Friday, August 15, 2014

If you're a novelist, you have to be a little self-centered for at least a brief time.

We spend so much time being other things for other people--at our jobs, our volunteer work, with our families. But sometimes we forget that, as writers, our "other" job (our real job) is to present to the world a work of fiction that is somehow relevant, that deals with a truth that doesn't get dealt with on the surface and out in the open in everyday lifeor doesn't get the treatment it should there.

To do that, to really dig around in the grime of the truth, you (the writer) need to deeply question your own. Most people don't have time or the energy for such things. Life is easier without them. But, 
somehow, those same people read—and readers crave truth. They sense
when a writer is being dishonest. In a way, it's a little like the writer is doing the work of finding a truth for the reader. A short-cut of sorts.

In this way, it is the writer's job to do the grunt work of truth finding. It is the writer's job to take some time to be self-obsessed... if only for an hour a day, before everyone else gets up.

What do you think? Do you agree? Or am I trying to justify my own self-obsessed little world and you have another approach to seeking truth? Or is truth unnecessary?


The funny thing is that I posted this exact thing on a LinkedIn group—well, two of them. On one of them, I got a response that I was being too hard on myself.

Sometimes I hate posting to groups. There are almost always people who want to make you feel better, who are concerned that there is something wrong and that you are seeking advice for how to deal with your aching soul. Yes, I ask questions and I title it in such a way that I hope readers will want to read, even if they think they will be offended. But I do those things to get them to read and open up a conversation. I want us to be able to talk.

In this case, I want us all to know that what the outside world might see as "self-centered" is not a bad thing for a writer. It's necessary. I specifically don't want writers to beat themselves up about labels others put on us. 

So the dude who thought I was being hard on myself, opened up the specific conversation that I wanted to start: 

Being self-centered has a purpose. It allows us to accept our role without feeling like taking the time to dig around those places that others don't want to go (at least not on their own) is a negative thing. Too often I hear opposition to that—even from writers, thinking they need to be more positive. You know, we can get suckered, sometimes, into family and friends who would prefer their close and personal world to be whitewashed. They can deal with it from afar by reading books written by someone they don't know who has a similar story. That story can act as a proxy for theirs and they can deal with it passively.

I say go all in and keep asking questions until you get something you didn't ever suspect was there. 

Then ask more.


  1. An interesting topic to write about. Hmmmm . . . My mind is doing cartwheels here. First, I want to make sure we're on the same page, that we're talking about the truth in a situation (as opposed to absolute truth in a spiritual sense). The problem is, everyone has their own version of the truth in a situation. Two spouses can have a fight; if both write about it, the two stories will likely differ quite a lot. The truth as he sees it will vary from the truth as she sees it, so what is truth if it can be distorted? But I know what you're saying--well, I think I do. The truth, even if it is our own version of it, isn't always something others will see in a positive light. Many times we sugarcoat it or avoid writing about it altogether for the sake of the possible response of others. So, if we ignore what others might think, is this being self-centered? Or is it just being honest as a writer? I value honesty A LOT. And yet, I know there are times when I cannot be honest. I cannot walk up to an obese person and tell him he is fat. In the same way I have to have a sense of when I can write about something and when I cannot. Writing is no different from talking, only you see the words instead of hear them. Words are powerful. They can hurt, destroy, inspire, and affect people in so many ways. They can change lives, in a good way or bad. So I suppose I have to consider before I write why I'm writing about a certain situation. Is it to vent my feelings about it? Is it to encourage or inspire someone? Is it going to hurt someone? Am I really gaining something from this? The answer to such question should help me decide if I'm being self-centered or just honest, and if it is worth it to proceed. Also, I'm like you. I like to have a real honest conversation about such things.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Deborah. To answer your question: No, I am not talking about absolute truth. I am not even talking about facts of any kind. I am talking about emotional truth.

      I do think that writing is different from talking because we more often have the opportunity to dig deeper into an idea, a tangent, the emotional causes and effects... whatever we need to burrow into. In fact, we can often be more honest in writing--when we are writing fiction.

      personally, I don't think it is a self-centered endeavor, though it may be called that by others. It may be understood, but really, it is necessary.

  2. Loved the post! And here I was wondering why I was sometimes so self-centered, and you gave me a clear point, it´s the writer within me. I feel that writers are like this in someway, even if they don´t want to acknowledge it. We need time/effort to sumerge ourselves into our worlds and explore things that others may not even consider it.

    1. Yeah... Our attention gets divided sometimes. We kind of have to forget those distraction a remind ourselves that it's not really self-centeredness (even if it feels that way because we think we are neglecting other parts of our lives), It's just what we need to do.