I was sitting on the train on the way to visit Mum in hospital last week when something interesting dawned on me. As a blogger, I use my past experiences as writing material.
As a person focused on self-improvement and living in the moment, I try not to dwell on the past.
This leaves me with a burning question (or two) –
How do you write about the past without getting bogged down in it? How do you write about the past without it coming back to haunt you?
Let me give you a quick overview of why I was thinking about the past in the first place.
The hospital Mum was in, was the same hospital my Dad had been in several years before. The doctors told Dad to get his affairs in order before he went into the hospital, so as you can imagine it was a horrible time for Dad and everyone else.
Despite my desire to not dwell on the past, walking through the doors of the same hospital years later bought back some bad memories and painful feelings that I had to deal with.
As a blogger and writer, you can use both good and bad memories in your writing.
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Here are seven tips for writing about the past, without sabotaging your present.
1. Balance facts and emotion
I remember writing a post, where I mentioned being adopted and not quite fitting in. I was very touched when a reader forwarded it on saying it was a heartfelt post.
I must admit, I hadn’t thought of the emotional impact when I was writing the post. I hadn’t tried to write a heartfelt post. In my mind, I was simply stating the facts of how I felt as a child.
Sometimes with matters close to us, we can swing from too factual (or even sounding a little cold) to being over-emotional without realizing it.
Try to find a balance between writing what happened and the way it made you feel at the time and how you feel now.
2. Don’t get too emotional or personal
Most bloggers probably already know that bonding posts can do well on certain blogs.
But when does bonding turn into oversharing?
I have to admit, I have read a few things on blogs that I would rather not know.
I think this line in the sand has to be drawn by each individual blogger. Naturally, it also depends on the topic of the blog.
Some bloggers no doubt write their posts aiming for shock value, which is fine when it works. It can also backfire. Exercise caution and most importantly know your audience if you are going to be controversial.
When you want to process your emotions through writing, a guided journal may be just what you’re looking for. Some excellent journals to try are –
- Burn After Writing by Sharon Jones
- Present, Not Perfect: A Journal for Slowing Down, Letting Go and Loving Who You Are – Aimee Chase
- Let That Sh*t Go: A Journal For Leaving Your Bullsh*t Behind and Creating a Happy Life – Monica Sweeney
- The High Performance Journal by Brendon Burchard
3. Write about the past but don’t relive it
Recently I was writing about marriage and relationships for another forum.
I wasn’t impressed when I started dreaming about an ex-boyfriend from my past (who by no coincidence I nearly married). Unfortunately, we can’t control our dreams, but we can control what we think when we are awake.
Once I got back into work and focused on other topics there were no more dreams. The key was not to dwell on the old relationship. If I had willingly taken a stroll down memory lane about my ex, it would have been a lot more destructive to my productivity (and probably annoyed the hell out of me).
Related posts about dealing with the past –
4. Write about the glory days but don’t live in the past
We all have our glory days, stages in life when amazing things happened.
While writing about these particular times in life can be great fun and a source of information/inspiration for others, we don’t want to get too bogged down in them.
While I am on this topic, I think it’s important to point out that our glory days are not always when we are young. This can sometimes be a common misconception.
People seem to particularly relish their college/university days. That’s totally fine, but what if you didn’t go to college? What if your glory days were not in the same time frame as everyone else’s? Take me for example, I took my gap year style backpacking experience at 37!
Either way, the point is to write about your glory days but make sure you are also doing fabulous things in the present moment.
Related posts –
- How to Lighten Up – 25 Tips for More Fun, Play, and Relaxation
- 25 Ways to More Courageous in Life
- How to Have a Big Life When Your Life Feels Small
5. Remember you can write about the stuff that didn’t have a happy ending
We often hear about the companies, relationships, and overseas adventures that worked out wonderfully.
We hear about the entrepreneur who failed with his first two businesses but finally struck gold with this third. Most of the time, however, they talk about the third business that succeeded, while a new business owner could learn a lot from the businesses that didn’t work out.
It’s the same with relationships.
People usually write a dating or relationship book when they are all loved up and/or married. They get their happy ending (or a particular version of success) and then they write about it. What about the journey element of the story?
How you get from A to B can sometimes be the fascinating part?
Let’s face it, lots of things don’t have a happy ending. It doesn’t mean it’s not a good story or that there is not a lot to learn from the situation.
Related post – How to Be a Better Blogger by Being Yourself
6. Don’t turn your writing into a misery memoir
Naturally, there is a flip side to writing about the bad stuff.
Don’t write about the bad moments all of the time. It could be draining on you as well as your audience.
Writing about adversity is common. I do it often here myself. The key is writing about overcoming the adversity, more than the adversity itself.
The same can be said for complaining. I think if you complain constantly, you could alienate readers.
Related posts for when you need a boost –
- 12 Important Things to Remember When You Feel Not Good Enough
- 10 Ways High Self-Esteem and Self-Worth Has a Huge Impact on Your Life
- 10 Powerful Ways to Improve Your Self-Worth and Self-Esteem
7. Protect the innocent
Something happened the other day and my friend said to me, ‘I don’t want to read about this on your blog.’
Don’t write about things when people have specifically asked you not to.
You will often see privacy protection measures in place when bloggers talk about their partner and children. Most of the time children are called Mr 5 or Miss 3, relating to their gender/age or something similar.
Often bloggers won’t mention the name of their partner but refer to them as simply their husband or wife. Some might mention names but make sure no photos appear on the blog. Again it all comes down to personal choice.
I once started writing a book about my dating misadventures. Then I started thinking about how to protect the innocent or the guilty as the case may be. I had no idea about the legal ramifications and privacy issues involved, so I stopped writing. I have to admit, it would be one hell of a read though!
By all means, use your past as writing material, just don’t live in the past or get stuck there. Pop in for a visit, then get yourself back to the present because that’s where your amazing life is happening.
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Read Next – How to Be More Self-Aware and Why It’s Important
Re: Point 2, I know one person who purposefully writes the occasional shock opinionated piece. She does it so people she doesn’t feel are ‘her sort of readers’ don’t hang around, that way she’s posting for like minded people. Of course she has thousands of followers, so losing a few hundred over opinions isn’t of great concern to her. Wish I had that problem ;p
I’m actually using a past (failed) relationship as the starting point for my current novel. If that particular gentleman were to ever read the novel (which would never happen since he NEVER read a book) he would know the character was based on him. I didn’t paint him in a negative light or make that character unlikeable, the characters relationship falls apart for the same reason the IRL relationship fell apart: two people who were too different fell out of love with each other, but were trapped in the relationship thinking the other person was still in love and not wanting to hurt them because we did still like them. It makes for a good start to the book, but it brings on all the nostalgia and thoughts of how things might have been different with a few changes. Thanks for the tips on how not to get too wrapped up in it.
It is always lovely to read your comments.
Nostalgia can be very powerful. It really draws us into that ‘what might have been had things been different’ frame of mind. I like what you said about it being different with a ‘few changes’. Sometimes it’s like that, it’s not always the big moments or issues, sometimes it is some of the little things that stick with us. I have learned the hard way living in ‘if only’ can be a hard place.
Thank you for sharing the idea for the beginning of your book. Writing about actual feelings (even if they are in a fiction setting) can be an emotional experience. A bit like being on a roller-coaster. I remember when I was doing a writing course years ago, I wrote a short fiction scene where an older woman was dying and her granddaughter was visiting her in hospital. The story was complete fiction, but the emotions for the piece came from when my own Dad was dying and his granddaughter said something at his bedside. My writing tutor was amazed and said he wouldn’t change a word. It wasn’t until years later that I read it again. I started crying because it took me back to a very emotional, painful time. As they say, words can be very powerful. Thankfully they can also be incredibly healing.
Good luck with the book, can’t wait to read the finished product. 🙂 Just wondering how many chapters have you written already?
PS I hear you on the wish I had that problem!
I have to thank you for the great posts which inspire me to comment 🙂
It would be interesting to read your short story, is it available anywhere?
As to my current novel it’s my first time writing using Scrivener and I’ve been so distracted by writing scenes that I haven’t really broken it up into chapters just yet, it’s 52,000 words so far and I’m expecting it will be around 70,000. It’s still at the incredibly rough draft phase where I haven’t even ran spellcheck on it, let alone gone through an edit. I’m just trying to complete it right now. Thanks for asking.