The Naked Writer


By Mary Jaksch

How much do you reveal in your writing?  How down and out personal do you get?

Maybe you enjoy a public strip-tease. I don’t. I’m quite a private person. But as a blogger, I’ve had to change.

When I started blogging, I tried to write in an objective manner, without letting my life  leak into my blog. Well, it didn’t work. People want personal. Readers want to get to know your strengths and weaknesses, your fears, passions, and omissions.

But how much should you reveal?

Do you keep you pants on, or do you bare all?

Let’s look at some examples:

Tina Su gave a blow-by-blow description of her relationship breakup last year. I see that those posts have now been taken off her blog. I’m not surprised! Even if we write about our personal experience of a break-up, we tend to blame our partner in some invidious way. “I feel disempowered!” means “He/she is a bully!”. Or “I just don’t feel listened to”, means “He/she has bad communication skills.”

Here’s Steve Pavlina’s confession about going to prison for shoplifting in his book PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR  SMART PEOPLE:

I began stealing shortly after moving to Berkeley, California, during my first semester at UC
Berkeley. I didn’t steal for money or to build a reputation-I stole for the thrill. I was addicted to the surge of adrenaline. The compulsion to steal was so strong that shoplifting was part of my routine, nothing more than my daily espresso.

Jonathan Mead has done his share of confessing as well. This is from his post about recovering from his cocaine addiction, trafficking, and overdose :

I didn’t know whether I had been sleeping or had gone unconscious. When I woke up, my girlfriend was on the phone with the paramedics. I was trying to make sense of everything, but every logical faculty within me had been shut down. An ambulance was pulling up to our house and she was directing me to go downstairs. I had a seizure due to overdose.

At the time I urged him to delete that particular post from his blog. I was anxious about his future employment options and how such a confession could haunt him for the rest of his life. But Jonathan decided to leave it on his blog. I respect his decision – but it still makes me nervous.

Leo Babauta at Zen Habits also tends to confess. For example in his post about conquering fear.

I’ve been there. I’ve had those horrors of guilt and panic at the back of my mind, many times.

I’ve done it with debt – I let the letters from creditors pile up, trying to ignore them, not wanting to face them.

I’ve done it with my health, knowing I was growing overweight, not wanting to think about the things I was eating.

I’ve done it with smoking, knowing it was bad for me, but trying not to think about it, puffing away.

I’ve done it with projects that I knew I should be working on, but didn’t want to think about them … because I was afraid, for some reason, to face them.

As a blogger I’ve learned to reveal more about my personal quirks, especially on Goodlife Zen. But I haven’t got any really juicy bits to confess. Well, apart from the time when I was seventeen and someone gave me Hashish to smoke until I couldn’t remember the beginning of any sentence I managed to end. It actually put me off drugs for life.

Yes, blogging reveals a lot about us. Some bloggers try to evade that through writing under a pseudonym and taking on some sort of fake persona. But leaving that aside, I’m still not clear about how much to reveal.

Can I please have your input? Please tell me what you think:

How much should we reveal as writers?

Mary Jaksch is Editor-in-Chief at Write to Done. Grab her FREE report How to Write Like an A-List Blogger. Mary has helped thousands of students successfully create outstanding and profitable blogs at A-List Blogging and is the blogger behind Goodlife ZEN.

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47 thoughts on “The Naked Writer”

  • Shanel Yang says:

    In the end, all we have is our gut instincts. A lot depends on where you on on your journey of self-discovery. Not all things need to be shared. But, if it’s important to you to share it, that’s a good sign to go ahead and do it. If you have doubts, then why not wait till you feel more strongly about it? Luckily with blogs, you can delete posts. And people forget (and forgive) surprisingly quickly. : )

  • stephanerd says:

    I started writing about sex back in college, doing product/book reviews, features, and the like for two personals sites owned by the Phoenix Media/Communications Group. I was immediately hooked, especially loving how people felt compelled to open up to me, without fear of judgment, because of all that I had shared in my own writing.

    I remain just as open today, no matter what I’m writing about. I feel it helps readers to connect with me, making them feel at ease with joining the conversation.

    That conversation…it’s what I’ve always wanted with my writing.

    These days, I have no secrets. What you see is what you get. I wouldn’t want to work with anyone who was uncomfortable knowing the whole truth about me.

  • Samar says:

    I believe for a successful blogger, there comes a stage when readers are not satisfied with small scale revelations. I, in no way mean to offend the bloggers who share extremely personal stories but at some level, they feel compelled to do so because of their reader’s expectations of them.

    Steve Pavlina, Jonathan Mead and Leo Babauta (I’m not familiar with Tina Su) are extremely successful as bloggers. That they revealed so much of their lives in a way that helped their readers instead of harming them professionally is testimony to how much they’ve evolved personally, professionally and virtually.

  • Mark Dykeman says:

    Perhaps your choice of topics can help determine how appropriate it is to reveal personal information. For me, I tend to limit personal information out of respect for my family’s (and my) desire for privacy.

  • teresa says:

    I live in a community where too much honesty could be career suicide. Due to this, I avoid blogging with too much honesty. If I was independently wealthy, I would not be as concerned if my true beliefs came out. I don’t have any big secrets like the ones described so maybe I’m overreacting. I also hold back some because I hate being flamed by people who really don’t know me. It is so easy for your true intentions to be misconstrued. We can’t control how others perceived us and being misunderstood hurts. I try not to care too much about what others think of me or what I write. Dealing with my sensitivity is an ongoing process. There have been times when I’ve revealed to much in a one on one conversation. It’s awkward and embarrassing with just one person. Dealing with many knowing what I should not have revealed is more than a little awkward. People can also use that information to hurt you in vulnerable moments. I don’t know how public figures can psychololgically stand up to it and continue going out in public. It takes a special kind of courage. I admire people like Oprah or Barbara Walters who do it on a daily basis and have done so for many years. I would probably go into hiding after some of the scandals that have hit them.

  • Samar you make a great point: an effective blogger should use personal stories as long as it can empathize with the reader.

    Too much personal stuff can appear narcissistic or self-indulgent. That’s when the back button gets clicked, unless it’s something racy or gossipy.

  • Tabita says:

    Readers are also pretty good at letting you know when you’ve gone too far. “Too much information!” That helps gauge how you’re doing.

  • kazari says:

    I think confessions are all well and good – tell your experience if you think it won’t hamper your career or your travel choices.
    I am an avid reader of many blogs, including Penelope Trunk, who blogged about marriage counselling.
    But I couldn’t do it.
    I while I’m comfortable sharing my own secrets, spilling stuff about others makes me uneasy. This goes for break-ups, relationship stuff in general and especially stuff about kids.

  • Mary,

    The last thing I wanted when I started blogging was to talk about myself. Then I realised that only works for technical blogs. People want to connect with people, not just ideas. So now the question is how much to reveal. I still reveal as little as I can, though I accept that if I want to carry on blogging that will probably have to change. Thanks for this post, letting other bloggers know we’re not alone in this dilemma.

  • I believe each of us have to do what feels right to us, what is confortable. When other writers/bloggers bare more than we think they should, we could point out the possible consequences, but in the end it is up to them to reveal as much as they are comfortable revealing.

  • Mary,

    I would say I reveal personal things under two conditions:

    1) It helps make a point I want to make.

    2) Revealing the information doesn’t hurt anybody else.

  • Hning says:


    I’d add a third (or rephrase the first item) in Roger’s list:

    3) That there’s a useful lesson to learn from it.

  • It’s a very personal choice. Sometimes if your personal experience is included as part of the story or the example, it can bring an xtra air of authenticity, which some readers may appreciate.

    On the other hand you become vulnerable by revealing to much too quick. Everyone that blogs should understand the risks and benefits associated by putting your self out there, if not ask Mike Arrington from Techcrunch.

    Btw Mary, I like the pic for this post :)

  • Laurie says:

    Even though I tend to hold back some myself, I really admire bloggers who are brutally honest. And those who do so with humor usually become pretty popular and that popularity can translate into a career in writing.

    I’m thinking of Dooce who just got a book deal. Author Ayelet Waldman took alot of flack for admitting to being a “bad Mommy” in the NYT, but she now has a new book about that exact subject.

    People appreciate honesty and it makes for a very compelling read. In books, TV, and film flawed characters are the ones that fascinate us the most.

    I think each writer needs to decide for themselves how vulnerable they are to criticism and proceed from there.

  • CherylK says:

    This is something I’ve struggled with…my one and only blog is really a “practice” blog and I know a lot of my followers so I am very likely cautious to a fault. It’s stifling. But, until I feel comfortable enough to create another “serious” blog, I guess it’s just something I’ll have to deal with.

  • Doug Lance says:

    Bare it all! It all comes through in our writing between the lines, no matter what we do. We might as well not resist it, and just let everything flow out.

  • I personally suggest that make writing as a habits, any thing happens in your life put in your diary and logged it blog, this kind of writing has the originality of it’s own and you don’t even have to search to some kind of enlightenment although that is for real.

  • I say stick to what you’re comfortable with. I doubt the threshold is the same for all writers. There are some writers I identify with because their openness allows me to feel a closeness to them, and there are other writers that I respect more for their objectivity. I think your personality, audience, and level of comfort should dictate how open you are.

    I’ve always been very open. My wife says I reveal too much. I’ve actually had to scale back a little for her comfort after enough times when I revealed something on my blog that I honestly never thought twice about, and then she read it and was mortified.

  • Hi Mary,

    I think it depends on the writer and the nature of the writer’s work. I think it makes more sense to share something personal when trying to make a point. If someone writes about how to be happy, then I think it is important to share how happiness is found and sometimes the best example is a first hand experience.

    Yes, you can write about other people’s experiences but I think a first hand account is always more powerful. I also think geographic location is a factor. Here in America we are big at being open and many careers are established on that fact. Also, let’s face it, people’s attention spans are short too. Chances are they might not even remember.

  • janice says:

    Wonderful post, Mary! As always, your style is so clear and clean it lets your soul through as well as your insights. You have great editorial skills and talent. Trust your guts. What you leave out says as much about you as what you leave in. Your choice of guest posts says something about who you are, what you want to achieve and promote. Where and how you comment in other blogs speaks too. We have learned about you and grown to love you slowly and in many ways.

    Charles up above said something that really resonated with me: “Too much personal stuff can appear narcissistic or self-indulgent.” I share personal stuff in my writing as an antidote to the amount of silent listening I do as a coach and parent, and this is my fear. I don’t usually share stuff about other people that I haven’t run by them. I did once, but I was compassionate, positive, true to myself and can live with the consequences. I try to do what Roger above expresses so succinctly.

  • Monique Rio says:

    A rule of thumb that I follow is to only post when I feel at peace about the topic.

    If I’m really angry with someone, I won’t write about it… even if I have some great insight related to it. The insight will still be there when I’ve cooled off.

  • Naturally it’s different issues for everyone, with work, and family etc. I will say this however:

    Whether you blog anonymously or in the open, what you write will be available forever. Look at the Wayback machine and Google cache for example. With ip addresses logged everywhere and search getting smarter, it’s not hard to imaging that in 20 years that every anonymous comment, every forum post, every blog entry, you have ever put out there on the web can be bundled up and tied to you.

    This isn’t something to be feared, it’s a great aid to help improve your writing.

    Before you hit post, just remember one thing: Your grandchildren will be able to read you whole internet life one day.

    We write for the ages.


  • Cheryl says:

    I read a lot of blogs also and I can tell you that the ones that I return to time and time again are real, but real with a point to make, an original thought, a question, maybe a lesson they are learning . . . I don’t need any more drama in my life that seems to go nowhere. I want to connect with others through a common strength or struggle, and then get their perspective on what it all means. Granted, sometimes we don’t know when we write it all down WHAT on earth it means, and that’s ok . . . maybe that’s the lesson being learned is to be ok with not knowing. Draw something from the circumstance that is actually helpful.

    All that to say that like any other medium where we’re communicating and connecting with others (especially people we may not know or know that well), we don’t just spill our guts unedited. That’s what a journal is for.

  • David Cain says:

    Hi Mary,

    I’m still testing the waters as to how revealing to be on my blog. My personal story has a lot to do with the life lessons I relate on my blog, so I do try to reveal as much as possible.

    So I’ve begun to expose more bare flesh (so to speak) since I’ve begun, and I have to say:

    It feels GREAT. I am not afraid to be who I am, I am not afraid to be honest. For a recovering shy person it’s been very liberating. But we all draw the line somewhere.

    I admire Steve Pavlina for being so unapologetic about being himself, especially with regards to his latest exploits in polyamory. Detractors be damned. Self-exposure is a sign of self-respect, in my opinion.

    BTW, I think you’ve got an loose HTML tag in your title!

  • Mary Jaksch says:

    Thanks for the wonderful and interesting comments, friends!
    I noted that some of you guys loved the image :-)

    Talking of which – I have a quiz for you all. Who’s going to get it right, eh?

    Here’s the scenario:
    A couple of years ago I was approached by a well-know photographer who was making a calendar of nude portraits of high-profile women in the town in which I live – as a fundraiser for a charity. At the time I had a thriving practice as a psychotherapist and, as you know, I’m a Zen master.

    How did I respond?

    How would you have responded?

  • janice says:

    Me? I’d have said no. My first thought about your response was maybe that’s you in the photo above!? I don’t know you well enough yet to know how you would have responded, but I know that for many people, their body image is a minefield of self loathing and insecurity and yet you seem somehow comfy in your own skin as a person. You don’t strike me as the kind of person whose ego would make them do it because they were flattered by the high-profile bit but I can imagine you doing bold stuff for charity.The tango you do tells me you’re sensual, and the karate means you’re very fit and poised. But, I’m afraid I can’t guess. Sorry!

  • Charles says:


    I feel one should “bare all” where it is relavent to the purpose, intent and theme of, your website, article or book. That said, most of us have many many facets many of which are probably not relavent to the purpose or intent of any particular specific article, theme, etc.

  • Rather than asking myself how much to reveal as a writer in strategic terms, I tend to think of it on a post-by-post basis. Some posts I write are informational, with a teaching bent. Some are more intimate and confessional, but I rely on a gut feeling to tell me when it is appropriate to reveal some personal triumph or failure. While I am writing the post I will suddenly remember an episode in my life, and the memory will force itself upon me powerfully. That tells me that it is time to tell a personal story. If I get no such urge, I am not going to force it. I don’t know if other writers get gut feelings like this, but it is a sensibility that you develop over time, with practice, that lets you know when the time is right to reveal your intimate self.

  • Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi Janice!
    When the photographer who was planning to make the fund-raising calendar asked me to join, he was tip-toeing around the main issue. In the end I asked him,

    “Tell me, are you planning a nude calendar?”
    “Ok, that’s fine then.”

    The photographer’s jaw dropped! He thought it would be difficult to persuade me. But I knew that he would take great shots. And I thought this would be a fun way to blast my rather staid image of Zen master and psychotherapist sky high – especially in the kind of conservative place I live in.

    It worked – shock all ’round – ha, ha! And I’ve got a great shot of me lolling on a sofa holding a strategically placed notebook and pen.
    But no – it’s not going up on the Net :-)

  • Passerby says:

    I think when revealing personal things about yourself, these details should help illustrate whatever point or idea you are trying to convey to your readers. Details for the sake of details are just…well, narcissistic. But oftentimes the most poignant writing is one which makes a statement and then says “This is how I came to this idea in my own life”. It is a means of connecting with people personally in order to communicate a deeper message.

  • By doing writing and fresh content educating our readers slowly but sure we will have loyal readers and they will eventually support our blogging habbits.Cheers

  • If you want or need to reveal personal information in your writing, it should be done in the context of the piece and with respect to your audience. For example, if you are writing about recovering from alcoholism, it may be quite relevant to share your experiences to help the reader develop a connection with you and to demonstrate your knowledge from having “been there.” However, if you are writing a business blog about the importance of corporate branding, then your business acumen should be the focus, not your bout with alcoholism, which can be considered as sharing too much information and not the reason the reader came to your site in the first place.

  • I agree with Roger from Content Life. I used to work as a psychologist and those were the 2 rules I used.

    If we don’t share we don’t show we’re human!

  • Rae says:

    As a writer, I believe it’s my responsibility to not hide the truth. Not everyone is going to agree with or enjoy what is written by someone else. However, in my experience, it’s necessary to draw the line when dealing with certain audiences. Leaving some things to the imagination can be a blessing in a world that “shows all” and “tells all” more often than not. Needless to say, the written word is a beautiful thing! Keep sharing.- Rae

  • I confess, I don’t reveal too much about my personal life.

    That being said, I still feel I really do in many ways reveal the core of who I am *through* my writing. I may not speak of specific personal episodes like those you cited in this article. But I write from my heart, my mind and my spirit. And in that way, I feel like I really am revealing who I am.

  • Diana says:

    Talk about naked… my blog exists because I exist. And right now, I only exist because of my blog and my art, or that’s how it feels anyway. If I don’t (finally) let the world know me I will die unnoticed. The feeling gets worse as I get older (empty nest, early retirement etc). Besides, I’ve met enough young people who could talk about their feelings only to me because they knew that “I knew” and that I care.

    In the 60s and 70s we were trying to let it all hang out and then it all got put back in a bag, in a dark corner, in a shoebox. I’m not talking about “tell all”, celebrity stuff. That’s not real intimacy. I’m talking about facing each other as human beings and allowing ourselves to have meaningful contact. Close encounters. That doesn’t happen as much any more.

  • Bugsy Hertiquedetat says:

    Being the receiver of a blow-job is more than the tingling, pre-ejaculatory pleasure. It is having a shared empathy with the (willing) cock sucker who’s voracious enjoyment makes her mouth christenings an affectionate gift of joy she is giving to receive my appreciation spurt and spill out on her lips our melon breasts, as she looks up into my eyes with that ‘isn’t that so nice’ unrepentant and unembarassed look of feral pleasure in her eyes and on her lips.

  • mitul says:

    naked writer is the best thing u an ever imagin about

  • Being the receiver of a blow-job is more than the tingling, pre-ejaculatory pleasure. It is having a shared empathy with the (willing) cock sucker who’s voracious enjoyment makes her mouth christenings an affectionate gift of joy she is giving to receive my appreciation spurt and spill out on her lips our melon breasts, as she looks up into my eyes with that ‘isn’t that so nice’ unrepentant and unembarassed look of feral pleasure in her eyes and on her lips.

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