Writing About Yourself Is A Horrible Thing That Should Be Done
Writing about myself is the worst. At least, it used to be.
I'm a journalist, trained to do the exact opposite of self-reflection. I'm supposed to retract myself from any moment reported for publication, aim for objectivity. But too often, objectivity covers up bad writing and lazy reporting; it's an excuse used by print and TV newsfolk to give up on finding the truth of the story. Conversely, when I first began writing newspaper columns that touched on my personal life, horrible writing covered far too many column inches.
In its short existence, this blog has served as a sketchbook of sorts for practicing the craft of writing about myself. Again, too often, and as recent as the past year, this site has captured paragraphs I've since raked into the compost pile. For that, I'm sorry. I'm embarrassed enough to not bother linking them here.
Luckily for all of us, I've been challenged lately to get better at writing ME.
When I emailed an editor friend asking what types of stories she needed for her site, all her ideas used my life to drive the narrative. They were based upon questions she had about how I balanced parenting and the service industry, or how had bartending made me a stronger reporter. It made my life feel interesting. Maybe even worth writing about.
The result of that email interchange is this story: Striking a Balance as a Parent and a Bartender: One Dad's Story. I'm proud of how it turned out, and the experience has opened new paths for furthering this writing thing that I've taken on as my craft.
Improving at this whole reflective essay business will prove far more difficult than getting clothes on a naked toddler late for school. I've never journaled, although I always kept notebooks in which I scribbled serious poems. Some even ended up as songs.
Lately I've been keeping notebooks, or using Evernote or Google Keep, to track roving thoughts as they worm through the brain. In most instances, they're related to my High Low Tide project. But will I be able to save a few pages for meditation?
In the greater context of my work as a journalist, and my emerging role as a writer of narrative longform nonfiction, writing about myself includes another angle: when reporting, should I become part of the story? It's easy to step into the arc of events, but should I? Mostly, I say, be there, but keep quiet. Use your eyes, let the reader know what you see and how you see things, but keep the ego out of it. Easier said than done.
Do you have any favorite personal essayists? I have a Joan Didion and a James Baldwin book on my desk waiting for my perusal. And I enjoy Ta-Nehisi Coates' work so much. Are there any magazine columns of personal essays that you love? Let me know in the comments.