Lately I've been working on a series of short creative essays that I’m hoping to complete before I start my MA in September. I haven’t written much like this before: blending life-writing with more detached essayistic prose, all the while trying to find the freedom for speculative detours. It’s a nice challenge, but I suspect that by the time it's finished it will have transformed into something else entirely. But that's fine.
The trouble I’m having is in finding the right words - or perhaps, the right ways - to write about myself.
I’m reading Yrsa Daley-Ward's The Terrible, after seeing her quoted somewhere saying: When you talk about yourself, watch your language. It's a sentiment I'm being pulled back to a lot lately. Watch your language, I think. Afford yourself the same kindness or consideration you hope you're giving other people. Especially when you're writing, time stamping your thoughts, pressing them into paper, reading them over and over again. Watch your language.
I don’t know if I’m watching my language too carefully, or not carefully enough. I’m trying to be gentle, to not cannibalise myself for the sake of my work, but it’s difficult. I have a lot to learn.
Maybe the problem is that sometimes we're not really trying to write about ourselves at all. Maybe we just use ourselves as a route through which to write the things we actually want to write about. It's a safety net, when you're young and the only thing you can confidently claim to understand more than anybody is else is you. It's so tempting to lead with 'I' - to have the defence of opinion or personal experience in your back pocket, ready for any occasion. Steer away from generalities. No conclusive statements.
'Write what you know' is a horribly restrictive piece of writing advice, and one that I've never found much use in. You have to know what you know in the first place, for it to work. I don't know all that I know - at least, I hope that's the case - and a lot of the time that makes me think I don't know anything at all. If I could only write what I thought I knew, perhaps I would never write a single thing. Certainly not anything of use to anyone else, least of all myself.
Instead, I'm trying to write less of what I know, and more of what I want to know. To me, this has always been the most exciting part of putting one word after another. The not knowing, and the figuring it out.