What We Write About When We Write About Ourselves

Writing is an excruciatingly lonely task. At its core, the act of writing is nothing more than sitting in front of a computer (or with pen-and-paper, for those old fashioned writers amongst us) and typing, sometimes to the point of carpal tunnel, almost entirely alone. Though I wouldn’t trade my love of writing for the world, it can be incredibly difficult to sit, alone, for hours on end, transcribing a conversation you’re having with your own mind. Eventually, you start to eat at yourself. In my experience, this manifests itself in one of two ways: (1) your inner editor takes over, and everything you write starts to sound like garbage; or (2) you question why you ever got into writing in the first place.

This is why life writing - something that I’ve recently begun to dabble in - is so difficult, at least for me. Life writing is you confronting yourself, while sitting alone in a room, surrounded by nothingness. For those of us who have a hard time getting out of their own mind, or, at the very least, shutting their minds up for a bit, this can be a painful hobby. If my inner editor doesn’t take over and criticize each word I choose before I’m even able to type it, I spiral into a funk that leads to me questioning my merits as a writer. Despite having publication credits to my name, I begin to view my work, and, perhaps more importantly, myself, as unpublishable. Loneliness, and especially actions, like writing, that we subject ourselves to that force us into introspection while in a presupposed state of loneliness, can mess with us.

Here’s a brief divergence, if only to serve as an example for what I am trying to get at. I have never shied away from writing about my experiences with depression. Because of the typically dark subject matter of my writing, though, people sometimes conflate my own struggles with the things I put my characters through. After sending a piece of fiction I wrote - a short, experimental piece, detailing an unnamed man’s suicide with fragments of memories interspersed throughout - to a close friend and trusted reader, I received a particularly worrisome text: “Are you okay?” I worried that I had gone too far, or that I had been too honest, or that people would forever be unable to disconnect myself, and, via intrinsic properties, my struggles, from my work. My mind spiralled, this time focused on the inspirations behind my writing rather than the writing itself. Was I actually subconsciously mapping myself onto the page without realizing it, or were they just reading too far into it? Either way, there I was, staring at lines on a page that (I was told) mirrored my own mental state. It was bizarre, to say the least, to approach that particular story through that particular lens. When I took a step back, I quickly realized that this - their concern, my anxieties, the piece itself, all of it - was loneliness made real. There I was, alone in a room, hunched over a computer, confronting myself, prosaically, metaphorically, and literally. I assured my friend I was doing just fine, and went about my business while my story collected (and still collects…) cyberdust.

I suppose this brief little rumination on writing, complete with an example, is less of a discussion of writing itself, and more of an interrogation of the mental process of writing. Regardless of whether or not we intend to do so, every piece of writing that we will ever create is, in effect, a mirror of our own selves. What we write about when we write about ourselves, then, is the ways in which we use writing to combat, or affirm, or treat our loneliness. At the end of the day, whether you buy this theory or not, everything comes back to that singular image of a writer, hunched over a computer, alone in a room with only his thoughts to keep him company, for better or worse