Thursday, January 21, 2010

Split Personalities

It seems that being a writer requires that you split yourself into all these multiple personalities, most of which have opposite characteristics.

You need to be introspective, happy with your own company (and happy being in your own head) most of the time. How else would you do the necessary hours to get the output you need or increase your skills? This is essential for what is elegantly called the ‘bums on seats’ factor.

Yet at the same time you need to be an extrovert that thrives on personal interactions – getting out to conventions, networking effortlessly, confident at public speaking – enabling you to find those leads you need, and convince key people that you really do have something to sell, and to differentiate yourself from all the other writers that are only names on a submission.

When it comes to your own work, you have to be passionate and sensitive. You have to be so secure that you can let yourself free, let your creative energies boil in whatever direction you want.

Yet at the same time, you need to be able to approach feedback and critique on your work with a professional emotional distance that enables you to be ruthless, otherwise you will never be able to ‘kill all your babies’.

Its like those personality wheels – where the average person has ‘dips’ in some areas and ‘peaks’ in others. Well it seems the writer needs to be a superhuman self-developer, taking all those dips and pushing them up into peaks.

So - how do you handle all these split personalities? Do you get them to take it in turns? Did you have to turn yourself inside out to develop all these? Or did you have all these split personalities to begin with?


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Play to your strengths, try to build up your weaknesses.

Easy to say. First you have to know yourself.

My struggle is to believe in myself.

Chris McMahon said...

Rowena. You are pretty damn impressive for someone who does not believe in themselves!

You have inspired me and many others.

Look up 'How to Reinvent your Life' by Young et al (in the BCC library). That book gave me a real breakthrough.

Anonymous said...

I always had a very active "daydreaming" alternate world to escape to. I think it was because I'm very shy and unsocial that I needed it. Having trained up my brain in that fashion from the early years, I find making my characters and getting inside their heads easy.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, matapma. I know what you mean. As a young kid I'd often be wandering around the bushes at the edge of the playground imagining worlds where the lizards I saw there were enormous monsters - and of course I would be walking through a deep dark dangerous forest. Might be a bit of a speculative fiction thing:)

Kate said...

Oh gawd. Where to start?

I've effectively rebuilt myself from the bottom of the Pit of Despair up, after a breakdown in the early 1990s. I treat the whole deal as "playing the game" and "giving people what they expect". Me in a room with what I'm writing, there are no masks. When I start editing, I'm playing the game, looking for editor-cookies to insert where I can as well as tidying up anything that doesn't work.

At cons, what people see is 100% acting. I treat con appearances as creating a public image or persona, in which I deliberately exaggerate some aspects of my personality in order to appeal. (The corset exaggerates both of them rather nicely, I might add).

It all comes down to knowing who you are, what you're willing to let slide, and where you draw the line. If I'm going to get into a fight to the death, it's going to be about something I consider vitally important.

We'll see how well it all works when I've actually got books out there being bought :-)

Mike said...

Edward DeBono's Six Thinking Hats is intended to help corporate types "switch" thinking styles -- wear a blue hat for blue sky thinking, black hat for critical thinking, and four other colors that I'm not going to list here. Apparently some people make the metaphorical hats real, and say that helps, or you can just change roles in your head?

I do think identifying the roles and being somewhat deliberate about changing them can help. For example, part of the problem that many people have with writing is that they mix critiquing and freewriting, to the detriment of both. Saying "now I am free writing" (during nanowrimo :-) let's you focus on doing that completely, with a promise to the critic that he will get his chops in later, but not now.