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Thursday, August 31, 2006

How Writers Should Behave In Public

If you start to see a bit of recognition and success (and perhaps, eventually, some financial profit) as a writer, you will also discover a new and strange change in your life:

You have become two persons.

1. The Private You - the person who eats, sleeps, works, lives, goes to the bathroom and is pretty much like everybody else.

2. The Public You - the figure appearing in the media, who most people associate with your writer name/pseudonym.

Why is it important to keep these two roles apart? Why not simply insist, like Popeye, that "I yam what I yam and that's all I yam!"
Because you risk going insane.

Your "public persona" will be subjected to scrutiny of a kind that never happens to "ordinary" people. Complete strangers will make absurd claims about your personality as if they were close friends. This can be frustrating. If you do not explain to yourself, "They are talking about my public persona, a role, not the real private me," then you'll lose your grip of who you are.

Always assume about "well-known" people: "I don't really know this person. This is really a stranger to me."

Between the reader and the successful writer lies a veil of prejudices, hearsay, gossip, unrealistic expectations, fears, projections and desires. And the more successful a writer becomes, the worse this problem becomes.

Nobody expects Mr. Totally Unknown Writer to outdo himself with every new book. But Mrs. Bestselling Writer will always struggle against ever-rising expectations; no matter how well she does, someone will try to spin it that she's "not doing as well as expected" or is already a has-been.

Now, about the "public persona," the "you" who appears at conventions, book fairs, conferences and interviews.... I think that regardless of fame, it is possible to project a public "you" which combines parts of your genuine character with certain rules of conduct.

10 Rules of Thumb for your Public Persona:
1. Be sincere about your beliefs and convictions.
2. Avoid self-destructive behavior.
3. Be polite.
4. Be consistent.
5. Show a sense of humor (if you have any).
6. Do not lie.
7. Be considerate of other people's feelings (to a point).
8. Only lose your temper when no other recourse is possible.
9. Dress and groom your public persona with care.
10. Always keep your teeth clean and your breath fresh.

When I see photos of writers during various gatherings and functions, certain kinds of writers stand out from the crowd:
A) Those who are well groomed and smartly dressed;
B) Those who look like homeless people;
C) Those who have horrible beards.


What IS it about writers and beards?
In 90 cases out of 100, a beard does not make you look distinguished. Those few who do, look distinguished also without beards.
Big, stripy beards that seem like they're trying to escape your face are even worse.
Goatees should be reserved for the lead singer of Metallica.
A well-kept three-day stubble is OK, but four days marks the beginning of a beard.
Women's mustaches should be shaved at all times.

Shaving your head bald may work - but then again, only if you have a handsome cranium.

Keep a spare shirt available at public occasions. If you happen to spill something on your shirt, you don't want the big unsightly stain to follow you around the entire event.

Some people sweat a lot. (I'm one of them.) Industrial-strength deodorant, black shirts and frequent face-wiping might lessen the impression that you're enacting "Richard Nixon Losing His TV Debate Against JFK."

And please, do not grope women on stage.

1 comment:

A.R.Yngve said...

A video clip of the groping incident has now leaked onto the Internet, but I really really don't want to link to it. The clip just makes me cringe.