Public vs Private Persona

The concept of dual personas is one I’ve always found interesting. Recently, with publishing, I’ve had a chance to experience my own transition from private to public author.

Take for example the process of writing, which is ordinarily a solitary affair. I like to prepare myself physically by making loud, ‘I’m working,’ noises. I turn on the computer, close the door to my room, put on my headphones and ask not to be disturbed for at least a few hours. I ignore everyone in the house, regardless of the increasingly persistent and desperate knocks on the door.

I’m wearing my writing sweater, leave me alone, I say to the pleas for help in recovering missing socks, finding the dog’s lead or enquiries to whether it is a good idea to bake cookies in the microwave.

No, I do not want to talk to anyone on the phone. No, I do not want to send you a message on Facebook. And I love you, but I can’t email you right now. The private ME isn’t always the nicest person in the world or the most selfless, but it isn’t personal. I don’t get enough private time and I have to make the most of it.

Being a working woman with a family, the public persona is an extended feature of my life: I have a persona for work and colleagues; one  for friends and extended family; even one for this blog. But I haven’t developed one for writing yet.

I better get one soon though, because all of a sudden it isn’t just a few close friends who are reading what I’ve written. I’m talking STRANGERS. Strangers and people who don’t know me very well, and who now have access to my thoughts and ideas.

If the solitary writing was the dress rehearsal, the real thing is being surrounded by readers who feel compelled to tell me what they think of me, my writing style, my subject matter and my characters. I’ve been asked why I write and why I choose the stories I do. Comparisons are made (sometimes unfairly) to books I’ve never read, writers I don’t really like and literature I know sounds nothing at all like me.

The compliments and/or critiques are the worst. I’ve been told by turn that my stories are strange/weird/surreal/ and inaccessible – and all in a detached and conversational manner, as if we were talking about someone else’s writing. Would you candidly tell a parent you thought their child was strange or ugly? Not all the comments are bad. Some are good, but they equally make me feel uncomfortable.

What to respond (aside from thanks) without sounding as if I deserve or require praise?Someone accused me of being too modest, someone else of being falsely so. Does it even have anything to do with me? I mean the ME of writing sweaters and headphones. Not the me now squirming under the lights.

Being my own worst critic, I can deal with rejection. It just puts me off that people don’t realise how their comments sound. Lately I think I’m even expected to participate in the critique of my own work (see ugly children comment above).

I can tell you that it all makes me want to crawl back into the darkness or run away to some mountain retreat a la Salinger. I smile and nod politely and tell myself it is only five more minutes before I can stop talking and change the subject. You see, I haven’t made the transition from private to public, and until I do, some of these things are going to bother me. A lot.

So if you see me and ask about the book and I start to look a little flustered, please understand that it isn’t you. I DO want you to read it. I do want you to buy it. I do care very much whether you like my characters and the stories. I just need a little time to get the invisibility shield up.

The thing is, once it’s up, how do I get it back down again? When I enter the sanctuary of my room, how do I block everything out so there is only the sound of my voice?

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