Writing about Ourselves So That Others Will Read It

by | Nov 30, 2017 | Writing Tips

When we write about ourselves, it’s not dissimilar to writing about a fictional or imaginary character. In Hemingway’s iceberg, we see that what we need to know about a character is vast compared to what we show. This depth of knowledge helps us to create richly conceived characters who are believable and authentic. When we write about ourselves, this sense of the vastness of what lies underneath our writing must be felt even more evidently – in other words, when people read what we’ve written, they want the security of knowing that they are in the hands of someone who knows themselves – that we are a reliable storyteller of our own stories.

When we write about ourselves, we need to be vigilant about not lapsing into absolutes or clichés: ‘I am a loving mother… I am a selfish bitch… I am the worst daughter…’ but to know that there are many versions of who we are. In Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Going Home’ he talks about his different selves, ‘I love to speak with Leonard, he’s a sportsman and a shepherd / He’s a lazy bastard / Living in a suit… going home… without the costume that I wore…’

The Japanese painter Hokusai painted Mount Fuji from 100 different views. He believed that you could not claim to know or understand something unless you had looked at it from a hundred different views. So often when it comes to ourselves, we stay fixed in one point of view, instead of bringing a sense of not knowing, of Beginner’s Mind. We assume we are an expert in ourselves.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

The poet David Whyte says self-knowledge is not possible–it is an ever-changing frontier. So the ‘self’ as an idea is ultimately a fiction. The self is always evolving, always in flux. The only thing we can do is come to writing about the self with a sense of utter wonder and curiosity.

And I think that it’s only when we come to writing about the self as a fixed ‘thing,’ opinionated, connected only to itself, and not as something infinitely complex, ever-changing, part of a larger collective whole, that it can become ‘narcissistic.’ If we write about our selves in this one dimensional sense, we flatten our possibilities. We pretend not to know that there are ‘many selves,’ including our shadow selves – the selves we hide from others, the selves we hide from ourselves and the unknown parts of ourselves. There are silent parts of ourselves that we ignore, lock away, bury deep within us. When we write, we must at least hint at the depths, even if they are inaccessible to us in the moment we are writing.

As mature writers, we know that we are always writing from a version of ourselves. None of us is a fixed thing-‘Joanne Fedler bestselling author, mother, wife, etc.’ Whatever words we might use in a Twitter or LinkedIn profile, or a dating website is a form of self promotion. It’s advertising. We know both that the self is unfixed and that it is connected to a greater whole – we know this scientifically from quantum physics, Jung’s universal unconscious, our own experiences of ‘connectedness.’

When we write from a place of genuine self-curiosity and expansion, when we recognize that our individual experience is an expression of a broader experience, we speak into a universal voice. And as writers, that’s what we want.


The Art of Shutting Up and Keeping Secrets

When we start writing, we get excited and want to share our happy news like a newly pregnant mother-to-be. We want to blab to everyone, ‘Hey, I’m writing a book.’ It’s hard to keep a secret as big and beautiful as this. But we must. If we care about what we’re doing,...

When Mothers Kill

Mrs. Large is an elephant and the mother of Laura, Lester and baby who tries – without success - to have a bath with a tray of tea and some scones away from her children. Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy is the bedtime book I always choose to read to my kids when it...

The Biggest Birthday Yet

Good lord, it is two days to my 50th birthday. I am not ready to own such a majestic number, never mind have to blow out that many birthday candles. Also, it means I have to stop ‘turning’ 50 and just be 50. I have literally devoted my entire 49th year to getting to...

6 Mistakes Authors Make When They Start Writing

How to Avoid These Mistakes When You Start Writing I consider the longing to write a noble calling to the voice hidden inside us. Helping others get their stories out is part of what gets me out of bed each day. I know our stories can change the lives of others, which...

8 Reasons to Write

If you've been putting off writing, this one is for you. We spend a lot of time fending off the 'it's-narcissistic' saboteur, the 'I-suck-at-grammar' bogeyman and the 'who-will-give-a-damn?' golem. But seriously folks, as the Buddha said, 'the problem is, you think...

The Art of Reframing

I come from a family of Oh My Godders. In my family, everything was a potential calamity: a sore throat. An impending storm. A parking ticket. Being late. Being early. Now if you grow up in OMG-hood, you learn to panic. Without much provocation. Everything in life is...


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This