Even when writing about yourself, there’s room for other voices in your prose.
Blogging, by definition, requires an individual voice and an individual perspective from which to share your take on the world. It’s that specificity that makes personal reactions to current events — like, say, the passing of David Bowie — that much more interesting than a dry news account, however well sourced.
As writers, we embrace this liberty to be ourselves, (rhetorical) warts and wrinkles included. But we also run the risk of turning a personal perspective into a myopic one. The difference often lies not so much in what we write, but in how we write it. If you ever worry about appearing narcissistic and self-involved on your blog, don’t change the topics you write about — change the mechanics of discussing them. Here are a few ideas.
Control the beginning of your sentences
You might be talking about your charity work, expressing your admiration of another writer, or remembering how small and insignificant you felt upon visiting the Great Wall of China. It doesn’t matter: if every single sentence you write (or even every paragraph) begins with an “I,” your readers will likely conclude that it’s all about you, and grammar will be on their side.
One notable exception is when you use a repeated “I” for rhetorical effect — no editor would ever touch “I came; I saw; I conquered,” and not just because it was Julius Caesar who came up with it.
It’s inevitable, of course, that some sentences would begin with a first-person pronoun. Which is why you should always try to save these for when you really need them. You’ll gain not just a less self-centered narrative, but also a less monotonous one: few things lull readers into boredom more efficiently than a long series of “I did this, then this, and I think that about this, and I believe this about that.”
Experiment with being a Jimmy
If you’re of a certain age — or of a rudimentary level of appreciation for 90s culture — you will have crossed paths with episode 105 of Seinfeld, a.k.a. “The Jimmy.” The character from the title is notable for one thing: he keeps talking about himself in the third person (“Jimmy’s got a compound fracture! Jimmy’s going into shock!”). He’s hilarious, but also the most annoying person in an episode full of awful misanthropes.
So it might come as a surprise if I encourage you to experiment with writing about yourself… in the third person (there’s a term for it: illeism). You don’t have to use your name all the time — or at all — like poor Jimmy; a pronoun works just fine. The idea is to treat yourself like an omniscient narrator would treat a fictional character: the distancing effect is not only intriguing for the reader (who may or may not realize at first who it is you’re writing about), it also allows you to say a lot more about yourself without sounding too self-absorbed.
Quote other people
In a piece that focuses on your own take on things — which describes roughly 87.2 percent of blog posts — you can earn a pocketful of first-person credits by borrowing the voices of others and injecting them into your prose. It’s not just the variety that will make your writing more appealing; it’s also the inherent generosity of making room for someone else, of stepping out of the spotlight, however momentarily.
One easy — and satisfying — way of making your post more polyphonic is by introducing snippets of dialog. Blogger Emily E. Hogstad did just that in a moving post about music and her mother’s death. It’s a very personal piece clearly anchored in Emily’s experience of her mother’s illness and passing, but it never feels hermetic, as it’s full of other speaking, feeling characters:
“Take this one,” I said, sitting on the bed next to her and pointing to her open palm where I had set the pill.
“That one,” I said, and I pointed again.
“But there’s two,” she said, and the implication of what she’d just said made me nauseous.
“Something’s wrong,” my aunt finally said, and although I was having a hard time admitting it, she was right.
These moments can take many other shapes: you might quote a line or a paragraph from a post by another blogger, or from an article or book you recently read. Consider embedding a video that contains a song, a speech, or a movie scene that relates to the topic at hand. Or mention — and link to — a comment someone left you on another post. Done well, you won’t be receding out of view at all; your personality and perspective will simply manifest themselves obliquely, through your choices and your tastes.
Open-letter all the things
Actually, don’t. A well-executed open letter can be fun and engaging, but it’s also become a bit of an overused trope. The reason for the form’s popularity, however, has nothing to do with its letter-ness (how many bloggers who penned one had recently sent an actual letter?) and everything to do with its direct, second-person appeal. And nothing stops you from using the second person in any post, regardless of its genre or format.
Mix in a paragraph written in the second person between a couple of first-person ones, and you’ll get a change of rhythm and a refreshing dose of urgency and immediacy in your writing. Lily Zacharias deployed this technique in a recent post criticizing the use of the adjective “humbled” on social media — and her already-sharp post really came together when she turned heavily to the second person in the final half.
No matter who the subject of those sentences happens to be — the President? Your mom? Yorick’s skull? — your readers always put themselves, however subtly (or even subconsciously), in the position of the person you’re addressing. Which means their ears will likely be more attentive than if you’d just go on with “me me me.”
Do you ever get frustrated writing in the first person — or reading prose written that way? Do you worry about focusing too much about yourself in your blogs? Share your thoughts in the comments (yes, the first person is more than appropriate here!).