Point #2: There is no “we.”

One of my pet peeves as a writer and a reader is the employment of the Royal We. I’ve had this bias against writers who use it ever since I was experienced enough to think I could teach someone else a thing or two about writing.

An editor of the Chicago Reader used to use the Royal We regularly in his weekly column. I knew for a fact that there wasn’t an editorial board, in which case there might have been some justification for using the subject “we.” Instead it was just his way of sounding authoritative and thus to build walls around his opinions.

Eventually, just before he left the Reader, he started writing in first person. I’d like to think it had something to do with my obsessively mentioning it in every letter to the editor I wrote. More likely it had to do with the rise of the Internet and of blogging as one of its dominant forms.

“We” isn’t always Royal. Weak writers often use it when they’re afraid of claiming their own reactions to something — a film, a work of art — or when they want to extrapolate from their own experience and extend it to cover everyone else’s. So it’s both cowardly and presumptuous. The least valuable thing a critic can do is to attempt to close off the possibility of an alternate interpretation or to universalize what are observations unique to an individual writer. And that’s what’s valuable.

Routinely, as editor of Juanele AR — a blog devoted to Argentine art — I remove the “we” and insert the “I” in articles submitted to me by staff and freelancers. It always saddens me to realize I have to force a writer to claim her own words. The byline means something, or else let’s just let monkeys do it.

One has no business writing about anything if you can’t imagine that someone might get something out of a film other than what you did or if you set out to be a spokesperson for all critics, or all gay filmgoers or all Jewish gay gallery owners, or for whatever group from which you want to usurp authority or hide behind.

Speak for yourself. Use your own voice.