On Writing & Narcissism

I really like to write. And I can’t help but wonder what that fact really says about me.

It could just mean I have an overactive brain that’s learned how to cope with life’s nuances, twists, and turns by spilling them onto a page, or it could mean that I feel real importance in the art of sharing a story. After all, writing a story can mean throwing a lifeline to someone else, someone looking for a means to relate, searching for a message of “you’re not alone” in the crushing silence of everyday life. Or writing can mean throwing an anchor down to ground yourself, to give your thoughts a concrete patch upon which to take root, casting a validity upon your experience and allowing it to expand. collage scream

I remember sitting through the training course new journalists had to take before gaining admittance to be a part of our college newspaper staff. Prior to this, I had written a weekly column for my local newspaper, and was the editor-in-chief of my high school paper. Our instructor was discussing journalistic ethics.

“If you’re here for yourself,” he said, “you’re in the wrong place.”

In order to be successful, he contended, journalism must be done for bigger reasons — to reveal truth, to uncover misdeed, to affect change, to act in society’s favor. I had always gotten a rush from seeing my name in print, and upon hearing the instructor’s words, I found myself wondering, Am I really here for myself? Do I write because I want to feel important and personally valid, or do I write for a larger purpose?

I grew up gobbling up the words of others, books and magazines and poetry, crafting a worldview from words on a page. Being exposed to other people’s stories means I’ve lived a million lives other than the singular life surrounding my own existence. Writing, then, allows you to pay it forward — to contribute your own observations and experiences to others, in the hope that they’ll take that knowledge and do something with it, or simply use it as a way to feel less alone.

But the question of whether or not wanting to write makes me narcissistic still nags me from time to time, and never moreso than with the rise of confessional writing sites brought about by the Internet Age. Blogs and websites encourage people to pour their life experiences onto the screen, delving into personal details about their fears, their past, their relationships, their sex lives, their career and life uncertainties. No detail is too personal — after all, personal is controversial, and that’s what gets page views and ultimately, ad dollars. Is writing this way just a means to get attention, or to truly connect?

Growing up under the influence of consumerism and its throwaway culture, I think, means I struggle to hold on to the value inherent in creation. In a world where planned and perceived obsolescence have us constantly chasing The Next Big Thing, in a time when the Web lets us constantly click through to the next controversy, it can start to feel like writing itself is also fleeting and meaningless. Writing, then, means pushing past that defeatist attitude and establishing a sense of trust that the words will serve a meaningful purpose — to someone, anyone, somewhere, somehow.

My drive to write feels okay when I think of the sheer volume of words I’ve read over my lifetime, the stories and ideas and insights I’ve been exposed to, and just how much of that I’ve really internalized and allowed to become a part of myself. I think of how stories have helped me to feel I’ve lived many lives, even when I feel the most stuck — and it’s all okay.

Stories have power, and through them, so do we. Our words are not fleeting acts of narcissism — they are history, truths that carry like seeds on wind.