I’m going to focus on sharing personal information in this post and on sharing writing-related news in the next.
I’d spent two years writing in isolation before I finaled in a contest and was “discovered” by a savvy blogger who donned her Nancy Drew hat. Almost overnight, I found myself an inhabitant of a whole new world known as cyberspace.
I’d been one of those people who was afraid to place an order online, so the thought of choosing to share personal information freaked me out.
What helped me over that hurdle?
I performed a Google search to see what my writer friend had found when she went in search of me. There weren’t much more than a couple dozen hits for my hubby’s British Car Club, for which I’d written newsletter articles. But there were a couple of links to directories such as White Pages.
When I followed those links and realized that anyone who typed my name in the Google search bar could find out where I lived now and in the past, who I’m related to, and even more, I was stunned.
Once the shock wore off, I decided that if there was already that much information out there without my knowledge, I needed to face the reality that the Information Age had arrived. Rather than panic or go into denial, I decided to take action.
Forming a plan for dealing with my online activities gave me a sense of control. My making some decisions, I could choose how much information would be available.
Four Choices We Can Make About How Much We Share Online
Our names – Do we want to write under our real name or a pseudonym? As an inspirational writer with a unique name (type “Keli Gwyn” in the Google search bar inside of quotation marks, and all the hits will be mine), a name I happen to love, I knew I wanted to use it, which I did from the outset.
Some people will need to have a pen name due to their families, day jobs, or other reasons. Choosing their alternate names as early in their writing journeys as possible will protect their real names and will help establish them under their pseudonyms.
Our family members – How comfortable are we about mentioning our family members? I’ve chosen not to refer to my husband and daughter by their first names. I’m not ashamed of what I write; my goal is simply to protect their privacy. At times they choose to comment on my Facebook page. Since we share the same last name, some of my friends know who they are. My usual practice, though, is to refer to my husband as Gwynly and our daughter as The Fashion Queen, names I use with their permission.
Our place of residence – Do we want people to know where we live? When I realized that anyone who plunks my name in the Google search bar could find out where I live, I decided I was OK with sharing the name of my town. However, as a teacher’s family, we’ve been good about protecting our street address, choosing to use a post office box. I rented a second box for my writing business, and that’s what I use on my website and correspondence. I believe that in today’s world where our whereabouts are known by many, renting a post office box is a wise move.
For those who are uncomfortable letting people know what town they live in, I suggest being more general. I live in Placerville, California, a town I love to call home. When I want to be less specific, though, I’ve said I live in the heart of California’s Gold Country, in the Sierra Foothills of California, in Northern California, or, when I want to be really vague, on the West Coast.
Our comings and goings – I’ve made a practice of not mentioning shopping trips, meetings, Taco Bell runs until I’m home. I don’t like people knowing when I’m gone, even though we have great neighbors who keep a watchful eye on our place when we’re not here.
If I’m going to be out-of-town for a writers conference and my husband will remain at home, I don’t have a problem sharing that information. If we’re both going to travel, then a mention of how thankful we are to have such great house sitters can serve to let people know our house isn’t vacant. (Yes, our skitty kitties would be home, but they run from strangers, so they’re no help. 🙂 )
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How did you go about putting a plan for sharing personal information in place?
Have you ever shared too much personal information and regretted it?
What items would you suggest adding to the list?