I talked in my last entry about perception, about how we perceive each other and why it matters. I ended with a warning to be careful of how you conduct yourself, because other people are watching all the time. It occurred to me, then, that this is even truer for those of us who write.
Writing puts you in a unique position. My blog is relatively new, less than two months old, and I don’t have a large number of regular readers yet; so, to date, 129 individuals have verifiably viewed my blog. Of those, I personally—and by personally, I mean on a face-to-face basis—know five of them. Those five each have their own perceptions of me, which I have been able to shape to some small degree; but not entirely, because they know me. They see me, they talk to me, and they catch things that I can’t easily control: my attitudes, my body language, and all the things that come with personal interaction with someone. I can only do so much to shape their perceptions of me. But, the rest of you, my reading audience—you are a different story!
You see, as a writer, I have complete control over the image I present to you. The only thing you have on which to base a perception of me is my written work. Now, of course, you filter it through your own experiences, which are unique to you…but the raw material that you have to work with is all chosen and created by me. If I wanted to be thought of as an angry demagogue, I could make it happen, just by changing the tone and subject matter of my work. If I wanted to be thought of as idealistic and dreamy, I could make that happen. You would never know if what I’m presenting represents the real me.
I’m reminded of celebrities who play a certain type of role, to the point that people believe them to be the same in real life. Let me give you an example (with this disclaimer: this is HEARSAY! I have no proof to back this up; it’s strictly thirdhand rumor, which is why I am only using it as an example): I am aware that the late Andy Griffith was widely considered to be much the same in real life as his famous character, Andy Taylor; and yet I have heard that his real-life neighbors complained that he was arrogant, selfish, and quite hard to deal with. This is the kind of perception disparity that I’m talking about: what you perceive to be true about me as a writer, may not match up at all.
So, potential writers: I have two suggestions for you. First, present the real you. Write in such a way that people can see the things that define you: what you value, what motivates you, what you really think and believe. Even if you are writing fiction, you owe your readers some honesty. And second, present the thing you aspire to be. Even as you present the real you, it’s not a contradiction to aim high. Strive to write in such a way that your readers will see better things…and then strive to live those better things. Because they’ll only perceive what you allow them to.