“To thine own self be true”
Whether Shakespeare’s Polonius was a motivational speaker in disguise or not it’s moot. Perhaps his famous words were a reflection on honesty and commitment. Or perhaps the “true” in this context equalled “benefit”, a meaning more suitable to the Elizabethan times for which this character was created. Either way, what is important is that the words uttered by Laertes’ father have stood the test of time.
And helped countless writers since then.
Writing: building our character one brick at a time
Part of the process of writing is drawing a picture of ourselves in the reader’s mind. We do this by sprinkling tidbits of our lives strategically. A little bit of our social class here, a reference to our age there, a passing comment on our ethnicity. Along the way we also weave quirks and foibles into our story. These are the pieces of the puzzle readers use in order to conjure up an image of us in their heads.
There comes a point, however, when a feeling of despair overwhelms us. What if, after everything we’ve written, our article or essay is not good enough?
Welcome to the world of self-deprecation.
Amour propre: the driving engine behind honest and flawed writing
One thought about self-deprecation. I have lived in the UK for more than twenty-three years. During this time I have come to realise that when it comes to self-deprecation, no one does it better than the Brits. Self-deprecation is the national sport here. In fact, if it were an Olympic sport, Britain would probably win the gold medal (or maybe not. Maybe they would lose in the final to Germany on penalties. And moan about it after. Moaning is the second most popular sport in this country).
Hatred of one’s writing is one of the more common obstacles we writers face. Most of us prefer to overlook our virtues, highlighting our imperfections instead. We don’t want to sound too vain, too full of ourselves. Consequently our writing suffers. If we are constantly doubting ourselves, when do we allow our writing voice to break free and tell the world what we are about?
It is surprisingly easier to underrate ourselves than to give ourselves the credit we deserve. Part of that is to do with the nature of writing. A painter or sculptor goes through a learning process whereby they acquire the skills needed to perform their craft. That’s what sets them apart. A writer’s main skill is one many people already possess: that is, writing. Putting letters together to make up words. Stringing words together to form sentences. Anyone can do it, right?
Wrong. This is where our self-love should come in and slap us hard on the face in order to snap us out of it. Dig deep. Invite your most far-fetched and ridiculous notions to come to the surface to show your true self. Remember, “To thine own self be true”. And to your readers.
In my opinion the way to deal with this challenge is by unlocking a part of yourself you don’t even know exists. If you feel strong about the wellness industry or all those content creation posts, for instance, make your position explicit. Writing is a way of creating a relationship with the reader. One you would normally have second thoughts about in real life. If as a person you are private, as a writer ensure you make spilling the beans the business plan of your writing career.
Here’s to a better and more honest “I”
A fully developed “I” doesn’t magic itself out of thin air. It needs constant attention. Self-effacement blocks that effort. Looking over our shoulder because we imagine we’re being observed and judged hinders our progress. Enjoying those unique traits that make us who we are, moves us forward and hooks readers in. You never know, you might even turn out to be as good a motivational speaker as Polonius.
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