The Protagonist Is You

I don’t take pictures of myself often. If I do, it’s a selfie, and I do it while no one is watching, like this one:

Election Day Selfie!

I mostly take pictures of my kids, my husband, and sometimes my Corgi-huahua. Their pictures help me feel connected. Their images help me make sense of the world I encounter.

Writing is similar to taking a picture.

A while back, I posted some photos on social media from a vacation. I shared pictures of mountains, sky, water, kids, dog, and hubs, but I didn’t post any pictures of myself. Mostly because I wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t feel like a part of this story, only the storyteller. Also, my hair was messy.

A friend told me I should take more pictures of myself. But I disagree. I wasn’t a part of the story I wanted to tell that day. As a Creative Nonfiction writer, the biggest paradox that I grapple with is that my stories cannot ultimately be about myself, even if technically I am the protagonist. I try to remove myself from events, or at least remove my ego, so that what pulls a reader into an essay are those universal ideas, themes that apply to every person, ideas that let us feel human.

Sometimes I think being a writer-artist is similar to creating a nonfiction protagonist. When I write an essay, I interpret events through tone, diction, and other craft elements; it’s a reflection of the way I see the world for an outside audience. And what is telling a story? You formulate an outline, develop a plot, create motivation, and interpret events. When I write a piece of #CNF, if you are the reader, the persona is not just me, it is you. The whole essay is you.

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

When I write about the human experience, I am taking a picture of a time and place; it’s a photographic perspective developed through images and desire. 

I used to wonder if my stories ever mattered. I submitted my work to literary magazines, and I would get rejected, but those rejections show me how much my story matters because eventually, they’ve made it into the world. It has only taken a few years and a lot of work. My stories didn’t have to change as much as I had to change in order to tell them. Thank goodness for my change in perspective.


6 thoughts on “The Protagonist Is You

  1. You can probably tell from my profile picture that I tend not to have pictures of myself to share. This is the struggle I too have with CNF: “I try to remove myself from events, or at least remove my ego, so that what pulls a reader into an essay are those universal ideas, themes that apply to every person, ideas that let us feel human.” I’m still learning that when I’m part of the story, it doesn’t mean the reader is not part of the story too. But once the essay is released and being read, then it’s the reader. I’ve done my part and just hope I did it well.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I am more of the highly fantastical fiction variety and I would really love to say I do not relate, but actually I do hiding off parts of myself into a whimsical world when no one is looking; I am in every character and none of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Change is what makes us great. I too have poured much of myself into writing, only to have it rejected again and again. It is good to have faith and passion for what you write and believe in it to, but I love seeing how my perspective changes after I read an eye-opening piece or just re-read my work with eyes freshened by absence.

    Liked by 1 person

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