Don’t Bury Yourself in Paragraph Three
Many writers are hesitant to talk about themselves. Some are too humble to put themselves or their experience up front. Others are uneasy about the vulnerability of opening up to an audience. So when they do talk about themselves, they feel the need to create some larger pretense before finally taking the stage. But that’s a mistake. Good writing is honest writing, and a reader is never going to connect with anything as much as they will with you, the person on the other end.
When I work with writers, even ones drafting a personal statement, I see this hesitancy constantly. In many cases, it’s literally paragraph three or four before a first-person pronoun enters their text. They begin by talking about some broader idea, then expand on it, and then finally decide to mention “oh, yes, and here’s my personal, direct experience with this.” They feel the need to create a pretext before they can mention themselves — even when the writing is about them!
The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever gotten came from my father, who was an old-school newspaper reporter.
What people really care about is ‘people.’
A human connection makes any subject more interesting. We empathize with people. We relate to them. Don’t push that halfway down the page; lead with it. And if the main human connection is you, then you should embrace that early. Don’t bury yourself in paragraph three.
Here’s a boring first sentence to a piece: “Architecture is a fascinating subject.” Here’s a great first sentence to a piece: “I fell in love with architecture from the first time I saw the Taj Mahal.” The second sentence immediately grabs me as a reader. I’m not pondering the broad concept of architecture. I’m standing with a real person looking at that building, and imagining how it must have impacted them in that moment. I suddenly care about the topic because that person cares about it.
Not every piece needs a personal connection, but in a lot of writing, either you’re telling your own story or there’s a solid connection to you in some way. Reviewing a restaurant? You’re telling the story of your experience with it. Giving life advice? You’re telling the story of something you’ve learned. Even when you aren’t the main focus, you are often the bridge between the reader and the thing you’re talking about.
So stop hesitating to talk about yourself in your writing. Stop burying yourself in paragraph three. You and your experiences are the best resources you have for getting readers to connect with the topic, and empathize with your perspective.
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