Vulnerability vs. Privacy in Nonfiction Writing | Guest Post

by - July 19, 2019

Hey there, friend! Today, I am excited to be posting a guest post by a fellow YDubberSara Willoughby!

In today's post, Sara is going to share with us some tips about you can write nonfiction vulnerablywhile still maintaining privacy.


"How do you decide what to write about and what to keep private? I read your most recent post about feeling guilty for the expenses of your medical care. I was amazed at how honest and vulnerable you are.


“It’s really hard to write about such personal feelings, but it can really help others. Yet at the same time, I know that one needs to be careful not to use their blog as a journal of super private thoughts. How do you find that balance?” he asked me.


Wow. Good question. Anyone who has read my writing knows I write very vulnerably. Often painfully so. But believe it or not, I do have boundaries.


The thing is, it is a tricky balance to find. Being open and real often makes for the most impactful writing. God is glorified when we share our weaknesses and struggles because His grace is sufficient. (See 2 Cor 12:9)


What motivates my vulnerability is the fact that many people feel so alone. But I know they — and we — aren’t alone. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” Writing openly can help so many people — including yourself.


On the other hand, we are also told to guard our hearts. (See Psalm 4:32) As Christian writers, we should be careful to protect the things that are meant to be holy — like hearts, relationships, and life. We do not want to flaunt to the world something that belongs to God.


We belong to Him, not to ourselves.


So let me share six tips I’ve learned over six years of blogging and writing vulnerably.


1. Get Someone You Trust to Give You Feedback

If I’m in doubt, I’ll get someone to read the writing in question and tell me what they think of it. It needs to be someone who knows you well and who you can trust to be honest but gentle. After all, it is vulnerable writing. Ask them point-blank if they think it is too open.


2. Wait At Least 24 Hours
I've yourself time to think clearly. I usually try to wait at least 24 hours after writing something before posting it on my blog or sharing it with someone. That way I’m not posting something in an emotional moment, but after I’ve have had time to think about it.

3. Sometimes It’s “Wait”Not “Don’t Share"

Sometimes we may not be in a good headspace to post something really vulnerable right now, but there’s a chance we will be ready to do so later. When you were eight, you may not have wanted anyone to read your diary. But now if someone read your eight-year-old diary, you’d probably laugh right along with them.


If something is really vulnerable, I might wait months to post it until I’m in a different or better place emotionally, spiritually, relationally, or mentally. For example, I wrote that medical expenses post weeks ago, but I only just posted it because I wanted time to make sure I was okay with it.


4. Pray about it!
See if God is leading you in one way or another. Sometimes (like with the medical expenses post) I’ll feel led to post even if I don’t want to, but then with other stuff I want to publish, He’ll help me realize it should go into the folder of no return. I write a lot of stuff I never publish. And you know what? That’s okay.

5. Keep Other People’s Secrets
Be very careful when it comes to writing about and sharing things that involve other people. If it’s obvious it’s them, get them to read it beforehand. (Or even if it’s not obvious . . . each situation is different.) Don’t tell secrets that aren’t yours to tell.

6. Don’t Always Give All The Details
One thing you can do to share a truth or lesson you learned is to not give all the details. You can still share something that happened to you or say that you struggle with something . . . but you don’t have to say who or when or how. 


For example, I can share that I’m feeling guilty about medical expenses, but not tell the whole internet that there’s some family stuff going on that’s increased the guilt. Sometimes I’ll write one version of something, copy and paste it somewhere else, and go through deleting certain details or names, etc. You can also publish it under a pen name or anonymously.


Don’t get too overwhelmed. Just being aware that this balance is something to pay attention to will help a lot. With time, accountability, and prayer, you’ll be able to find your own balance and guidelines that work for you.


Remember, the whole point of writing — and especially writing vulnerably — is to bring God glory.



About the Author



Sara Willoughby is the 17-year-old author of He's Making Diamonds: A Teen's Thoughts on Faith Through Chronic Illness. She loves to read, write, and have adventures, be it off to Narnia one more time, wading through mud chasing the family dog, or playing a new board game with her two younger siblings. Sara is also a Lymie, TCK, and Bright Lights leader. You can find her at sgwilloughby.com.


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what about you?
Do you struggle with maintaining privacy while writing nonfiction? I know I do.
Which tip was your favorite? Which was the most helpful? Tell me about it in the comments below!

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4 comments

  1. Thanks for having me as a gust poster! I enjoyed writing this piece. (Though not so much learning about it through life experience XD)

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    1. Thank you for guest-posting, Sara! I enjoyed this! :D

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  2. Thank y'all so much for sharing this! I feel vulnerable every time I share my writing, so this was really helpful. #6 is probably my favorite! I'm learning that writing means the most when it comes from deep within, but that doesn't mean you have to tell all. ;)

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    1. Glad this was helpful, Kassie! Yes, that's something I'm learning, as well. :D

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