Wednesday, September 9, 2009

You-statements versus I-statements

For years I was involved in a program that used a lot of then-in-vogue group dynamics techniques. One of the cardinal rules was to make only "I-statements". That was hard for me. Before I got involved with that program, I tended to make "you-statements" and used passive voice a lot. I would say, "You know it made me feel bad" and the facilitator would make me say, "I felt bad." Or I would say, "She was considered bad-mannered" and the facilitator would make me say, "I thought she was rude." It took me a long time to learn to speak directly in the first person, active voice, but the strength of my writing improved a lot because of it (not to mention my ownership of my feelings).

Now, I learn from blogging experts that I'm not supposed to make too many I-statements. I'm supposed to focus on "you" not "I". I get that. It would be easy if you were sitting across a table from me and I could look at you and know who I'm addressing. It's hard to address an unknown "you". In addition, I've always been annoyed with writers who address the reader directly as "dear reader". For me addressing "you" directly borders on that.

However, focusing on the reader in a blog is a good idea. Otherwise, it becomes kind of an exercise in narcissism. (Then again maybe blogging is basically a narcissistic exercise no matter how we might try to dress it up as something else. But let's not go there right now, okay?) Anyway, I've been trying to include "you" lately and it does kind of make me feel as though I'm not just sitting here spewing out words for the hell of it. It feels more like I'm sharing my thoughts and feelings with somebody. (Even if what I'm really doing is sitting here spewing out words for the hell of it...)

However, for all the wisdom of the blog marketers who say (probably rightly) that a blog gets more traffic with "you" statements than with "I" statements, writing is fundamentally about what the writer has to say. Words bubble up from some fountain of creativity that exists deep in our souls and demand to be written, regardless of whether anyone may want to read them. Once the words are written the writer can choose to delete them, keep them for herself, edit them and tailor them for a commercial audience, or simply share them as they are in the hope that someone will appreciate them.

Personally, I rather like to do the latter. I may address "you" more often in my blogging, because I like doing it. But, I want this blog to be about the process of writing, and not simply marketing tool.

(ooooooooooh, more on that issue next time.)



  1. On the other hand, remember the lesson we got that asks the writer to identify a target readership? Maybe that's the middle road between I and You, and possibly helps you focus more on what you need to say once you have a better idea who you're speaking to
    -- wen

  2. I'm sure you're right, and I'll be able to do that now that I'm starting to get a little traffic. It helps to know at least some of the people who are likely to bee peeking in.