Me and Elizabeth Gaskell, Hanging Out

Before I sit down to do some exciting afternoon tasks (work on the tutoring schedule, get my back up test schedule designed for next Friday while I’m in Vegas), I think I’ll take a few moments to write a piece of writer meta that’s been on my mind for a bit. I’m pretty sure that I’ve written about this before, but sometimes things bear repeating if only to make sure they’re still in your head.

I think about the personal writing journey a lot, especially when I discover a semi-famous writer I’ve never heard of. Like, for example, Graham Greene. Yes, prolific thriller writer Graham Green, who’d never come across my radar until the film, The Quiet American. Or Elizabeth Gaskell, author of Cranford, as popular as Dickens in her day? Yeah, hadn’t heard of her until two years ago.

I consider myself fairly well-educated and informed, but you can’t know everything. Nope. Not even me. And so…it has long been apparent to me that an individual’s writing journey must be an intrinsic one, because there is something you’d like to say, and you hope you get the privilege to share. Fame isn’t part of the package. Love what you do. Write for the joy of telling a story.

***

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media lately. Social media is a great way to put yourself out there, but social media really only works if someone wants to find you for whatever reasons. You can’t get a giant cane and pull people to your site. So, you know, you put out a story and someone likes it, and they come looking for you, and there you are! Also, social media can work if you are writing about something in particular that someone wants to know. The number 4 post on my site is still: Why I Read the Classics: Arthur Clennam in Little Dorrit. I strongly suspect I get a lot of term paper traffic. And my number 7 post is called Seams of Reality, about the new Harry Potter theme park when it first opened, and also linked by a friend who has more traffic than me (Hello, Ferret.) People are also known to look for themselves, and an interesting cast of characters and interviewees means that they might find themselves here.

The salient point? If someone is visiting my site, chances are good its to find out about something that I’ve written for the site (research! reviews!), or something that I’ve maybe said about them. I strongly suspect this, because my footprint as a writer is minute. There are people who come to find out more about me (my author page is number 6; my home and archive pages are number 1), but I suspect that I pull in people not because of who I am, but because of the topics here.

That’s part of the long game too. I should be writing because what I do is something I enjoy. I should be doing social media because I enjoy it too. I like writing about the things I write about, and connecting with the people I know. I’m not a climber. I suspect that this might make me an obscure writer. Yeah, me and Elizabeth Gaskell, hanging out. Because I’m not a squeaky wheel, I won’t get the grease.

***

When I began my long slow journey toward publication, my thinking was that I would not compromise who I am as I went. And I’m still thinking that. I’m still pretty much me. I’m not drawn to fame like a neo-pro moth. I still believe if I’m talking to you at a convention and Neil Gaiman is across the room, I stay talking to you, even if it’s my only chance to say hello to Neil. I still believe that you enter into conversations with people because you find them interesting, not because of what they can do for you. I can’t swallow uncool behavior if you’re, say, sexist and well-known, just because of what you might be able to do for my career.

I credit this whole ideology with having been the persecuted kid during my formative years. In the end, as things became better, I found self worth in who I am, not how others found me to be. If I’d waited for others to approve of me, it wouldn’t have happened. I am very solid with who I am and what I’m about.I’m not at all about trying to show others how interesting I am. If you like me, great. If not, great. I don’t intend to please everyone. I don’t intend to please anyone. Well, okay. The spouse and some friends. Sure.

My career is not worth my principals, because, well, I’d be reprehensible, wouldn’t I? And then people would be weird when I’m around, and avoid me, and stuff like that. Not that they know I exist now, but hey, you know, comfortable with who I am in my obscurity and those of you who know me while I’m here. I have this secret theory that if you represent yourself as interesting and normal, well, that’s the kind of person people want to hang out with anyway. Those are the traits I’m looking for when I meet new people, regardless of where, when, and whom.

Interest over use. Manners over opportunity. Integrity over disguise. Positivity. Outward looking instead of self-centered. Blah, blah, blah.

***

All that said, what’s kind of cool is that I know some Upper Echelon Writers (Upper Echelon is a town in Michigan’s UP) because of social media, or meeting them at conventions, and you know, these people are friends, or respected teachers. We talk mostly about other things besides my writing, and they seem to be, you know, people. I know lots of people in lots of different stages of things, and they seem to be, you know, people. And we all treat each other well, and we are people-y together. Well, that was eloquent, but I think you get the point.

Where did all this come from? I’ve been reflecting on this because as I know more people, I’m seeing more things that make me think about how I want to represent my professional authorial self. It turns out that it’s the same way I represent my professional…um…professor self. 🙂 It’s also unfortunate that I’m going to see some things that make me think about appropriate ways to comport oneself. Sometimes, gimmicky approaches work in the short term. But I’m certain that integrity is important for the long game, both inside and outside of writing.

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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