What you don’t write (or publish) is just as important as what you do.

This past week I’ve written two posts. They were both good posts. They had some good information but they will never see the light of day. They go where posts go that aren’t fit to print, into my journal.

They weren’t right because I wasn’t in the right head space when I wrote them. The first was a half-rant about how some things have gone in life. It was vague and didn’t name offending parties But if you knew me, you’d know what I was talking about well enough.

I asked a couple of trusted friends and they both raised red flags. Thanks guys.

The second post was something I’m often asked so I thought I would write-up how to do something specific. But as I finished it, I thought better of posting it for a few reasons. Nothing terrible but it might not be something I want to share with the world. So again, I asked my trusted friends and they said no. Less emphatically than the first time, but still a solid no.

Sometimes it’s more important not to press publish than it is to publish. Taking what I’ve learned and been thinking about this week, allow me to share some thoughts.

What to think about before you press publish

What you say online stays online.

Everything I publish will stay online forever as far as I’m concerned. Google will crawl the new post and cache it on its servers. Archive.org may pick up the piece and store it away for all time. One of my readers may print, screenshot or copy parts it to quote in another post. Once I pretty publish, I have no control over what happens to my words. They are out there in the world to be read, captured and shared.

So before I say anything, I better be quite sure I want to say it and I want to have my name on it.

Don’t write about work

Before you write anything at or about work, consult your employer’s social media policy. My rule of thumb is never to write about work. I used examples of how I’ve helped people in posts but they’re unidentifiable people. And I only write about them in a positive light. Never bash your employer. Never talk bad about a co-worker. You never know who is reading your words. What you say could lead to getting fired of worse. It’s easier to not write about work.

Would you say it to their face?

Don’t write anything you wouldn’t stand up and say to the person’s face. It keeps with my general rule about not writing nasty things about people. But if you’re tempted, think about it. Would you stand up and say it to their face? If you wouldn’t say it to someone, you shouldn’t write publish it.

Don’t write about illegal things

I’ve seen people posting about their drug use on social media. The same goes for underage drinking. Those seem like obvious examples. But some less obvious ones may be piracy of media or software. Whatever your feelings on the topic, it’s still illegal. Don’t write-up how you pirate movies and TV. Don’t share that. It paints a target on you for law enforcement.

Think about future employers

If you’re not job hunting now, you will one day. It’s a reality that your future employer is going to search your name in Google. Try looking yourself up. What are they going to find? Pictures of you drunk at a college party? Posts about your drug use? How is that going to look to someone considering you for a job?

Write Angry. Edit Later.

It’s good to write when you’re fired up. The words fly out of your fingers. The idea is burning to be let out. The story is taking shape and it’s going well. Harness that. Write. Keep writing. Get it all out. But don’t hit publish yet. Wait. Step away. Save your file and come back to it. Read your words with a cooler head and make sure you still want to say what you wrote. Writing in the heat of the moment can be cathartic, don’t let it come back to hurt you later.

I am not trying to tell you what to post. I won’t pretend you care about my rules. But it could lead to trouble and these are some guidelines I’ve tried to live and write by and hopefully they’ll help you out too.

This also applies to writing at night. I have a strict rule that I don’t start any projects after midnight. I’ve made some big blunders with my web site or trying to repair a computer because it was 1am and my quick 20 minute project was approaching its third hour. The same goes for my writing. I love to write at night. But once I do, I edit in the morning. This allows me to spend some time away from the piece. It also means I’ve hopefully slept a few hours and can look at it with fresh, awake eyes. That great idea you had at 2:45am doesn’t always sound as good in the harsh light of day.

If you can’t say anything nice…

My mother always told me if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Those words ring in my ears when I am stressed or upset. There is a place for those words. Those words can go into emails unsent or journals unseen.

It’s good to get those feelings out. But you can do so privately. Not everything needs to be public. We’re in an age where the default seems to be public. The default is not public. The default should be private. Then let the public see what you decide to share. Not the other way around. That’s when you get into trouble.

Recently, I was about to hit publish on some things that, looking back, I was not proud of. I am glad I had a friend I could ask and get their honest thoughts about. If you’re unsure, ask a friend. Have someone you trust take a look at what you’re writing and ask them about it. Should you post it? Sometimes the answer is no.