I’ve been thinking about this, quite seriously, for some time. But, before, I always said to myself “Oh, I’m just an aspiring author, no one even knows my name…there’s time to figure out my authorial persona later.”
But that time is now. The internet is filling up with words that I wrote. And every one of those words contains the germ of an image. And that image is growing in peoples’ minds whether I want it to or not. And the time has come to decide what that image will be.
I’m not going to go off all crazy and say that all great authors have authorial persona. But it really does help. I don’t think Hemingway would be very famous if he hadn’t spent so much time being Hemingwayish and hitting up bullfights and fishing for big fish and shooting guns at big animals and volunteering to fight in wars that were none of his business. I’m sure you can think of a ton more examples.
Reading is a pretty intimate experience. When you read, it’s like someone is whispering into your ear. And, like it or not, words have a bigger impact when the person saying them is somehow enticing to the imagination. It’s like how you pay way more attention whenever an attractive person is speaking.
While authors are not movie stars, being attractive is a not-at-all unhelpful part of authorial persona. It works for Neil Gaiman. And you can’t read about Truman Capote, even sixty years later, without hearing about his author photograph on the back cover of Other Voices, Other Rooms. Unfortunately, that avenue is not really going to do it for me.
Oh, but you might say “just be yourself.” That is not good advice. First of all, there is no such thing as just being yourself. All communication is performance. The problem with the internet is that it’s hard to accurately gauge who the audience is, and what they want. That means that all communication tends to sort of drift towards one of two poles.
The first is anger. Writing to the internet is a lot like shouting in an empty room. You know that probably no one’s listening, but there’s a feeling that if you yell hard enough, someone will hear. And when you’re by yourself its really easy to get all worked up about things. The end result is that you end up being a huge dick, and expending all kinds of words on things that either A) don’t actually bother you that much; or B) do bother you, but which you know shouldn’t bother you.
I think that I tend to avoid the “anger” pole, mostly out of an exaggerated awareness of how one or two really offensive comments could reverberate around the internet and be enshrined forever in my permanent record.
But I definitely fall into the other pole, “cuteness”. For some reason , well over half the things people write out on the internet come out sounding like they’re being lisped by little girls (or boys) who’re missing their two front teeth. Especially amongst SF writers. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. Although cuteness is grating, it’s fairly unoffensive, and is especially good for covering up self-promotion, an unpopular opinion, or just the fact that you consider yourself smart enough that when you say something you think people ought to not only listen, but pay to hear what you have to say.
And that’s pretty much what I do. I really dislike it. I read the comments I make in blogs, or the posts I make on message boards, and I am horrified. It’s hard for me to see the person who writes those things as an actual person. Seriously, I don’t even know why he bothers. He’s engaged in negative communication, the actual leaching of meaning from the world and from the words themselves. I find his motivations utterly opaque, unexplainable even by the simplistic economic theories that I learned in college (the ones that explain everything).
I need an authorial persona, if only to make the horror stop.