The Key to Not Being Called an Arrogant, Self-Absorbed Writer

Writers have a hard life. The pay is crap, critics abound, and the work is lonely. Not to mention, we often get called names like arrogant, self-absorbed, and so on.

Writing About Yourself
Photo credit: Emlyn Stokes (Creative Commons)

To be fair, sometimes the critics are right. We can be a self-centered bunch. So how do we break out of this cycle of thankless, criticized, solitary work?

One simple solution is this: Write more about others than about yourself. When writing each sentence, you’re faced with one of two choices:

  1. You can write about yourself.
  2. You can write about others.

Each word you type, every phrase you craft — you are faced with this decision. Will it be about you or about someone else?

Writing about yourself

When you write about yourself, employ humility. But do it without sounding too self-deprecating. Nobody likes someone who is too hard on herself.

Present the facts, even the ones that don’t make you look so hot. In fact, share those first. Write the ugly parts of your story.

When writing about yourself — this is extremely important — avoid making yourself the main character. It’s hard not to think of ourselves as the protagonists of our own stories, but sometimes we’re not. Sometimes, we’re the supporting character. Sometimes, we’re the narrator.

So many people are talking about themselves; be different, and make someone else the hero. If you do this well, people will be drawn to the stories you tell. Because selflessness is interesting and compelling.

Writing about others

When you write about others, illuminate their strengths and humanity at the same time. Don’t trash their reputation, but make them real.

Give your subjects flesh. Make them human. People will relate to flawed characters. They will find themselves in the story, instead of as just a bystander.

But, and here is the kicker, don’t make them too real. Make your characters slightly larger than life with a fair amount of nuance. Allow them to stand for an ideal, a cause. They need to represent something in a true and honest way.

Don’t just create people; create archetypes.

What’s the point?

In all of these things, your goal is authenticity. A story is nothing if people do not believe it. More than that, they must be challenged by it. They must be moved.

And how you position the characters is everything.

The reality is we want to be heroes, but often the best thing to do is to tell somebody else’s story. This is how we create something bigger than us, something that others can be inspired by.

Do you write more about yourself or others? Share in the comments.