The Rant vs the Confession: Writing from Personal Experience

Sometimes you need to take time to gain distance from a personal experience before writing about it.

In addition to One Writer’s Journey, I also blog at and write essays.  Much of this writing draws on personal experience or personal observation.   More than once, I’ve tried writing an essay or blog post only to have to start all over again.  Why?  Because my first attempt had turned into either a sermon (best possibility) or a rant (what usually happens).

Over time, I’ve found three handy ways to avoid this.

Go ahead and rant.

Sometimes the best thing that you can do is get it out of your system.  Bitch, gripe and rant.  Get all that bile down on paper.  Once you’ve finished a draft of sorts, get up and go do something else for a while.  Contemplate what you are writing about.  What did you learn from the experience?  How are you a better person for having gone through this?  How might you have handled things differently?  Once you know what the “lesson” is, write the piece again.  You should see a difference.

Don’t finger point.  Confess.

If the piece still doesn’t work, read through it again.  Are you pointing a finger at someone else? It is hard to make this work because you tend to sound like a crank. I should know. Lately, I’ve had the dubious honor of watching someone I care about struggle through some really bad decisions.  If I give into temptation and write an essay on this, it will sound like a finger pointing rant.  Why?  Because it will be a finger pointing rant.

The only way to avoid this is to draw from my own personal short comings and confess.  I could write up a situation in which I did something similar.  Confession works because you are outing yourself.  The reader knows that you feel their pain.  You aren’t lecturing from on high.

Give yourself some time

Other times the only solution is time itself.  An event, no matter how important the lesson, that is too raw does not make good material for your writing.  At least not often.  Too often this type of writing sounds like a therapy session.  Thus, I have not written about my father’s stroke.  Sure, there is some great material there, but I simply do not have the distance to write this up and do it well.

Do draw on your own experiences in your writing.  It isn’t easy, but it is rewarding.