21 January 2013

"from both sides now": shifting perspectives in your writing

"I ♥ My Blog": Shifting Perspectives in Your Writing
I had a former student email me a question about “self-centered” writing. While working on a creative nonfiction piece, she began to feel that it read as extremely self-focused; further, she felt the continued “I, me, my” address style made it boring and "unrelatable." She wanted to know how to fix it.

“Was there anybody else there?” I asked in my response email.

“Yes, lots of people,” came her reply, “but they aren’t really a part of the story.”

I pride myself on being someone who writes well-explained email responses to student questions, but in this case my response was short, a mere two sentences: “So what? Touch their lives to yours.”

the “I” complex

A common problem that arises with both creative nonfiction writers (whether writing articles, memoirs, essays, etc.) and bloggers is what I call The “I” Complex. It’s the idea that “My piece”—or, “My blog”—“has to be about me.” While it’s true that blogging is very personal, and while many nonfiction pieces are based in the selfhood and perspective of the author, it’s a false perception that these pieces have to be all about you. And when the issue becomes, “I feel like I’m talking too much about myself,” it’s a good indication that you’ve stumbled onto something important: When it’s all about you, it’s not appealing to other people.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe that blogs need to have self-revelatory elements to them. It’s wonderful, and useful, to begin with a personal narrative, or share a personal update. In fact, for writers, it’s desirable; readers want to know what you do in your daily life besides writing. But so much of what we do on our blogs is about making connections, relating to those who are reading what we’ve presented … and you can’t connect if the only person involved is “I” or “me” or “my.”

the touch remedy

Shifting perspectives, in any narrative, is a great way to keep yourself from either becoming or feeling too self-centered in your writing. It also helps you avoid losing reader’s attention because they aren’t included in the narrative or work you’re sharing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be visible in your posts at all … but finding that “touch” moment is important to keep readers engaged and interested!

When teaching both editorial and persuasive writing, I had many students who struggled with the idea their writing was weak. Many of them realized it was because, in their writing or their attempt to persuade, they focused so much on their own opinions, experiences, and thoughts that there wasn’t much room for anybody else’s. One student said in a response to another student’s editorial essay: “It was interesting, but it didn’t persuade me of anything because you just told me personal stories. I couldn’t find my way into it.” Through comments like this, we developed a three-tier writing method to create multiplicity of voices within singular pieces. It’s called “The Touch Remedy,” and it looks a little something like this:


"The Touch Remedy" diagram some students and I created

It’s essentially “a sideways Ven diagram with triangles” (as one student put it, deflating all our egos as we realized it wasn’t quite as unique as we’d thought). It’s a method that can be applied to editorials or blog posts quite nicely. Here’s the breakdown:

“I”: Beginning with a personal story grants the reader access to your life and experiences
“We”: Focusing in on “we” statements shows the reader, “I’m as much a part of this as you are, and vice versa”; when you say, “Something we struggle with,” your reader is able to say, “Yes, I [the reader] struggle with this … isn’t it nice that he/she [the author] struggles with the same thing!”
“You”: Now your reader is prepared for “calls to action,” your claims of what he/she should do with the information you’ve provided.

Sometimes “we” becomes “he,” “she,” or “they.” Sometimes “I” is unspoken, as is “you.” But the foundation remains the same: shifting perspectives within a piece grants readers many access points into whatever it is you’re sharing, whether it’s a personal story, an editorial, an advice column, or something else. (This, by the way, is what we called the “basic” way of doing it. It’s also how I try to write most blog posts. The Touch Remedy can be much more fun, however, when applied to, say, a creative nonfiction piece, or even fiction. Click here for a sample passage from an essay that shows how a piece changes with the Touch Remedy.)

Your Turn

Today’s task is simply to consider how you address your audience. Are you “I”-centric? Could you be too “You”-centric? How can you “shift” the perspective within your posts to create a conversational “touch”? (A secondary task is to experiment with a shifting perspectives piece for your blog: begin with a personal narrative, shift into second/third person, and see how the shifts change the tone and engagement level of your post.) Feel free to share your thoughts on this topic in the comments below!

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19 comments:

  1. Khara. this is an insightful concept to talk about -- and one I had probably been reflecting on without thinking about it, reviewing some recent and scheduled posts, while wrestling with a new one I don't like yet. While our blog has an overall mission, readers seem to like some variation in voice, piece to piece. If I've run lists or neutral how-to resources, it surprises me how strong the feedback is when I then post a personal experience. The piece I'm finishing now needs to be anchored in personal experience but that takes up so many words when I just want to get on to supporting the reader's experience (it's more of a how-to). In this case, what I'll do is give my personal example, but then suggest other options which might fit the reader's experience. Throughout the piece, I'll share the "how to" as advice reader and I will both follow. I'll think of your advice today as I revise!

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  2. Interesting. I almost consistently start with an anecdote when I write a piece for a magazine and rarely is it a personal one. But the blog, my blog, I write for me. I get tremendous pleasure from reading it, cataloging my moments and days with it and thru it, so mostly it remains about me, about my life, my days. It also is for my spread apart family to catch up with me. I guess it all has to be taken from the perspective of what one wants to achieve and who one is writing for. I tend to ignore blog stats and only focus on the content and the people who stop by, (making sure I answer as many as I can and also visit in turn), and take care like that, which is what I suspect brings visitors to my addy. I guess the blog isn’t a subject specific one. I can see if I was writing about art, or photography, or how to build a tree fort, I would have less me and more they demonstrating tree forts and reviewing the latest tree fort building practices, but as it is the blog only exists so I might have an on-line creative outlet, to push myself beyond what I think I can achieve and for family to be part of my life from different countries. If that changes then possibly the writing style of the blog will change with it.

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  3. Thank you, Elissa and Veronica. You both raise good points that point toward something not stated in the above post: This is by no means advice that applies to every post, or even every blog! Sometimes the shift, as you indicated, Elissa, will shift post-to-post rather than within the post itself. Veronica, you raise the important point that this definitely doesn't apply to every blog; it is, very much so, dependent on what you're trying to do with your writing or blog! Thank you both for your helpful insights!

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  4. Thank you for this wonderful article, simply stated and relative to the non-fiction writing experience. Part of my struggle in writing my non-fiction book is feeling too detached from my audience and using the touch method is the perfect solution. I love serendipitous events, like finding just the right information when I need it most! Thanks again.

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    1. I'm so glad you found this, Carole, and found it helpful! Best wishes to you as you work on your manuscript!

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  5. Food for thought! Thanks for pointing this out. I will have to think about this. We can change our thought patterns and approach to blogging if we try new things. You make some very good points.

    See what I did there? I, We, You. :)

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    1. That brought a big smile to my face, Cindy!

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  6. I love the diagram (I'm very visual). I agree with Veronica- it probably depends on the purpose of your blog. But if you are trying to reach and grow and audience, (in the name of platform), I think your advice is great. Am copying the diagram down and will post it by my computer as I generate this week's blog posts. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks, Julia! It was a fun class exercise, and such a great extended experience to see how it can apply to different fields, styles, and genres of writing.

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  7. Thanks for that, it's a great reminder as I reconfigure my blogs into 1 that I want them to be a mixture of my own opinions, but also a conversation about the world around me. Definitely going to look at this as I work through my schedule.

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    1. Thanks, Heather; I love how you put that, about it being a conversation--that's such a great way of looking at what many of us do with our sites. Whether it's a conversation about the world, or a conversation with the world.

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  8. This is definitely an important topic, Khara. I often think about my audience when it comes to content...like if I have a topic that is nonfiction and is about me but I don't necessarily want my readers to know it's me I switch point of view to "she." I'm not as likely to use "you," because I don't want to assume things about my readers...depending on the topic...I might rather use, "one." I just ran into the situation today where I had a topic, a personal experience, that I would have rather not have used, "I," but I had, "she-her and he..." like five other characters in my poem so if I used "she," for the main character as well it probably would have been really confusing.

    Any way this is a valuable post and great conversation, Khara! Thank you and my apologies for not being very present for the I ♥ My Blog challenge. I had a crazy week and have been sick, too. Life!! Ha ha! Hope you are well!

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Hannah (and no worries; this is a challenge you could really do any time, and definitely that you can take your time with). I worked with a writer who would do the same thing (change "I" to "she"); it does very interesting things both for the reader and the writer!

      Hope you're feeling better soon!

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  9. Great advice Khara! Thanks for guiding us through the morass of blog :)

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    1. Thank you, Melanie, and it's my pleasure!

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  10. I like blogs that are personal and about the writer's life. I was a storyteller some years back and still go a lot to hear stories. True personal stories are my favorite...MothUp style. I like memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies. I never tire of personal stories. I used poetry as a healing tool and so a lot of my poetry is about me.
    I started my blog during Robert's April Platform Challenge and the poetry I've already written is basically all I have time to post. I thought I could learn to blog with poetry and later when I have more time, I can do more with a blog. I have sooo much to learn about blogging. I appreciate your willingness to share ideas and knowledge with us, Khara.

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Sabra. It sounds like you're well on your way into the jungle of blogging; it's definitely a journey, one based largely in discovery and slowly determining what does and does not work for each writer ... I wish you well as you continue that journey with your blog, and hope this one helps along that path!

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  11. Well Khara, this is another post that is now up on my bulletin board (the triangles). Thanks for another resource for our blogs.

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Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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