TITLE: Submerging the "I"
DATE: 1/15/2005 02:10:00 PM
Chuck Palahniuk, most famous for Fight Club and one of my all-time favorite authors, started conducting an online writers' workshop about a year ago on his official website, which has also long been one of my favorite Internet stomping grounds. At least until they started requiring a "Premium Membership" to access it. Which is understandable, given that their bandwidth costs swelled to ridiculous proportions once people in the site so aptly named "The Cult" got wind that they were being Visited Upon by The Man Himself, and not just Visited, but Taught...
Before falling off the workshop wagon, though, one of several "Instructional Essays" made a serious mark on my psyche. For reasons too complicated and, frankly, cult-ish to go into here, only two Instructional Essays remain online at a time (and none, if you're not a Premium Member), so my memory must be trusted in this case to give you the gist of the essay (always dangerous).
Essentially, Chuck points out, (and yes, as members of his web-based sect of devotees, we can call him "Chuck"), using the first person indicative singular pronoun is not advisable when writing, particularly fiction, and particularly at the beginning of a story. According to Chuck, using the word early in a story--and especially, heaven forbid, as the first word--creates an immediate division between reader and speaker in the piece, and an immediate, if subconscious, impression on the reader that the speaker is highly self-involved.
Not using the word may lead to a more imaginative use of language, in other words, and will--at least hopefully--lead the writer toward involving the reader more fully in the story from the beginning.
All of this is well and good, until you get to the way my mind works.
Frankly, it still seems that my chief goal in life is to remain a straight-A student, even though there are no longer any teachers around with any red pens (and you'd be surprised at how much they are missed in my universe) ready to give me instruction, advice, validation. And so perfectionism has reared its hideous visage in my life more than ever before.
Since reading that essay, especially with my blogs but in other writing, as well, this concept has become an obsession with me.
Do you know how hard it is to write a personal blog without using that word? Even without starting an entry with it, let alone using it at all?
But one of Chuck's novels (and all his protagonists are first-person speakers) is called Diary. It can be done.
Still, Chuck probably never intended for this concept (or any of them) to make his pupils so miserable, as it has in my case. Every time my pinky hits the "shift" button and my index finger heads for the key between "U" and "O", a reflexive, almost knee-jerk cringe shudders up my spine. No! Wrong!!
And he never said never to use the word. Just not to begin paragraph after paragraph with it, to avoid the numerous cliches that rely on it. He's just trying to get us to think outside our normal patterns, to approach writing from a different angle, to entice us toward certain tools. Not remove an entire pronoun from our vocabulary.
But it bugs me. It plauges me. It's a blog, for heaven's sake, it can be summed up in that one word. Perhaps that's why there aren't too many blogs at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List or bloggers receiving Nobel Prizes in Literature, though, hmm?
And as this and my other blog have become more popular, this question has really been leading to another, possibly bigger one, which is: how much of myself should be shared with my readers (to use the phrase "my readers" brings on another cringe, just so you know)? How self-absorbed should this space be? Should my subjects be selected to be less personal, more universal? Should dozens of comments be the goal, or honesty?
It may seem like a no-brainer, but it has actually been something of a struggle.
Although it could perhaps be counted as one, small, pathetic success--if you're me, anyway--that the word in question appears nowhere in this entire post except in the title.
Can we let this go now?