The million dollar personal writing question.

I got a question out loud the other day that I sometimes find myself asking internally:

"Do you ever feel like writing about yourself is a little... egotistical/self-absorbed/[insert your own adjective here]?"

This person wasn't asking with a tone of animosity; in fact, this is a person in a class that I teach, a person who enjoys writing and is very good at it. But I could completely understand the question that had bubbled up and out, because I have asked it of myself before. And I'm glad that it was asked, because it gave me a chance to share what I've come to believe is the truth:

No, I don't think it's egotistical or self-absorbed to write about yourself, whether it's a public memoir or a private journal entry. In fact, I think it's one of the best things we can do for ourselves and for those around us. We all need an outlet, messy or structured, to share our life experiences, to make sense of them ourselves, to recall, to move forward. Writing about ourselves and our lives gives us a way to connect with our inner consciences in a private but meaningful way, a way that can help us work through whatever we're going through, good or bad. Ever written a frustrated letter to someone and not sent it? It's the best. And you might find that it actually helps you speak to the person in a calm but self-assured way. (If you're writing publicly for revenge, not so much.)

Too often I think we feel like society tells us to make light of our lives, our struggles, our triumphs - "Eh, whatever, no big deal." Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we're encouraged to humblebrag the living daylights out of it. We don't want to make a big deal out of ourselves, or we go over the top. Yes, it's true, sometimes I think we're too self-reflective on the Internet, when we could be digging even deeper on paper to a more appreciative audience of one (ourselves!). But I also think that sharing authentic experiences can help others more than we realize.

Writing publicly about our own lives can be a symbiotic experience - it helps us connect to the souls and experiences of others, and vice versa. Arguably my favorite moments of teaching writing and leading others in sharing their work are the nods of affirmation that occur when someone is reading their writing about a real life experience. (And I'm typically talking about sharing a piece that was written in only ten minutes - it's far from perfect!) 99.9% of the time, something the writer says will spark something in the person across from them - be it time, place, experience, or emotion. In fact, the general parameters of the piece may be quite different from what someone else has lived through, yet a listener can still pull out a universal thread. And if there's absolutely nothing you can relate to - not often likely! - you have still received the gift of hearing someone else's story, which can take us a long way.

Egos be damned - I'll always be on the side of writing that helps us truly understand ourselves, and storytelling that helps us bond with others. In my humble opinion, these practices help make us better humans.