Your Writing: Private and Public

Keeping a Writer's Journal

(Edwin Remsbeg/Getty Images)

As we work to shape a positive attitude toward writing, we may find that private writing (that is, writing we do just for ourselves) can also help us become more confident with our public writing (the writing we do for others). At this point what matters isn't whether you think you are a good writer or a bad one. What matters is the extent to which you're willing to work to become a better one.

If you're convinced that good writing skills are unimportant or beyond your reach, you probably lack the motivation to become a better writer.

On the other hand, if you recognize the value of good writing skills and want to improve your own, then you're ready to learn.

Public writing is the work we do for others, usually because we're required to. If this is the only sort of writing you do, it's understandable why writing might make you feel uncomfortable sometimes--even nervous or frightened.

Now, consider the kinds of writing that these two students do:

  • Whenever I'm bothered about something, I grab my laptop and get to work writing about my problems. This way I'm able to see solutions to my troubles appear on the screen right before my eyes.
  • For many years I have kept a journal, a place where I express my thoughts and feelings about different experiences in my life. I truly enjoy this type of writing. My journal is a private place that no else ever visits.

That's what private writing is all about. Without the pressures of deadlines or grades, private writing can be relaxing, therapeutic, even fun.

In a journal (whether online or in a book), you can write whatever you please--your thoughts, dreams, observations--and nobody can ever criticize you for bungling a sentence, misspelling a word, or leaving out a central idea.

Keeping a journal shouldn't take much of your time--perhaps just 10 to 15 minutes each day.

With regular practice, you'll start to improve your writing skills. In addition, you'll be creating a file of ideas and observations, some of which may later be developed into formal paragraphs and essays. In time, as you practice making discoveries in your private writing, you should also gain confidence in your ability to write for others.

A kind of writing that might be described as semi-private (or perhaps semi-public) is the personal email or letter: a quick note to a friend or family member about your everyday experiences, great and small. Although e-mailing and letter-writing mean keeping a reader other than yourself in mind, they resemble journal writing in a number of ways: generally, you can express opinions freely, switch easily from one subject to another, and write without fear of being marked down for mistakes. Likewise, the practice gained by writing personal e-mails and letters should in time help you gain confidence as a writer.

Writing Suggestion: Journal Writing
On a sheet of paper or on your computer, try your hand at private writing by explaining to yourself what your attitudes toward writing are. You may want to recount some past experiences (for instance, the history paper that almost drove you crazy or the essay that turned out just right).

Or instead you may look to the future, considering in what ways you hope to improve your writing over the next few months. Write for 10 to 15 minutes. Then write again tomorrow, this time on a different subject--any subject.

If you have trouble getting started, consider these suggestions:

  1. Make a list of your goals, problems, chores, favorite movies, or whatever else comes to mind.
  2. Compose a letter that you will never send. Write to someone you haven't seen in a long time, someone who is making life difficult for you, or someone you have never met but would like to know.
  3. Recount something that recently amused, intrigued, or troubled you.
  4. Describe the person you would like to be five years from now.