Your Writerly Sense of Self

Someone very wise to me said recently that the people who succeed in a field are those who think they are the thing, rather than wanting to be the thing. The authority she cited was James Paul Gee, who has been talking a lot about the educational quality of video games. Hey, as someone who worked in literacy studies in college, I approve of James Paul Gee.

This made me think about the authorly self, and by extension, the artistic self.

I believe people grasp the idea that if you consider yourself an artist, you create. There are many people who have a hard time finishing a work for a variety of reasons. However, most of us grasp the art of creation, and all of the pitfalls, twists, and rewards therein. We understand often what it is to be an artist at the creative level, even if we don’t understand how our creativity works, or sometimes have trouble with making it work.

Sarah Prineas has often discussed the idea of being an author versus being a writer in her journal. The artist I’ve talked about above, the writer, generally creates, but isn’t necessary good at putting that creative work out there. I’ve heard many artists frustrated at the idea of presenting themselves, promoting themselves, managing themselves, and putting themselves out there. For many of us, it feels uncomfortable. That persona is the author.

I think it’s important to develop our authorly persona in conjunction with working on our writing. Not more important, because if you don’t have the work, you got nothin’ to be confident about. It is worth it to think about your professional persona and image as you build your work.

As a professor, I am expected to present myself in a certain way. When I am presenting my research at a conference, I get to wear a suit, practice my presentation beforehand, and in general stick with the conventions of being professional. I’ve even cultivated a wry laugh for such occasions! Yup, that’s my professor persona.

I have a couple of other professsional personas. There’s the teacher persona and the coordinator persona. These personas are a marriage of the expectations of the profession and my personal twist on them.

And here I am working on my sense of self as an author. When I do anything, I’ve always felt I had to start with myself and who I am. Then I figure I can’t go wrong with being polite and professional in my interactions and image. These are the things that have helped me succeed with every other career move in my life, so I’m falling back on them.

I have a lot to learn about publishing. I have to question and research. I’ve learned a lot in two years, and I’m still learning more. My expectations have changed, and misconceptions have been corrected.

This makes me a more savvy author. I’m still experimenting with my author persona, and learning, but I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with pitching, less nervous when chatting at a convention, and more likely to put the right information into a query.

Here’s hoping in a few more years I’ll be as comfortable in my author persona as I am in my teacher persona. Then again, it’s my twenty-third year of teaching (true story–I was a mere two years older than my first students!). But here’s hoping.

If you’ve read this far, I’m very curious how you feel about yourself as an author and how you put yourself out there to promote your work in a way that feels authentic and natural to you. My path is certainly not yours, and I’d like to hear about a variety of approaches.

Catherine

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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