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Public vs Private: Cryptic Writing For Personal Blogs

By Edrei Zahari

anniversary logoLet’s start off today’s Personal Blogging series by putting yourself in this scenario:

You have a personal blog in which you write everything about your daily life in it. It doesn’t just contain the good time, but also the times when you’re really angry and depressed. One day, your boss calls you into the office and then proceeds to give you the third degree and a stern warning about how you have been blogging about your co-workers, your boss and your working conditions.

You know that it was one off thing because it was a bad day at work, but you can’t escape the fact that it’s still on your blog with your name on it. Luckily you get off the hook, but not without losing some trust from your boss and colleagues.

Upon reaching home, you want to relax after today, but you come home to find a message in your answering machine It turns out to be an angry mother asking you to call her back. Something about airing dirty laundry out for all to see…

Sound familiar? No? Well it has happened to other people and it can happen to you. The price of writing a personal blog on the net is that everyone can read it. No matter how low key your blog is, you have to have the assumption that people we don’t expect to read, will read. If you have experienced this before, you won’t be the first, neither will you be the last.

So it goes to say that if you have a personal blog, sooner or later, you’re going to have the dilemma of whether or not you should censor your own words in favour of not having days when people you blog about start reading your blog. If you really want to be serious, you could even password protect your blog. Though when it comes to that, it kind of defeats the purpose of having a personal blog.

That is until you find out there is a third option.

Cryptic blogging is a form of writing that allows you to express yourself without revealing too much. It is a tricky and not all bloggers can master on the spot. It’s hard enough trying to do that and have people that read your blog relate to it on the same level as well, but it is possible and here is the list of things you can do to make sure you are free to blog without giving yourself away.

  1. Be anonymous – Most personal bloggers start with a pseudonym or an alias to disguise their identity. When I started Footsteps in the Mirror, I went under the name Kamigoroshi in which I used for everything including my comments on other blogs. My family was none the wiser until I told them I had a blog, after which I started using my real name as well as put up pictures of myself on my posts. Remember, your name can be found on search engines so stay clear of it if you mean to blog privately.
  2. Hide people’s names – It’s common sense to know that if you’re going to talk about someone, don’t use their names. There are people that use things like “X did this” or “M did that”. There is no harm in writing that way, just that it’s hard to tell a story to your readers when you sound like Big Brother or Aunt Angst. You can use aliases or just refer to them as “he” or “she”. Your story will make up for it, which brings us to the next point.
  3. Master expression without tellingIn the previous post, I mentioned how we should learn how to express without telling if you wanted to be good at writing personal stories of yourself. When blogging cryptically, it’s no longer an option, it’s something you have to be good at doing. So saying things like:

    “I don’t like the way my boss is running things.”

    Can easily become:

    “He’s been getting on my nerves a lot lately. I know I’m supposed to do it without question but there are days when I wonder if he knows what he’s doing. “

    Both refer to the same thing. However, the second sentence is a little bit more private to your thoughts and people can still relate to your life without a problem

  4. Don’t reveal too much – I know how easy it is to want to tell everything in one post, but learn how to keep your posts specific to a single topic. If you’re going to reveal too much in one post, people can put two and two together blowing your identity. Keeping it together doesn’t mean self censorship. It just means you have to be a little more patient. The added bonus? You have more to talk about in subsequent posts and your readers won’t be confused about having too much on their plate to digest.
  5. Use common sense – No matter how much precautions you take, it’s not going to amount for much unless you’re willing to use your brain in some matters. At the end of it, we decide what we’re going to write and how much we’re going to put in. At the end of the day, we’re the ones living with the consequences of our actions. Remember that some things shouldn’t be said no matter how tempted we are to say it. Blogging is no exception. If you can live with the worst case scenario, the by all means. Your blog is your canvas. Paint it as you’re willing to take it.

Now, standalone WordPress and WordPress.com has the ability to make your blogs private which goes to say it won’t be indexed by search engines. While this is very good in keeping your blogs private, I didn’t bother to touch this because people can still find your blog despite search engines. If there is a way to stop personal blogs from being our own source of betrayal, it has to be dealt with from our own writing, not just hiding it from search engines and password protecting it.

With a little work, you can turn your personal blog into a place where your personal life isn’t as open as it appears to be. While our parents may have a point that dirty linen isn’t meant to be aired in public, it doesn’t mean that we can’t hide them from plain sight between the clean sheets and properly placed shrubs.

The art of cryptic writing may be one of the hardest forms of blogging to master, but it’s not without having the freedom to express as a satisfying bonus. Just remember to be prepared to deal with the consequence of your writing. Nothing is completely foolproof, at least not when you have years of your personal life written upon pages of your blog.

Personal Blogging Series

If you haven’t already, you can read the rest of the Personal Blogging series linked here:


Visit Footsteps in the Mirror TodayEdrei blogs on Footsteps in the Mirror, a personal and commentary blog. He often writes about his personal exploits, life philosophies, as well as tips on blogging and WordPress. Edrei is also an active member of the 9rules community network. You can subscribe to him via FeedRSS Feed.

14 Comments

  1. Posted August 13, 2007 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Dang, Ed. I’ve experienced the first two paragraphs of your first blockquote, word-for-word, no kidding. And how did I deal with it? I gave in. I password-protected everything that had something to do with her, and I stopped writing about them.

    I admit I’m still looking for a “direction” or whatever, in blogging, but at least now I know for sure that cryptic blogging isn’t my cup of tea :)

  2. Posted August 13, 2007 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Cryptic blogging is a writing style that’s part of personal blogging. It’s a sure fire way of keeping it personal without sacrificing freedom. As you mentioned, you password protected everything that you didn’t want out. Somehow, I believe that defeats the purpose of personal blogging.

  3. Posted August 13, 2007 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    There have been times when I badly wanted to say something and had to change a few details around to protect the parties involved. Did I feel deceitful? Yeah, a little, but the intent and passion was still there.

  4. Posted August 13, 2007 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    No, Ed, I didn’t “password protect everything that I didn’t want out.” I password protected everything that my Supervisor didn’t want out. There’s a HUGE difference.

    And that’s why I’m not even touching anything related to her these days. And that’s why I said I’m not into personal blogging. That’s why I said cryptic blogging isn’t my cuppa tea. I’m just NOT that kind of person who blogs THAT way.

    You can say that “cryptic blogging is a sure fire way of keeping it personal without sacrificing freedom” but I can also tell you that there are people (managers, Supervisors) who do not want you to blog about their company or their projects, not in a cryptic way, not in an open way. They just didn’t want you to.

    And you know what? Sometimes you don’t have a choice.

  5. Posted August 13, 2007 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Kathy: It’s not being deceitful, it’s being careful and when blogging about people, you have to take great care.

    Pelf: You DO have a choice. It boils down to the amount of common sense you have before writing. You say you don’t touch the subject because it talks about your supervisor, was this before or after you got found out? The thing with blogging this way is that it protects your identity before you get found out. If you already have been found out, there is already little you can do but to change the way you write. Do you still have a choice there? Yes, but you choose not to because you say it isn’t you.

    Remember, part of blogging is about the growth of your writing. Explore and never say never. There are those of us that have taken the consequences of our writing from our superiors, family and peers. It’s all about finding a way to do the things we love after that. So yes, from personal experience, there is always a choice.

  6. Posted August 13, 2007 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I don’t blog about work at all other than ‘cryptic’ references. I also rarely mention anyone by name other than my wife and friends and I follow a simple rule. I always use whatever name they use on their own blogs. I post pictures and write poetry and stories. I have been stalked and harassed before but after I defended myself and then ignored them, they went away.

    I actually have many personal blogs in my blogroll where the bloggers talk about their work and lives and post pictures of their children. I have to admit to wondering some times if they really understand what they are doing by being so open.

    I see the openness trend developing because of MySpace and the like and cell cameras straight to YouTube that document everything for the world to see. That openness doesn’t translate well to the ‘real’ world of work and politics.

    I run my personal blogs from work on a work computer and thus I don’t feel comfortable with blogging about my job. Blogging doesn’t interfere with my job but neither is it compatible with my job.

  7. Posted August 13, 2007 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I don’t recommend cryptic blogging because the person reading it almost always knows it’s about them, and people who it isn’t about often *think* it is about them.

    The quick rule of thumb is don’t say something about someone behind their back that you wouldn’t say to their face, which goes doubly for don’t write something in a public forum that you wouldn’t say to their face.

    It is almost always better to vent with a friend in a coffee shop then online somewhere it will be archived and searchable.

    I write about this subject quite often:
    Web Anonymity 101: Digital Breadcrumbs
    Web Anonymity 103: Online Privacy
    Why You Could Be Fired for Blogging
    How to Use Facebook Without Losing Your Job Over It
    Pseudononymous Blogger Web Identity Job Search

  8. Posted August 13, 2007 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    To clarify: I don’t recommend cryptic blogging *without* anonymity. :)

    Cryptic blogging is a tool that should be used WITH anonymity. Anonymity is often blown because things aren’t as cryptic as they should be.

    IE: you mention the names of two of your friends, but one of them has an uncommon name so anyone reading it who knows them has figured out who you are.

  9. Posted August 13, 2007 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Here’s where learning about writing fiction can help. The same issues can arise for fiction writers whose characters and plots, while fictional, resemble life enough to embarrass or anger family and friends. There is no such thing “cryptic” fiction writing.

    You have two choices, the first of which isn’t really a choice, but is a capitulation: give up writing, or… write as if your family and friends were dead. As if they weren’t around. Say whatever you gotta say and be true to yourself.

    This is why some blogs are so popular, such as Dooce. Dooce was once a word that signified getting fired for blogging publicly and personally. I’m sure everyone in Heather’s family just loves her for blogging about them so openly and frankly. But it’s what makes her blog so great. No cryptic writing at all.

  10. Posted August 13, 2007 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed this, Edrei. I have blogged a couple times cryptically (sp?) and am actually looking to do this more in the future. It takes a bit more time and effort but I think it’s well worth it. Also rewarding to the readers–it leaves a little more to their imagination, one could say. I like my readers coming away from my posts feeling respected.

  11. Posted August 13, 2007 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Brian: People tend to think that just because they don’t see people on the other side of the screen, that their identity remains for the most part anonymous. Little do they know that there is a growing number of employers that would use the net as a reference point to hire people, whatever they have online will be a testament to whether or not they are worth hiring. That’s a consequence that a lot of people fail to realize.

    Engtech: The thing about mastering cryptic blogging is you will reach a point where you can blog about someone without them realizing you are blogging about them. That is the pinnacle of such a writing technique and I have read barely a handful of people who have this ability.

    It’s true that this is reinforced with anonymity, but it doesn’t have to be the case when your writing is good enough as a smokescreen to real life. Some of my personal posts reflect this, some don’t only because I want the person who reads it to know I’m talking about them.

    Michael: Open writing still threads a fine line between acceptance and all out “pissing people off” though since not many people can handle things being so open. Also, there is the matter of privacy issues that can cause problems for people. I know I’ve written it on my blog recently, but I can’t seem to find it.

    E*star: It does in a way because it flatters the readers and leaves everything to their perceptions and imaginations. Whatever you’re telling isn’t a direct report but a snapshot of your feelings and moment, much of it can be dismissed as referring to other things in life by other people. That’s why it can be cryptic. No one, unless you purposely clue them in, are none the wiser.

  12. Posted August 16, 2007 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Well done, great blog and great posts!!!

  13. Posted August 17, 2007 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    I’m pretty careful about what I say. I don’t like editing myself for content, but I think it’s necessary since many of my regular readers are people that I know in real life. I only use first names for family and friends and rarely ever discuss anything that I wouldn’t discuss in person. I never disclose my location. I’m very careful about which pictures I post, too.

    All of this makes it a little difficult to be “real” sometimes, but I’d rather keep something to myself and avoid the stalkers and crazies. ;)

  14. Posted January 23, 2009 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    thanks for great tip, especially the part how to write about boss lolx…

    will be doing it if I find a need to rant :D

    I did that before on my old blog tho, also giving nicks and all as that blog I wrote under a nick as well :)
    taken out anyway :)


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