Monday, May 15, 2017

Building A Persona: 

The Public Side of Being an Author

Crafting a Public Persona

Craft advice is essential to building a career as a writer, but so is consciously crafting your writing persona. By its very nature, writing is a solitary act that requires us to plumb the depths of our subconscious as we create literary worlds out of the reimagined fabric of our own lives. In order to do that in a way that is not only self-sustaining, but also promotes growth, we need to have a healthy approach to the public side of writing.

Making Our Work Public

In the comfort of our own computer, mind, or office, our writing is a creative extension of the process we went through to create it. We’ve taken a four-dimensional world and reduced it to squiggly lines on the page. It makes sense to us. It’s a fully fleshed out representation of a fictional world we’ve created.  But something happens on the way to sharing this piece with others.

Our work loses the tendril connections to our subconscious, the invisible little lines that fill in all of the spaces others see in our writing, but we can’t see this spaces because we fill them in automatically as we reread. How many times has someone critiqued your writing and your first response, is, “But that’s not what I meant”? We’ve all been there.

Let’s talk about a step we could all take before we ever show our work to others and that is to “divorce the draft,” a concept introduced by Bruce Ballenger and Barry Lane,  in Discovering the Writer Within (a composition textbook).  When you “divorce the draft,” you separate yourself psychologically from the manuscript so that you can view it as a public work versus a private piece of art.  It’s still your story, but you’re sharing it with the world. Now you have to see it through the eyes of a reader who doesn’t have access to your writing process. By distancing yourself from your work, you’re better able to see and accept constructive criticism as a means of helping you grow as a writer.

Divorcing the draft also makes revision exponentially easier because you’ve taken a step back to look at your work anew and can find exciting and inspiring ways to expand your work.

“Revision” means to re-see your work, so if you approach this process with an adventurous spirit— asking, “what new things can I discover?”—you’ll find the critiquing and revision phase to be a much more creative and inspiring process.

Sending Your Work Out Into The World

When you send your work out into the world, you’re often on edge about how it will be received. At this state of the game, it’s important to separate the intertwined influences of taste, market, existing list, and craft.  To know more about what editors and agents are looking for and why, check out the wish list

An editor once rejected a manuscript of mine because a central character was an octogenarian and she didn’t really feel a connection with elderly people.  This response was purely based on her own personal tastes and we can often read that as the main reason for a response to a manuscript in statements like, “this isn’t for me.”  Taste is one of the main response agents work so hard to learn what different editors prefer and have an affinity for.  If it’s a matter of taste, you just need to keep looking for an editor/agent whose tastes are more in line with what you’ve written.

Unfortunately, the market is often the biggest hurdle for agents, editors, and authors. Often all three parties love a particular style of writing or a certain manuscript, but they know that it will not have enough of a broad appeal to sell enough copies to earn a large profit.  When this happens, it’s usually the case where the editor takes the manuscript to acquisitions and the “bean counters” aren’t sold on the accountability of the piece. When this happens, you can try another house who can see new ways to market the book, consider a smaller house that has lower sales expectations, or you can wait for the tide of public interest to change to the genre you’re writing.

Existing List:
Sometimes a rejection can purely be based on the fact that a particular editor or agent has other manuscripts or clients with manuscripts that they’re already publishing or pitching for publication.  In this case, it’s just a matter of moving on to a house that needs a book like yours to fill out their list.

All of the above issues are based on the publishing world and you really have no control over them at all.  Craft is a whole different story.  If there are elements of craft that are holding you back, then you need to address those issues with education, exploration, and revision. When you receive comments about inconsistent voice, variations in plot development, expository vs. experiential sections of the piece, then you know that the situation is more about your ability to fully polish the manuscript.  If that’s the case, then you need to go back and dig in.  It’s also helpful to pursue opportunities to expand your own skills with webinars like those offered by Kidlit College, develop writing groups with fellow writers who have a keen critical eye for craft, delve into excellent books on craft, and/or consider coursework in craft.  Making the study of craft a life-long journey is an essential part of your growth as a writer.

Here’s a great list to get your started on writing books. My thanks to Bethany Roberts in compiling this list.

Most Importantly: Be Yourself!

Your desire to advance your career may often push you to change yourself and your writing to fit the market and it’s important that you’re not resistant to change and growth, but it’s also essential that you don’t sacrifice the unique contributions you have to make to the field in order to “get a sale.” Be yourself. You are who you are for a reason. You have a unique perspective on life and art and writing that only you can share with the world, so be true to yourself and your art. 

Speaking of Being Yourself: A Little Bit About Me

I’m a writer and a teacher who teaches English Department as part of the Center for Visual Culture and Media Studies at Greenville College and the low residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hollins University and I love to offer craft based webinars through KidLit College. I’m also a huge supporter of other authors and independent publishers like Milkweed Editions who have published a handful of my books and I’d love to see more folks pick up a copy of Water Steps this spring in preparation for facing their fears and heading into summer.  Kyna nearly drown as a child and was left with a pathological fear of water she’s overcoming one step at a time thanks to her adoptive parents, but now they want her to live on a lake for the summer and she’s having none of it.  Especially not their silly story that it’s inhabited by shape-shifting silkies.  This could be her most exciting summer if she’s will to take her her biggest “water step” ever.  Can she do it? Pick up your copy of WATER STEPS and see.

A. LaFaye
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