Are posts that are “raw” and dramatic more honest than posts that are happy or emotionally even?: A deliberately controversial post

Not necessarily.

Just like the accusations that (some? all?) people are making up their happy perfect lives, there’s also no doubt bloggers who are either dramatizing or possibly even making up their own drama so that they have something to write about.  Some people who seem as if their lives are trainwrecks seem that way not because they necessarily have horrible things happening to them, but because, like the (possibly fictional) “perfect” bloggers, they want attention.  They love being thanked for their “honest” and “raw” posts.

So they talk about fighting with their horrible lazy awful partners.  They talk about their horrible children.  They talk about their problems with money that they have created by taking on too much debt.  Some (that you will occasionally read news stories about) go so far as to make up diseases and put up crowd-funding.

It is true that there are people stuck in horrible relationships, or whose children have real psychological problems.  There are people who, through no fault of their own have money problems.  There are people who have life-threatening and chronic diseases.  And some folks with real problems do blog about them.

However, the Venn diagram of having a real problem and blogging about drama is not an “honest” and “raw” single circle.  There’s overlap, but it is far from complete.

Drama posts can be just as fictional as “perfect” posts.  And just as likely, some “perfect” bloggers are not lying about things going well for them.  Honest writing and happy writing may be completely uncorrelated.

Your turn, Grumpeteers.

58 Responses to “Are posts that are “raw” and dramatic more honest than posts that are happy or emotionally even?: A deliberately controversial post”

  1. Omdg Says:

    “Perfect” can be seen as active impression management and phony. Especially if that person never complains about anything, ever, even something small. Not always, but it depends on how it’s done. Repeated insistence that things are perfect and that their way is the right way can come off as either obliviousness or overcompensation. ThT said, again depends on how it’s done.

  2. yuppiemillennial Says:

    I disagree on this one. I think those people who write “dramatic” and “raw” posts, even if some aspects of the content are manufactured, still reflect the tone of that writer’s emotional experience in the moment (negative). Whereas, I feel like perfect happy bloggers’ writing (especially in the total omission of any setbacks) always feels more curated and reflective of what readers want to see than their own feelings.

    • eemusings Says:

      I have always written in some way shape of form as an outlet (in my teens I churned out songs like nobody’s business) and have always, without fail, found that angst drove my best writing. I don’t write as WELL when I’m happy.

  3. scantee Says:

    People’s online personas are almost never a true reflection of their real selves. That is true for the everything-is-wonderful-all-the-time crowd, the my-life-is-the-worst-ever folks, and the huge swath of people in between whose lives are mostly mundane. I am a bit more suspect of people on either extreme, especially if they make their living online, because they have a vested interest in keeping up appearances, even when the appearance they need to keep up is as a miserable person.That doesn’t really bother me that their not be completely honest though, because I think it’s best to think of the online presences of very happy or very sad people as being more akin to advertising or entertainment rather than an accurate portrayal of their real lives.

    • Ana Says:

      I feel this way too. Most people’s lives—if they are privileged enough to be able to reflect & write about them on the internet– contain a mix of positive and negative experiences and emotions (there are exceptions, including mental illness). A complete absence of the normal human ups & downs comes across to me as “branding”. That’s OK—blogs serve different purposes for different people. A blog can simply be a vehicle for showcasing your highlights reel or for working through the tough stuff. But when I see blogs on either extreme, I know for a fact I’m not getting the whole picture. As long as its interesting and well-written, I may still read, though!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That makes a lot of sense.

      Of course, all perception of other people is only going to be part of the picture. We only see some of the masks. That’s probably healthy!

  4. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I note that the first comments are attacking the idea that people’s lives could be as good as they portray on the Internet, when the main focus of the post is that some people’s lives may not really be as bad as they portray.

    Is this because people are used to reading complaints about “perfect” bloggers and immediately think this is that kind of post? Did I not write as clearly as I thought? Or is it something else? Discuss.

    • Rosa Says:

      I think we have a pretty strong cultural norm that people who are always upset are just being drama llamas and it’s probably fake, so there’s not much to talk about there.

      But maybe it’s just because I’m from the Midwest.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Haha! Yes, I hadn’t noticed that, but the people I see complaining about “perfect” bloggers all the time generally aren’t midwesterners!

        Maybe it’s because people from the midwest are perfect? ;)

        (Actually, it’s probably because midwesterners are really uncomfortable about accusing someone of lying. )

      • Rosa Says:

        …I am shocked to learn there are places where people AREN’T loathe to accuse another person of lying. Clearly I am right where I belong, with the conflict-avoidant.

        Though, people here lie all the time! “Oh that sounds nice.” “No, no, it’s great I just am not hungry” “Yes, we should get together sometime!”

  5. Omdg Says:

    What yuppie millennial said.

  6. Flavia Says:

    I also find that many (though not all) “raw” posts are not well-written, in part because they’re not well-considered. They make me hugely embarrassed for the writer on multiple fronts.

    The exceptions are certain posts written out of indignation at something the poster feels (and helps me to believe) is an injustice. Righteous indignation can be fun, funny, inspiring, but again there has to be a certain coolness in order to do it right.

    But really, it boils down to my belief that blogging, social media, and writing in general need to be aware of an audience, and to be doing something for that audience, other than just saying “look at me! Look at MEEEEE.”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s an interesting point. I have a couple of pretty good writers who cause schadenfreude on my leechblock (because schadenfreude makes me feel the bad kind of dirty), but there’s definitely been posts from bloggers I’ve read maybe once after clicking a link and never felt the need to go back to. I wonder which is more prevalent. I mean there’s a lot of really badly written stuff on the internet but I don’t regularly come into contact with it so the availability heuristic makes it seem like there’s less.

    • undine Says:

      I don’t think I read any blogs like this, either “raw” or “perfect.” Most of the “perfect” academic ones have started posting at ChronicleVitae or somewhere anyway. I write out of irritation sometimes but mostly try to make humor out of it.

  7. Katherine Says:

    I think that in some sense the raw but not 100% honest everything is awful trainwreck posts are self-fulfilling prophecies. If people are mining their lives for negative things to re-hash on their blogs, they are focusing on things and feelings that are probably making their experience of life worse.

    I also feel like when I read too many drama posts it drags my own mood down, so I try to tear myself away from reading bloggers who mostly post drama.

  8. chacha1 Says:

    My selection of blogs-to-read is so (relatively) small that I honestly can’t think of any blogger I read who fits either the “constant drama” or “life is perfect” description. The most “personal” blog I read is Shauna Reid’s, and when things are particularly awesome or horrible for her she doesn’t post. She is an after-the-fact reporter, not a life-narrator.

    I do not believe that anyone actually composes and publishes a personal blog post without some awareness or intention that it will be read by others – and without, consequently, editing it at least a little. A Facebook post or blog comment, maybe – because those are mostly *reactions* which are much less likely to be thoughtfully composed – but not a blog post. I think all personal blog posts are created with at least a subconscious intention of bolstering a certain reputation.

    I don’t like drama, and I don’t care for overly dramatic people. I don’t like catastrophists. I don’t like incompetents. So if I come across someone whose writing says “I am a paranoid catastrophizing drama junkie who creates 90% of my own problems” I exit without delay. I don’t actually care whether the portrayal is accurate or not. :-) But all you have to do is look at the success of “reality TV” to see that a whole lot of people actually do get some kind of enjoyment out of watching other people act like idiots.

    As to perfection … somebody else’s perfection has nothing to teach me. I am interested in people who are learning, growing, creating, and processing. If anybody is claiming to have it all figured out, then they have stopped learning.

  9. Debbie M Says:

    I read the blogs of a few people I actually know fairly well. And I feel they are all honest but none are complete. Obviously it’s way too boring and time-consuming to write about everything, so we all edit. I think we all tend to focus on things that are surprising or otherwise out of the ordinary. So, that’s going to be things that are above average, below average, or just plain kind of unbelievable.

    One friend definitely uses her blog to vent. And most people like to write about their successes both because they’re happy about them and they want to share their good ideas in case they help others. Some people rarely mention the others in their lives (the blogs are about themselves), even when the others are abusive or otherwise have a huge impact on their lives. I met one person as a blogger, and then when I met him in real life, I learned that he was a terrible gossip. Another person I met online collected beany babies and seemed very silly, but in real life never smiled and wore only black and dark grey.

    So I’m going to say that most blogs are a sliver of the truth. And some people probably lie or exaggerate, but that’s their problem, not mine. I’ll always act as though they’re telling the truth (unless it’s pretty clear they’re just being silly). I do the same about (possibly back-handed) compliments.

    If I enjoy it, I’ll read it.

  10. xykademiqz Says:

    I often feel less of an impetus to write when things are going well. My okay is pretty boring; who needs to read about my daily routine? (I am not a big fan of “what I did today” posts, my own or other people’s. There are few people who can make it work, generally because they connect what they did with larger topics.)
    More than 80% of the time, I write when I feel a strong urge to, and I seem to feel the urge when something perturbed me. Even so, I try to put a few coherent thoughts down, a piece showing some sentience, some thread that can be generalized to the lives of others, even if the post originated in a perturbation and is loaded with emotion. And I simply enjoy the interaction with the language; putting a rant on paper, having that first draft flow out of you, is quite an experience. If I have managed to capture my own feelings faithfully in writing, so that I can arouse similar emotions in those who read, that’s really satisfying (to me). Whether or not that makes for good blog reading is another story… I now feel embarrassed for all the people I might have inadvertently embarrassed by my own ranty posts. Blanket sorry!

  11. jjiraffe Says:

    I don’t think noisy people shouting about their problems all the time should be rewarded for being “honest” online. I also think all the kudos can backfire and enable the writers to keep a negative mindset. I’m guessing the kudos are because many people are sick of the culture of fakery on social media and see this as an antidote. In moderation I’m fine with “honest” commentary / occasional rants but try to look out for the boys who cry wolf, if you will. If everything always sucks, well. Warning bells.

    I also think some parts of the internet are filled with really, really kind people who may be more susceptible to those in distress. So that kind of talk can get more attention, because people are nice. And it can become a flywheel.

  12. First Gen American Says:

    The only posts I have ever deleted off my blog were the ones that I wrote and posted while I was upset. Rereading them later, they all seemed so petty. Blurting out raw feelings and blame usually has little reflection to it and it’s the reflection and growth that is interesting.

    I like learning how experiences mold and grow someone’s character. The “in the moment play by play” of a persons life isn’t that interesting to me.

    Everyone edits their blogs. There are some things people just want to be private. There are people who don’t talk about the bad because it’s just not bad enough to be worth whining about. There are people who just talk about the bad because they love to playing the victim.

    Most of the bad things I talk about happened long ago in my past and it’s almost like talking about another person.

  13. becca Says:

    By definition, it’s less honest to write 100% happy/emotionally even or 100% raw and dramatic then to represent a mix of experiences (well, unless one’s life is actually literally 100% one way or the other, which is true of no 3-D human I know anywhere, ever). That said, reader-responses can reinforce certain things people do, so that over time many bloggers seem to develop a relatively coherent “voice” and a relatively coherent way of connecting with readers. Sometimes that’s sharing drama. Sometimes that’s cracking jokes about drama. Sometimes that’s sharing ideas. Sometimes that’s sharing strategies for success. None of these things are necessarily less honest than any others, but the process of culling out some topics, or expanding on others is what distinguishes a blog from a journal. If you are just writing to process the bad stuff, you don’t make it public. If you are just recording what happens in your day, good luck keeping reader interest unless you live an extraordinary life (even then, there’s probably a lot of editing. Even extraordinary people use the restroom sometime!).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Is it really less honest? Can people really give 100% of their lives, and does it have to be a random % to be honest? Or is any picking and choosing what to present dishonest?

      I think some people genuinely are pretty even-keeled and have enough money and luck to not have any real drama in their lives. And some people are just good at dealing with circumstances.

      Journals must also have picking and choosing, otherwise all that would be written in the journal would be, “wrote in the journal… wrote in the journal while using the restroom… breathing continued steady” and so on.

      • chacha1 Says:

        We have only one big hunk o’ drama in our lives, it’s nearly 2 years old now and will last until a parent dies, but I don’t blog about it because I am not anonymous and it’s not just my business. I would love to blog about it, because it’s an extremely common and relatable piece of drama, but … it would serve no useful purpose to expose the other people involved.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I also feel uncomfortable either reading about or sharing other people’s (as in, not the blogger’s) negative stories in detail. Other people’s privacy is so important, even if you’re anonymous or semi-anonymous, there’s always that threat of being outed and thus outing everyone you’ve talked about.

        I mean, I love reading a gai shan life, for example (her brother has problems), but I would probably feel uncomfortable if that was an every week thing with lots of details or if she talked more about everything he does rather than the effect that it’s having on her. (Does that make sense? I think A gai shan life does it well without hurting privacy too much. And her brother isn’t her child, which is also important since children can’t really defend themselves.)

  14. gwinne Says:

    I wrote a thing, and then Chrome freaked out. Here’s the gist:

    1. All bloggers have a blogging persona. Some are more self-conscious about that than others. Some readers are more aware of that than others.
    2. We read blogs for different reasons. We also write blogs for different reasons.
    3. In practical terms, I read a mix of blogs and come into them with different expectations. I started as an infertility blogger, and that’s a lot of where my community still is (though only one I can think of still actively in the trenches).
    4. What keeps me reading in all cases is the voice. So I’ll confess it took me a while to get into THIS blog because of the two voices, though if I’d read individual blogs by #1 and by #2 I would have kept reading both.
    5. I consider my own writing more “raw,” and it is certainly honest, but not the same version of honesty you’d get in a more “academic” or “polished” version nor if I kept a journal. Some details are withheld. Sometimes I put too much out there. But I like “gwinne” as a persona and use that blog differently than when I blog under my own name in more public spaces, even if some of the content is the same, if that makes sense…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We are of one voice! (Except for the mushroom/goat cheese thing.)

      I wonder why some people get so upset when details are withheld. Is it culture like Rosa suggests? What right do we have to demand every intimate detail either happy or dramatic? As others have noted, we don’t seem to demand that of people IRL.

    • Cloud Says:

      I agree with gwinne. People write for a wide range of reasons. If someone wants to use their blog mostly to vent, more power to them. I probably won’t read it, but that isn’t an indictment of them or their blogging. It is just my preference.

      There are people for whom blogging is a profession. I don’t see anything wrong with that, as long as they follow the rules about disclosing paid posts, etc. To me, it isn’t that different from making your living writing a newspaper column or something like that. There are also people for whom blogging is part of their professional persona (this is true of me over at my real name blog).

      I don’t think either “everything is perfect!” or “everything sucks!” is more likely to be honest in general, but I do think that people for whom blogging is related to income (either directly or because it is part of their professional persona) are more likely to decide not to share something if it contradicts the “brand” that is bringing them money. This is pretty normal, really, and how it has always worked for newspaper columnists, people who publish books of essays, etc. No one shares everything. What is different in blogging is that the “product” looks a lot like other blogs that people are just writing for fun (or to vent), and those people tend to share a little more than the pros and semi-pros. So some readers may come in with an expectation of full disclosure that the pro/semi-pro blogs will never meet. And when some readers sense that mismatch, they feel “cheated” and say that the blogger isn’t being honest.

      This is easy enough for someone like me to navigate- my professional persona is about management and productivity, and that blog isn’t as personal as my Wandering Scientist blog. While I do share some of my “management failures,” I don’t think there is an expectation that I’ll tell all. For one thing, people (generally) understand that you can’t talk about everything that happens at work due to non-disclosure agreements, etc.

      For bloggers whose professional persona is about the home, though, I think the boundaries can be harder to keep clear. This is one (of many) reasons that I kept my pseudonym persona and my professional persona distinct. I don’t mind a little cross-over, but I think having the two distinct spaces makes it easier for me to “keep it real” on my personal blog.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’m not even sure how “real” we are here. I mean, I think we’re real (it’s not like we have much going on outside of work and what we talk about on the blog… well, maybe #2 has a secret IRL life I don’t know about since I see her online too), but would someone like the first two commenters on this post agree? Probably not!

  15. Rosa Says:

    I think I’m going to be the only one here who admits to loving dramatic trainwreck bloggers. I do, though! I love melodrama. That’s one reason to follow parenting young children blogs – a lot of infancy and toddlerhood is high drama over low stakes with an eventual happy ending. You can get nearly an entire year of near constant parenting-toddlers misery spiked with surrealist humor out of a perfectly normal child/adult pairing sometimes.

    But even so, I require either humor or glimmers of hope. Plucky heroines and occasional bouts of kindness and good luck! So I love the Bloggess (who is pretty raw, I think) and when she manages to post anything, Allie Brosh. I have followed homeless bloggers (that’s a tiny niche of Tiny House/Simple Living blogging) and people leaving cults, abusive partners, controlling parents, or awful life-eating startups. My absolute, absolute favorite kind of blog is the child of hoarder cleaning up a hoard – all the emotional fallout of being raised by addicts, but with a visible problem to solve and reading the victim’s point of view instead of the abuser’s.

    The thing is that except for professional writers/comic artists, and content-focused instead of person-focused blogs (which a lot of pf blogs are), all stories come to an end. People either find a stable place or they give up, eventually. And now as old blogs go dark, newer people are more on Tumblr or Twitter or Instagram, which I don’t enjoy as much. I like words.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Allie Brosh is amazeballs. I’m not crazy about the Blogess.

      A lot of the examples you give are people who aren’t creating their own drama. I love reading about people getting out of debt. I love plucky heroines (which lots of people say are “fake” or “liars”, but I don’t think they are, unless they’re secretly performance artists which they could be).

      That’s an interesting point about people stopping blogging when things are fine unless they’re selling something (like pf or whatever it is professional mommy bloggers sell).

      Though things are fine for us…Hm… Maybe now that #2 isn’t living in a hellhole and has a great job in paradise we should close up shop(!)

      • Rosa Says:

        I like your more technical posts as well as the personal ones. As long as you continue to have interests – from fiction to kids’ education to your professional fields – you’ll have post fodder. And you’re good about asking for stories from the commentariat when you run low. Please keep going!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:


        fishing for compliments! A grumpy past-time.

  16. middle_class Says:

    I don’t know what makes me tolerate one blogger’s drama over another one. I guess there is judgment on my part — if I feel like the drama/angst is “justified”, I’m okay with reading about it even if it’s a long-lasting drama. What is justifiable to me may be intolerable for others.

    As for real or not real, I think all bloggers have a persona. I don’t think anyone who reads my blog would think of the IRL person as the same. I definitely don’t talk about finances as much. In fact, recently a few well-meaning people were advising me on investing / budgeting and I had a mini-rant in my head — “Don’t they know that I have a good understanding of finances? Why don’t they know that I graduated without debt? Why don’t they know that I invest in index funds? Oh wait.. only blog readers would know this.”

  17. Revanche Says:

    My online persona is MUCH more reflective of me than IRL. I’m much more reserved offline and frankly don’t trust most people in person until I’ve gotten to know them well. We don’t often get to that stage, offline.

    Perhaps it’s odd but I find that even if people don’t tell me everything about their lives in writing (duh, who does?), I get a far better sense of what kind of person they are through their writing than I do by meeting and talking to them in a lot of cases. Certainly part of that is because I’m an awkward penguin in person with people I don’t know yet, and online, I have more of a chance to sit back and assess whether I’d be comfortable with someone one on one. There have been a few instances where I’ve met friends initially met online and been blown away by how much I like them in person, when I really already liked them a lot just over the ‘webs.

    Also, spotted the call out above and flattered/relieved that my writings about family aren’t discomfiting. It makes me wonder if my LB posts also pass the cut for not being uncomfortable-making, though, since they’re much more about hir and hir doings.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We have a post on this topic scheduled in the next couple of weeks.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Haha, no the LB posts are adorbs. When LB is older, privacy will be more important but baby stuff is pretty generic (even though it doesn’t seem like it when it is your kid).

      • Revanche Says:

        Glad to hear it :) I hoped that it was just cheap entertainment because babies are pretty much babies the world over while also being a fun little record for me.

        And I’m sure that as ze gets older, the posts will drop off because like you said, older = more privacy needed.

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  19. Donna Freedman Says:

    The personal posts that I put up — especially the ones about my mother, my past difficulties, my daughter, my dear DF and anything to do with Alaska — tend to draw thoughtful, interesting comments. So do the posts I write about being on the road. But I don’t want it to become simply a travelogue or a cult of personality or any single thing.

    While I have published some pretty painful (to me, anyway) stuff, I do have my own boundaries. Certain things are private and will stay that way.

    What makes me squirm is the inability of some bloggers to think about the effect of their writing on others. If you flame-on about a fight with your spouse, suddenly your personal life is everybody’s business. Get all misty-eyed about your daughter’s first period and uh, REALLY? Can you imagine how horrified 11-year-old you if your own mom had announced your menarche to the world?

    To say nothing of drama llamas who do dumb or irresponsible things and write about them. I guess they never think about a current or future employer reading this stuff.

    What is it they say in some schools about talking? “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” Bloggers should think this way, maybe. I’d also add, “Is it prudent? Is it actionable?”

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  22. ralucacoldea Says:

    I believe you cannot be fully “raw” when writing, because as soon as you start editing a post for better understanding and/or for better elliciting a response from your audience, you have lost the “feelings” and have focused on delivery.

    But it doesn’t matter anyway, because I live by the mantra that nobody is himself/herself on the internet.

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