilling to be able to transplant an idea from your head directly into someone else’s.

But while public writing can connect you to other people, it doesn’t always connect you to yourself.

This is something I’ve wrangled with a lot as a ghostwriter. My job is basically to be a sponge, soaking up the interests and personalities of whoever I happen to be writing about. This comes easy to me, which is great for the work, but terrible for retaining any sense of self.

It’s not just me, either. We’re all slipping in and out of each other’s lives all the time, page by page and scroll by scroll, and it’s so easy to lose sight of ourselves.

That’s why private writing, such as journalling, is so important. It’s a tool for extracting ourselves from each other’s lives with our own still intact.

Where public writing sets you on a pedestal for others to look at, private writing dismantles the pedestal and swallows it.

Private writing takes you into yourself. It enables you to quiet all the other voices, expel all the influences that are not you. It helps you to hear yourself think, to really be aware of your own emotions and ambitions. It cleans up your interior world and protects it from getting too muddled up again.

One of the best things about private writing is that it doesn’t have to be good, in any sense of the word.

It can be completely chaotic. It can be wildly emotional, it can jump around like a June bug, it can be completely irrational and unfair and absolutely pointless, and it will be doing its job perfectly.

The only function of private writing is to make you more yourself. Any writing that helps you feel more switched on, more peaceful, more joyous — double down on that.

It doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t have to be clever, it doesn’t even have to make sense. If it’s cathartic, if it’s fun, if it makes you feel deeply, primally satisfied, do it. Do it often.

Don’t let anyone else see it, don’t consider the possibility of turning it into something public. Do it just for yourself.

Your public writing will benefit , because the private writing will give you more energy and clarity about what you really want to share with others, and what belongs to you. You’ll be more yourself, and everything will be better for it.