I need an authorial persona

 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.

7 thoughts on “I need an authorial persona

  1. Alex J. Kane

    Glad to see you make that point. “Be Yourself,” as powerful and inspiring a message though it may be to some lost souls, is about as useless as any advice you’re ever likely to get.

    It’s just another wonderful myth of humanity, like so much of our civilization.

    I do, however, feel that there are certain boundaries we create for ourselves through which we operate and act; they aren’t inflexible, though. Beliefs, morals, unconscious desires all change gradually with time, and with them, our very identity.

    Congratulations on the Writers of the Future Honorable Mention. One of several names I recognized on that massive list. Well done.

    1. blotterpaper

      I would say that there is a “yourself”. But yourself is what decides how to act in any given situation. Am I not being myself because I don’t curse in front of my parents? Being yourself doesn’t free you from the burden of making conscious decisions about how to act.

      Yes, Writers of the Future. I get only marginal amounts of love from them. Don’t they know that I am a huge L. Ron Hubbard fan? That I read the entire Mission Earth dekology? Twice? And that I consider Battlefield Earth* an immortal classic, destined to sail with us into the stars? Oh well…

      *I really do like Battlefield Earth. It’s my secret shame. Except it’s not very secret. Nor is it very shameful. Battlefield Earth is awesome.

      1. Alex J. Kane

        Never actually read any of Hubbard’s stuff. Probably will have to read Battlefield Earth, though, at some point in the near future.

        I took the liberty of linking to your blog on my own site; hope you don’t mind.

        Feel free to return the favor. 🙂

        Have you entered into the 3rd Quarter of WotF as well?

        1. blotterpaper

          Battlefield Earth, and all of Hubbard’s other late output, is something of a joke in the science fiction community….you know, because…he went and founded a religion and sailed around the world for six years with a flotilla of yachts in order to escape tax authorities….and stuff like that. But I like Battlefield Earth. It’s incredibly gonzo. The hero goes from starving on a barren radioactive earth to conquering the universe in 300,000 words.

          Mission Earth, his other late work, is something else entirely. It reads like a satire…but a satire from some other, alternate world where the Rockefellers are ordering school guidance counsellers to turn kinds into homosexuals. It’s entertaining….but also odious.

          Yes, I did enter the 3rd quarter, and I’ll add you to my site links.

  2. David

    THe search for an authorial persona is an addition to the basic trait of being yourself, to thine own self being true, meaning recognizing the general patterns that, during a certain period, help you react to the rest of the world. This is because it is your reactions to the rest of the world that make you you.

    Anyway, the performance of communication should take place in the context of the general patterns that help you react to the world instead of only being an attempt to please the audience, which on the internet is not really clear. I have no idea what general patterns help me react to the world, but yours are linked to self-confidence. Many (but definitely not all) people who rely on anger or cuteness do so not out of their personalities or skills but out of weakness. Instead, copy the works of Tolstoy but change them around so they apply to your world and how you understand it.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Which works of Tolstoy? There’s early exuberant “I’m a kickass nobleman falling in love and not doing a whole lot” Tolstoy and then there’s later, glum “All human works are meaningless” Tolstoy.

      Also, I found Tolstoy’s authorial persona highly effective. But I’m not sure that I can quite pull off “being a saint”.

  3. David

    Ignore my sentence above about people relying on anger or cuteness out of weakness.

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