Why do we say “we” or “you” when we mean “I”?

I tend to seek out a lot of advice about the writing process from other writers, which explains why I subscribe to a lot of writers’ email newsletters. I’m a huge process nerd. I’m always interested in hearing how people get their writing done: where, when, which tools they use, what they do when they get stuck.

Sometimes, people even ask me for advice, and that always gives me pause. Yes, imposter syndrome, feeling like a fraud, I don’t have it all figured out myself, etc. etc.  Which is why, when giving advice, I usually offer the caution: “Look, this worked for me, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Heck, just because it worked for me in the past doesn’t mean it’ll keep working for me. So if you try it out and it doesn’t work for you, don’t think that’s because you’re doing something wrong. It just means maybe try something else instead.”

All advice is suspect, including mine. (Especially mine.)

Which is why I think I’ve been taking notice more lately when I read writers’ newsletters, and how often that advice is presented in terms of “we” and “you” when, really, how can those writers know what I need? How can they be certain that “we,” they and I (or they and anyone reading their newsletter), are of the same mind about writing process, or what it even means to be a writer, or what the best course of action for a writing career (if you want to call it that) should be? Can I even say what a writing career “should” look like? I’m still trying to figure out what mine looks like.

As a result, I know the advice I give can sometimes sound wishy-washy, like I’m hedging my bets. Oh well. It’s what I got.

Do I say “we” because I’m trying to tell myself the advice I need to hear, and maybe by pretending it’s advice someone else needs, I’ll more easily accept it myself?

I don’t know. But, something in writer Jami Attenberg’s newsletter (hers is one of my favorites; you can sign up here: https://1000wordsofsummer.substack.com/) resonated with me and speaks to this thing about writing advice that’s been bothering me:

The unknown audience. It is a one-sided conversation, technically, but on the other hand is it weird to say that I do feel like we are speaking together every week? Still, I will never really know what you all need to hear. It is impossible. But still I will try to write something meaningful.

Sincerely, all I can fucking do is try to write something meaningful.

That’s all I can do, too.In addition to Jami Attenberg, here are a few other writers’ newsletters that I find either particularly helpful for me, or just plain fun. You have one that you always read all the way through to the end? Let me know.

Sonal Champsee: Writer Therapy

Matt Bell: No Failure, Only Practice

Charlie Jane Anders: Happy Dancing

Amanda Leduc: Notes from a Small Planet