Why Writing about Your Experience Is Not Narcissistic
As writers, we sometimes shirk away from writing about our own particularities because we don’t want to be ‘narcissistic,’ or ‘self-involved.’ It’s a good point. Our internal musings about our childhood, illness, divorce or particular form of heartache may bore and annoy readers unless we learn how to shape our writing for connection with a reader.
How do we do this?
We connect with readers by what I call, the ‘exquisitely personal universal statement.’
What is it?
It’s a deeply personal moment perfectly captured, offered to the reader with a hard-won sense of the meaning we have made of it. The more personal and particular the insight, paradoxically, the more deeply readers connect with it. Humans are suggestible – story evokes emotion in us, which hooks into our own cache of (very different) memories.
When an insight is richly conceived and the work of deep internal labour, as we read it, there’s a kind of recognition, as something deep in our own psyches arches towards it with a ‘yes.’ It’s as if a writer who has gone in deep and stayed down there for long, has returned with an insight we, as readers can hold as our own. It lights up our own dark places.
The 7 Day Writing Challenge
WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit
As writers, it’s our job to go as deep as we can. We can only ever take our readers as far as we have gone. The harder we work to get to our own emotional truth, the more that shows up in our writing. Our writing cannot hide our experience – it reveals who we are. Which is why it’s easy to spot cliché and trite platitudes. They’re recycled thoughts, regurgitated ideas. They are limp and loose because they are borrowed. They are not bespoke. They’re one-size-fits-all. Our words should never have that quality. When we write, it is our chance to offer something that is truly our own.
As readers, when we stumble across an exquisitely personal universal statement, we get a gush of oxygen. Poetry is full of them. Poets are in the business of devising these sorts of offerings. For the reader, it’s like sipping nectar and we get a boost in our own sense of what is possible when we come across them – they help us sharpen our own insights and look afresh at our own truths.
This connection is almost energetic, auric. It’s as if the truth in me responds to the truth in you. As writers we should strive to find moments like this – not only because it creates a connection to our readers, but because our work is worthy of such effort:
I Want to Write Something so Simply by Mary Oliver
I want to write something
Or about pain
As you are reading
You feel it
And as you read
You keep feeling it
And though it be my story
It will be common,
Though it be singular
It will be known to you
So that by the end
You will think –
No, you will realise –
That it was all the while
Yourself arranging the words,
That it was all the time
Words that you yourself ,
Out of your own heart
Had been saying.
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?