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Is writing about mental illness self indulgent?

Is personal blogging self-indulgent, or is there an art to writing a personal blog? How do you write about mental illness?

Is personal blogging self-indulgent?

Sometimes (often), I experience a touch (a deluge) of imposter syndrome.

I can find myself feeling unsure as to what I'm writing about, or who I'm writing for. Perhaps my difficulty occurs because the uneasy answer to both of these questions is often – 'me'?

When I first created my website, I wanted a simple portfolio where I could summarise what I do creatively, display some examples, and describe the professional services I offer.

That got a bit tricky though, because there are many facets to my creativity, and nobody puts baby in a corner!

Needless to say, my portfolio soon became a hot mess - I was a writer, an illustrator, a pet portrait artist, a jewellery-maker, a craftsperson and much more... I had Etsy shops coming out of my ears and links to blogs on a myriad of topics all over the place.

I felt so divided, and I had no idea who my intended audience was. So I scrapped the whole thing and buried my head in the sand.

This meant that my domain name, which I had paid good money for, was going to waste. My empty website was a blank canvas of possibility, but there were just too many possibilities.

I hate waste though. So eventually, I made the decision to relaunch my website and turn it into a blog. Yes, another blog. I had a habit of starting blogs back then.

My other blogs seemed to make sense individually, they each had their own audiences.This blog was going to be a problem though. I was trying to pull everything together in order to define myself to a single audience, but I couldn't do it. There was no niche, it was basically just about me. You are not a niche Zara!

Do you see my dilemma? Is personal blogging self-indulgent? So far, it felt like it.

Thankfully, I came across a post by Stefanie Flaxman on Copyblogger that expresses there is a difference, but; 'the tricky part is that there’s a fine line between "personal" and "self-indulgent."'

Stefanie says that 'personal narratives can form connections with strangers almost magically, but self-indulgent writing has the opposite effect.' – so true!

She offers the advice, 'Your goal is to show the people who you want to be a part of your community that they’re in the right place.'

So basically, if you want your blog to be a success, Stefanie is saying that you should be authentic and offer value.

She says, 'It’s valuable when you explain how you got to where you are today and your motivations for sharing your knowledge. Why do you want to teach what you’ve learned?'

If I'm completely honest, wasn't the website and blog I wanted to create initially just a place to showcase what a creative genius I thought I was? If so, then the purpose of the blog was to satisfy my own ego. So nope, it wasn't going to work at all.

Stefanie pulled a Cohen quote and put at the top of her post:

'The more personal you get, the more universal the application' – Leonard Cohen.

If I wanted to tell a story about myself that was of any value to anyone else I was going to have to go deep. So I looked at all of my other blogs and creative projects, and that was when it dawned on me ...

I wasn't self-absorbed at all – I was confused! And desperately trying to make sense of myself.

As you know, I struggle with mood swings. When I'm high I get swept up in a sea of creativity. I'm bursting at the seams with new ideas, so I'm starting new projects and in the process creating new online identities for myself. When I'm low I lack interest in my new obsessions. My negative inner monologue tells me I'm a fraud and I lose my newfound sense of identity and purpose. It's a vicious cycle.

They say you should write about what you know. Maybe that's why I'm drawn to the idea of personal blogging. My favourite types of books to read and films to watch are the ones based on real people's stories. Ordinary people often have extraordinary stories to tell.

So the question is – what's my extraordinary story?

Similarities between memoir and personal blogging

Jerry Waxler's post title; Memoirs – self-indulgent or connection to the world? neatly highlights the fear I face, and what I actually want to achieve with my personal writing.

I don't think that writing should just be an opportunity to rant or offload. Writing should have a bigger purpose, or try to convey a message, a lesson learnt, or an idea. writing provides an opportunity to connect with other people.

Jerry describes blogging as a 'modern form of intimacy' – I love that!

He says, 'Blogs are good practice, to help me learn the art of talking about myself in a way that is useful and interesting to others.' – yes!

How to make your personal blog relevant

I've come to the conclusion that in order to find peace with myself, I have to come to terms with what it is that defines my experience of life. And in order to find an audience that is interested in what I want to share, I have to be authentic.

So I've decided to commit to communicating my view of the world through the very personal lens of my mental illness. My inner gremlins are never going to leave me alone after all. And don't they say – if you can't beat them, join them? My gremlins and I are joining forces and we're going to take over the world.

I've archived my other blogs for now so that I can concentrate on growing this one. I think I'm going to enjoy this new minimalist approach to blogging.

Speaking of The Minimalists, they have some great blogging tips. I've pulled a few of my favourites, and added my own thoughts ...

  • Find your niche (Or don't!) - They say it helps to have one, and it certainly does, but don't think that you can't write about your own life and your own thoughts. They are just as interesting and valuable, as long you're providing value in your content and not indulging in selfish waffle.

  • Define your ideal readers - If you don't have a well-defined niche, then it can help to at least have some idea of who you're talking to. This'll create consistency.

  • Add value - Ask yourself one question - What's the point I am trying to make? If there isn't a point, you might want to create one, before you lose your audience's attention. And don't forget to keep coming back to that point to stop yourself from getting lost in the woods.

  • Be Yourself - This is my favourite one. If you stay true to who you are, what you think and feel, and what you want to achieve, the authenticity will shine through and be sure to inspire people.

The Minimalists mention the famous Gandhi quote, 'Be the change you want to see in the world,' and they say, 'Perhaps bloggers should build the blog they want to write for the world.' – I think I'm going to take this advice!

The best way to avoid self-indulgent writing is to look at your content and decide whether you're just writing about and for yourself, or whether you're writing about yourself, but also for a bigger purpose. Is there universal value?

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