2 min read

This Isn't About "You" It's About You

Something that's been coming up a lot lately about my writing is how confident it is. So, I've been thinking a lot about what makes writing confident and how writers can be authoritative on the page – You are the expert on your experiences.

And I've also been thinking about the flip-side, what robs our writing authority? What makes it less confident?

In my own writing, I know 9 times out of 10 when "you" starts popping up, it's a signal that I need to revise a section. I need to tighten it up. I need to be bold about what I have to say.

Think about it this way: It's okay to break the fourth wall, but only if you establish upfront that you'll be doing it. Imagine, watching a movie and getting to the last 15-minutes and suddenly the hero of the movie turns away from their world and begins addressing you in yours. It's jarring. It doesn't work.

So, why do we try to get away with it in our writing? It's because we've been trained that our writing needs a pay-off and that it'd better be building up to something or it's worthless to the reader. In a fit of panic, as we near the end of the essay, we turn to the reader and explain to them what they should be drawing from our experience.

The writing – and by "the writing" I mean my writing – gets loose. It's no longer anchored in the world you've created and becomes increasingly abstract as we grapple for how to make this translation for the reader.

It's not necessary. If we've trusted the reader to follow us, relate to us, and understand us for the first 90% of this essay, why is it we lose faith in them during the last 10%? Suddenly, instead of us standing strong in our Truth, relaying our experience with confidence, we give up all our authority by wheedling with the reader to "get us."

This turn toward the reader, the use of "you," doesn't pull the reader into the work, it actually does the opposite, by becoming so in their face, it crowds them out and doesn't leave any room for the reader to sort through their own thoughts and ideas.

You can't control what the reader makes of what you have to say because you don't have the full equation. You only have your part. You have no idea what thoughts, feelings, and experiences the reader is bringing with them. All you can do is say what you need to say and relay your experiences as crisply as possible and hope you've tapped into The Universal. That's it. Anything else makes the writing desperate. (And yes, there's exceptions to every rule. You can do whatever you want if you have the skill to pull it off.)

So, take a look at whatever you're working on. And the places in your memoir or personal essay that you make a turn toward "you" deep into the essay, ask yourself why that is. Revise it and replace each "you" with "I" and see what happens. Does it make your writing more confident? Do you feel uncomfortable about what you're saying when you're not hiding behind the shield of a directive? Good. Sit with it. Write from that place of discomfort.

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