The problem with your writing is…

Published: August 1, 2012
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My ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ would’ve almost worked had I earned a PhD in something unpronounceable from a university far away from here.

Over the last one year, I’ve heard the line, “the problem with your writing is… ” so many times that I’m starting to doubt that I even get my ABC’s right. Lately, the problem has been my excessive, overindulgent use of the first-person narrative, which apparently, is a complete no-no in the world of journalism.

I can’t really blame anyone — when I get to writing, I get emotional. Whether the story is about something as frivolous as Veena Malik or as grim as target killings, I just have to incorporate my girly emotions, fall prey to the pretty adjectives that create wonderful prose and slide in a snide remark or two to showcase my disdain for a subject. I’m more biased than a US immigration officer and more personal about an issue than need be. And with me, you’ll always get too much ‘I’, not enough ‘them’.

But that’s not solid hardcore journalism, I’m told. That’s not good writing. A newspaper needs content. Real content. Facts, not mere fluff. My ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ would’ve almost worked had I earned a PhD in something unpronounceable from a university far away from here. But sadly, I have neither — which means my ‘I’ stands for nothing more than ignoramus. I’m told that the reason the first person narrative doesn’t work is because it makes a piece too biased and subjective.

But then, don’t all reporters and journalists write subjectively? They may not use ‘I’ as indulgently as I use it but even their coverage is shaded by their likes and dislikes, perceptions and personality. Every fact highlighted by the reporter is selective, according to the kind of reporter he is, the mood he arrived in and his own beliefs. Even the way a reporter writes the quotes in his story is subjective. How he understands them is subjective. How he presents them to make a logical argument is subjective.

Send another reporter to the same place and he will probably highlight different facts, bring in different shades and share different elements of the story. And no matter how much cleaning up an editor does, there will always be some subjectivity that creeps in unannounced.

So if we’re all being ‘subjective’ about the subject, why can’t ‘I’ be upfront about it?

Read more by Saba here.

Saba Khalid

Saba Khalid

A blogger for Rolling Stone magazine, a contributor to Kulturaustauch and Musikexpres, Saba is an Institute for Foreign Affairs (IFA) Cross Culture scholar for the year 2012 who also teaches creative writing to young aspiring writers. She blogs at www.thecityalive.com and can be found on instagram as @thecityalive

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ghassan Khan

    ‘I’ believe using the first-person narrative isn’t that bad. It gives your readers a sense of closeness and simplicity. Just like a face to face conversation. If it delivers your message more effectively, ‘I’ guess its okay. Recommend

  • Baber Khan

    There’s no such thing as “Objectivity” in this world. The world appears to you as YOU see and feel it, NOT as what it acutually is (or MIGHT be)! So, you are doing great as a writer and the ‘I’ in your writings is one of the objects you can easily reach to be “objective”.
    Keep writing subjectively and simply ignore your editor’s comments! :)

    (An English teacher
    with a Phd in Linguistics —-try pronouncing this! :D )Recommend

  • Xhime

    Hate to burst your bubble, but the writing expected of you at Phd level is far more difficult than you make it out to be. Recommend

  • Nabeel

    @xhime: she was being sarcastic about the phD – a tone, sentiment and writing style you wouldn’t get Recommend

  • elementary

    Why not try out the fiction; your downs will be ups in that kind of writing.Recommend

  • manoj

    Maybe you could have included a bit about how all publications (online or otherwise) always have an agenda, a larger game-plan, a marketing strategy and of course- a time/length/resource limitation.More often than not, THAT tends to define what a journalist delivers and whether you get a byline or not.Recommend