In the comments of my last post about watching our online behavior, some people worried about the bigger picture. Can we still be true to ourselves? Should we not express opinions at all? Would it be safer to stay offline?
Let’s work through those questions in reverse order. Locking ourselves in a closet and just writing might sound ideal (for many reasons), but never interacting online isn’t realistic for most people anymore—writer or not.
At least that means we’re not alone in dealing with this problem. Everyone is creating a digital footprint now. For better or for worse.
As I mentioned in my reply to Kristen Lamb’s comment:
“We’re talking about authors creating their brand here, but when we stop and go back to that definition of what is a brand—the impression others have of us—we see that everyone, whether in the public eye or not, creates impressions wherever they go. We’re going to have to raise our children to have this same “don’t post anything on the internet that you don’t want your future boss, spouse, mother-in-law, kids to see” attitude. This is a huge adjustment for everyone.”
Writers or not, we’d have to worry about our online personas. And many of the techniques writers use to find success—word-of-mouth, street teams, and networking/tribes—build on our online relationships. So staying offline and isolating ourselves isn’t an option.
What about expressing (or not) our opinions? Well, I have plenty of opinions and I express them all the time, so I’m certainly not one to say that we should never express opinions. *grin* Instead, the comments of the last post focused on how there’s a big difference between expressing opinions in a respectful way and creating the impression that “my way is better than your way.”
A superior attitude of “anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot” will rub people the wrong way. As long as we’re sharing our opinions in a way that leaves room for discussion, respect, and disagreement, we’ll usually be safe.
So this bring us back to the core issue: Can we still be true to ourselves? That depends. Does our desired brand match who we are?
To know that, we might have to step back and ask ourselves who we want to be. Wait, who we want to be? Didn’t we figure all that out in high school or when we were (to borrow the term) a “new adult”? Maybe, maybe not.
I read a fascinating article by Jennifer Senior in the New York Magazine about high school socialization. The article is a must read for those who write Young Adult or New Adult stories, but for the rest of us, it still raises some interesting questions and makes some startling observations:
“It has long been known, for instance, that male earning potential correlates rather bluntly with height. But … it wasn’t adult height that seemed to affect their subjects’ wages; it was their height at 16. … [Similarly] adults of a normal weight…are far more likely to have higher self-esteem if they were a normal weight, rather than overweight or obese, in late adolescence. … Our self-image from those years, in other words, is especially adhesive.”
What this means is that if we never ask ourselves who we want to be, we’re extremely likely to let our teenage self-image dictate our lives. If we thought of ourselves as a loser in high school, we’re likely to still think of ourselves that way, no matter how much we accomplish—unless we consciously recognize and create our adult self-image.
I dare say I’m an expert at this. I’ve “reinvented” myself countless times throughout my life, not by accident, but by conscious decision.
Every time I changed schools, I consciously decided whether the labels others had assigned to me were ones I wanted to keep or ditch. “Hmm, ‘bullying victim’? I’ll leave that one behind. ‘Teacher’s pet’? Sure, why not.” I did the same thing most of the times I moved. (I moved fourteen times in nine years. Like I said, I’m an expert at this.)
As teenagers, we struggled to figure out who we were, but too many times, we let others dictate those labels. As adults, especially in the online world, we have more power and ability to label ourselves, but only if we make these conscious decisions.
Once we know those labels we want for ourselves, we have our brand. And once we have our brand, we’ll know whether this opinion or that online behavior matches the impression we want to create.
For example, many romance writers post pictures of scantily clad men. I don’t. Not that I have anything against those pictures, but that’s just not what I, personally, want to do.
You’ll find a near-equal number of pictures of men and women (most of them not scantily clad) on my Pinterest “character idea” board because I focus on the characters themselves rather than just the hotness factor. If I wanted to create that “pictures of hot guys” brand for me, I’d have to change who I was or be untrue to myself.
I made a conscious decision not to change and to instead stay true to myself. I’m fine with “missing” that aspect of a romance author’s brand. I’d rather people think of me for quality stories more than for pictures of hot guys.
Others make different decisions, either because those pictures already reflect who they are or because that brand reflects who they want to be. There’s no wrong answer. While I don’t post those pictures, I certainly appreciate those who choose to share. *grin*
So if we feel like we can’t be ourselves online, maybe the real issue is that there’s a mismatch between who we really are and who we want to be. And maybe by consciously identifying that mismatch, we’ll know whether we have to change our behavior to become the person we want to be, or whether we have to change our self-image.
In other words, regardless of our plotter or pantser tendencies when it comes to our writing, we probably should be a plotter when it comes to our brand. Only by consciously deciding what’s important to us will we know how to be true to ourselves. *smile*
Have you ever consciously reinvented yourself? If so, why? Do you think our teenage self-image continues to affect us as adults? How much is your current self-image a carryover from your teenage years? Does your brand match who you are (or who you want to be)? Do you struggle with feeling like you can’t be true to yourself online?Pin It