Writing About a Secret: Confessional Writing

Abstract: We all have secrets. Writing about a secret is a form of confessional writing. This type of writing can be healing and cathartic. Why not take a few minutes to think about a secret and consider writing about it? You might be surprised what emerges!


Confessional writing or writing about a secret is writing written in the first person which describes someone’s deepest and most inner feelings. It can be in the form of an essay, letter, poem, book, essay or jottings in a journal. Most times, confessional writing is a healing way of expressing sentiments on the page. It can make a person make sense of events and circumstances in their lives. Confessional writing can provide relief from hiding behind a veil of secrets.

Those who do confessional writing can help others navigate their own journey, especially if they’ve gone through a through similar life experiences. A great book about confessional writing is, Fearless Confessionsby Sue William Silverman. She claims that confessional writers serve as emotional guides for others. Honesty is particularly important in confessional writing, as it is in any personal writing.


In Phillip Lopate’s classic anthology, The Art of the Personal Essay, he says, “the struggle for honesty is central to the ethos of the personal essay,” and I would say this is also relevant to confessional writing. Many examples of such are included in this wonderful collection. Lopate continues by saying that the “personal essayist [and I add the confessional writer] must above all be a reliable narrator; we must trust his or her core of sincerity.” He continues to say that part of this trust is connected with the writer’s personal exposure of betrayals, uncertainties and self-mistrust.

Many people consider memoir the most popular form of confessional writing, but really, any personal writing that uses “I” could be a form of confessional writing. It’s written in the first person and shares a secret or revelation. Confessions usually touch on the darker or more repressed parts of life. St. Augustine’s Confessionsare amongst the first published confessions, written in the 4thand 5thcenturies. It consists of 13 volumes where he discusses his conversion to Christianity as a result of sins committed as a child such as theft and lust.

When considering the idea of doing confessional writing, the writer should ask themselves: “What am I carrying?” Some of the most powerful writing is when the writer holds on to and connects to a universal theme that applies to anyone, regardless of their orientation or culture. It’s a subject that others can relate to. In other words, if the writer is writing about a secret about an abusive relationship, then it’s a theme many can relate to. When writing a confession, the writer is prompted to dive deep and then surface and look beyond themselves.

Confessional writing should not be confused with writing about trauma, although sometimes the subjects overlap. Confessions are secrets that are not necessarily connected to trauma; they could be secrets, passions or dreams. For example, here are some confessions that have been written about:


  • I forged a legal letter
  • I am bisexual
  • I cannot stop thinking about sex
  • I want to kill my mother
  • I fantasize about running away with my professor
  • I hire only sexy personal assistants
  • I never answer the phone when it rings
  • I secretly love my job but just to fit in, tell everyone I hate it
  • I am 50 and have no idea what I want to do when I grow up


Before beginning to doconfessional writing, it’s good to start by writing the word, BREATHE across the top of the page. Then take some deep breaths in and out. Like journal writing, rituals are important before beginning to write. Some rituals might include: meditating, lighting a candle, having a cup of tea or stretching.


Here are some possible writing prompts:

  • Write for a few minutes about some obsessions, whether it is sex, books, clothes, cars, or nature. Write a little about the history of this obsession and how it think it originated or whether it’s connected to a particular person?
  • Think of someone who deserves gratitude—a relative, a friend, a mentor, a loved one. Now write this person a letter to them expressing gratitude.
  • Think of a person or situation that instills anger. Write another letter describing the feelings that erupt from that anger. The letter can, but doesn’t have to be sent.
  • Think about something a mistake made. Write about how it was dealt with then, and how it might be dealt with differently now.








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