Is writing narcissistic?

While the holidays’ spirit of compassion and giving still lingers, I thought it might be interesting to talk about a point that came up this year in the blogosphere’s discussion of NaNoWriMo: whether many of the participants are being narcissistic by churning out words that perhaps no one wants to or ever will read.

I posed the question to The Spec’s bloggers, and here’s what they said:

Linda Joy: Writing can be a way of expressing oneself, which can increase personal growth and increase confidence. Years ago I had a clinical depression, and writing was a method I used to open a window of light and climb out of the darkness. Never judge anyone else’s writing…until it gets published.

Greg: Writing a book isn’t any more narcissistic than riding a bicycle around the block.  The narcissistic part is trying to get your book published–that’s more like riding a bicycle around the block, naked, while shouting, “Hey, everybody, look what I can do!”  To paraphrase Robert Heinlein, the writing process is natural and healthy as long as you do it in private and wash your hands afterward.

Parker: I agree that novel-writing can be a narcissistic undertaking for some. Many people have it in mind to write a novel someday not for the joy of creating a story but for the glow of accomplishment or recognition. NaNo may serve those individuals, but it also serves writers who have a true passion for stories and language but just need the encouragement to finish a draft.

PJ: This isn’t a NaNo issue; it’s about publishing (or the global economy) overall. Everyone already has a cell phone, but people buy new ones all the time. I bet the old ones would work fine, but people still want something more. They want the iPhone, and not the old, crappy model, but the new 4G one that has an app to warm your toilet seat for you. Do you need your toilet seat warmed? It doesn’t matter. It’s just the newest and coolest thing to have. Are cell phone designers narcissistic because they design their product to offer this toilet warming app? No. (And I know this because I used to be one.) What we were trying to do with each new generation of microchips and phones was meet what the market wanted.

So why are books any different? Older novels totally serve as reading material. We could have stopped publishing new books in 1980 and no one would ever run out of reading material. But the new stuff meets new trends and offers new bells and whistles. It tries to hook in ways never before thought of. And many times it succeeds.

Chris: Reading a novel can offer an escape, but writing one can help you explore yourself. That kind of narcissism is all right, even valuable — so long as you don’t expect people to read something just because you wrote it.  You have a right to write, but not a right to be read.If you want to be read, you have a responsibility to produce something that people want to read. If you don’t have the time, energy, or skill to do that, then enjoy writing for yourself and don’t get caught up in the idea that publication has to be the final result. I think writing becomes narcissistic only when we start believing that people should be fascinated by our words simply because they are ours.

What do you think? Would the time, money, and energy we spend on stories be better used to save the world? Or when can writing be altruistic?

— Joni, who admits that writing can feel both like a lovely indulgence and a way to step beyond her own little self

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1 Comment

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One response to “Is writing narcissistic?

  1. >>churning out words that perhaps no one wants to or ever will read.

    Isn’t that what all beginners do? And yet, once the skills are built and the right words finally found, isn’t a great story, well told, a gift?

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