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Vulnerability: The Good, The Bad, And The Scary

By Ashleigh Sabin

How vulnerable should I be in my writing? This is a question that I often ask myself, particularly when writing something that will be read by others.

We’re often told in writing classes that high stakes make for good writing, and, especially in non-fiction writing, that can put us in a vulnerable position. Additionally, I’ve found that, as much as I might try to avoid a sensitive topic, oftentimes my mind can’t “move on” to writing other things until I have written about it. So, I am faced with both internal pressures (need to process emotions) and external pressures (desire to create high-stakes writing or to say something that I am passionate about) that push me to be vulnerable in my work.

Of course, there is always the option of writing purely for oneself, as a means of expression and of processing one’s feelings. This is usually the first step for me when writing about something, particularly vulnerable in my life. It gives me the space and distance to process something on my own, without considering any possibility of sharing it. From there, some things develop into pieces that I feel comfortable sharing while others don’t.

Each case is different, and each story holds a different meaning for the writer, so I don’t claim to have the definitive answer to this question, but here are some things that I’ve considered when writing vulnerably for an audience.

Why do I want to share this? Is it because I want to garner sympathy or because I feel that there is something here that is truly worth saying? Vulnerability for the sake of vulnerability does not create good writing, so we need to consider our intentions for sharing.

Is it your vulnerability on the line or someone else's? Creating good writing is not worth ruining good relationships, so it’s important to consider the feelings of others involved before we put our work out into the world.

Will telling this story make me proud of being a writer? Someone recently told me that “you won’t be fulfilled by writing just because you like to do it. It will only be fulfilling if you feel like you are able to convey something important.”

So, no, every piece does not need to be earth-shatteringly raw and real, but the more intentional that we are with our vulnerability, the more fulfilled we will feel in sharing it.

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