As a writer and author or four memoirs, I draw most of my writing material directly from personal experience. For years, I’ve been talking about writing fiction as a way to get away from writing about myself, only to fall back into ‘old’ ways. The thing is, I’m most comfortable when writing about things profoundly personal. But does this mean I’m a self-indulgent narcissist?
It’s a question I have grappled with for most of the twenty years I’ve been writing professionally, along with other questions. Why can’t I be like ‘normal’ writers and write about something other than myself? Why does the story always have to revolve around something I’ve experienced? Why do I feel the need to put my deepest, darkest secrets on show for everyone to read?
Admittedly, writing about myself could appear to be self-indulgent and narcissistic. And while I certainly have elements of these qualities because, hey, I’m human, this doesn’t feel true. There has to be another explanation.
Thankfully, there is.
Like most people, I was educated in the standard, scientific, Darwinian-based system in which the ‘I’ is irrelevant and should never be referred to. We were taught to remain detached. Write in third person. Back up any claims with reams of studies and evidence and data. Your intuition serves no purpose. Your opinion does not matter. You are nothing but a silent disseminator of information and nothing more.
Naturally, I didn’t thrive in science-based subjects. Instead I found joy writing about topics that were close to my heart. Although it took a while to give myself permission to write in first person.
Writing from personal experience helped me to understand and make sense of the world. Sharing such stories became my way of reaching out and connecting with others who felt the same way. Yet the more I wrote, the more I battled with this notion that somehow writing about myself was simply wrong.
And then I heard spiritual teacher Matt Kahn address this very topic in one of this YouTube videos. He was addressing this notion that to be on a spiritual path is somehow narcissistic. He said something along the lines of, ‘If you’re asking yourself the question ‘Am I a narcissist?’ then you’re not one. A narcissist would never ask themselves that question.’ I laughed when I heard this and felt a wave of relief.
The truth is to write about yourself and to tell yourself is anything but narcissistic. In fact, the ‘narcissism’ argument is likely to be the ego’s crafty way of getting out of doing it. And I get why. To make yourself vulnerable and write about something personal, and then to share it publicly can be and often is utterly terrifying.
A narcissist is not someone who is real and honest and vulnerable.
A narcissist lacks self-awareness entirely. They’re not thinking about who they are and what they’ve learned from their experiences. They are not interested in sharing their deepest, darkest secrets in the hope of connecting with others. Instead, they are concerned only with their needs and how to get others to meet them as quickly and easily as possible.
To write about yourself in a real and honest and vulnerable way and then share it with others is anything but narcissistic. It’s an act of generosity.
So, if you have a story to write and you are fighting against the idea of writing it because you believe it to be self-indulgent and narcissistic to write about yourself then two things are likely to be true:
1) You were likely brought up in and influenced by the scientific-based education system that encouraged writing in third person.
2) You are terrified of telling your story and your ego is doing an excellent job of trying to protect you by convincing you not to do it.
The good news is with this awareness now you can decide whether or not you want to push on and tell your story anyway. Personally, I recommend that you do.
Hedley’s upcoming book, Meet Me in Milan, is a personal story about a trip to Italy which results in a chance meeting with a handsome Italian and a summer romance involving a series of romantic dates, each taking place in a different Italian city. The book is being released August 2019. To get on the launch list click here.