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Are Self Inserts Bad?

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Self inserts.

Around certain online (and not online) communities there is a lot of stigma attached to the idea of self inserts. Those being characters that are just the author placed in their own work. Often these characters are associated with low-skilled writers. Often, I'm inclined to agree. But that doesn't mean that these things are inherently bad. Almost nothing in writing is inherently bad, it just takes a strong writer to make them work.

Of course, it is often hard people to ell if they qualify as a strong writer, so that brings the big question. When should I try it?

Why Self Inserts are Bad

There are plenty of examples to support the idea that self inserts are bad. And the advice of not writing yourself into your work has a lot of good points to it. However, this advice should be aimed at very inexperienced writers only. The idea that all self inserts are inherently useless ignores the basic facts behind how writing works.

You Are Your Work

When you write, you write what you know. This isn't in a "only write about wannabe authors" this is in the "you can only see things from your own perspective." No matter how hard you try, you will always be there in your work, no matter how hard you try to escape.

The problem that inexperienced writers tend to have with this, is that they're being too obvious with it and they're being too egotistical with it. It isn't a matter of them writing about themselves, its a matter of them talking themselves up. They're unable to try to see themselves critically.

What if I don't know I'm writing a self insert?

Maybe you've gotten feedback on your work claiming that you've written a self insert, and you didn't even realize. There are many ways someone can take this. For one, you can see this as a good thing. For example, maybe your self insert character just feels very realistic. On the other side, it can be code for the character being too perfect, or annoying, or overly justified. When in doubt, ask for more feedback on the subject. If that isn't an option, then maybe try to look at your own work from a different point of view. Try to understand what the feedback is really trying to say. Even if the feedback doesn't go into detail or doesn't feel like it helps you, it is usually for the best to try to find the real main point of it.

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Like all feedback, not all of it will be valid. This is especially big with the "self insert" criticism. However, bad faith criticism of your work isn't something you can solve by fighting against it. You don't have to take any criticism if you don't want to, but consider your actions always.

How to Do it Well

There is no secret trick to writing a self insert well. It takes trial and error. It takes listening to your audience and caring about how they take your work. It takes knowing when to quit. It takes, most of all, self reflection. This is something that a lot of writers struggle with.

And of course, the ultimate stick to it all is that sometimes it okay to write things that aren't great. In fact, in order to write things that are great, writers need to be willing to mess up. You can put so much of your energy into writing well, but if you're also not putting that energy into writing a lot, there's no point to it.

Spread your creative wings and fly, and don't be afraid to write a bad self insert, or a good self insert. Just keep trying and trying and trying until you get what you know will help you onto your next step.

So, what's the point?

Self inserts are, like many things in the writers' tool bag, neutral. However, they do often have a stigma behind them. They should be approached with care and caution. Commonly, they are used as a got-cha' rather than something truly bad and this must be taken into consideration as well. Regardless, experimenting with ideas, subjects, and concepts is always a good thing for any writer.

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