The power of ‘I’

Image: Matthew Wiebe

I enjoy writing from the ‘I’ perspective. Like this, right now. There’s a lot of power here. When I write from this place, I can say anything. Because it’s me I’m talking about. I am my subject.

But lately, I’ve been playing with using ‘we’ a lot. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but I noticed quite the shift with the writing when I did this.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with using ‘we’. A lot of my favorite writers write from that perspective often and I’ll probably continue to use it, when necessary. It’s nice because it unites us. It’s comfy. It claims you and I are in agreement over this idea. I can stay more removed from the topic because I can only go so deep when dragging you down the rabbit hole with me.

But it’s true…

In writing, there’s not quite as much power in ‘we’ as there is in ‘I’.

But here’s the kicker…

Even though it’s powerful, using ‘I’ is uncomfortable for both reader and writer.

When I come from ‘I’, I’m taking that soft candle light off of both of us and shining a spotlight directly on myself. All of a sudden, there I am, naked in front of you, sharing my truth. I put myself as the center of the piece and am out there bearing it all for the world to see.

When I write using ‘I’, many people tend to see it as a call for help and get really uncomfortable about it. In their responses, some rush in to help/suggest/advise. As nice as this is, looking deeper at the motivation for this reaction, I see the fact that it’s really damn hard for people to just be present with someone who’s sharing their problems/issues/etc. It makes it uncomfortable.

I totally get it. I do this as well. If you come to my party and everyone’s having a good time, but you’re in the corner sulking because your boyfriend just broke up with you, I’m going to try to make you feel better (if no one else beats me to it). Partly out of the goodness of my heart, but more deeply because you’re throwing off the vibe. Just like if someone spilled their beer on the kitchen floor, I’m going to rush over and try to clean it up. It’s messy. And our feet keep sticking to it when we walk by.

In taking this idea further, what’s also interesting is the way my ego takes that advice… It’s very nice of people to offer their advice. But my ego sees it as an attack. It can’t stand it when people offer me help. Because that implies there’s something wrong with me. And that can’t be true… Right?

The bottom line is this: speaking from the perspective of ‘I’ adds another level of complexity and power to the writing. But it’s also far more uncomfortable.

What I’ve learned throughout my years with this craft is that uncomfortable is good. Uncomfortable is what adds friction and gets people moving.

A little contrast is good. A little discomfort is what gets people moving. Occasionally turning up the heat is healthy.

At least that’s what ‘I’ think…

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