Monday, November 1, 2010
Online Persona Workshop Week Five: Taking Risks
As one of last week’s commentors pointed out, sometimes we hold back on our online persona for fear of boring people or exposing too much of ourselves. I know I am absolutely guilty of this on my author blog. I hold back, mostly because I’m a little bit worried (read: afraid) that I will offend someone or a potential reader won’t get my humor and not pick up my book, or will think I’m too sincere, or or or or whatever. The reasons are as numerous and varied as my fears and neuroses, of which I have an abundance.
But here’s the thing. As creative beings, we need to take risks or our work is in danger of being bland or stale or clichéd. I know this. Absolutely know it and am happy to stretch myself in my work, pushing and digging, forcing myself to try things I haven’t. This same sense of creative improvement also needs to apply to our online personas.
People admire authenticity more than blandness. They may not agree with everything you say or do, but they will appreciate and admire that you are being authentic.
But there’s no getting around it; being authentic takes a lot of risk.
So let’s talk about risk. We avoid risk because we are afraid; we’re afraid that in exposing our true selves we will drive people away. But, if being plain vanilla and boring is going to keep people away anyway, why not throw caution to the wind and drive them away with the force of your views or personality? At least YOU will have gotten something out of it. And the chances are very, very high that more people will connect with that authenticity than your bland mask.
In order to create an impact, whether on blogs or in our stories, we have to take risks.
And here’s another thing about risks: If YOU don’t believe enough in your work, your voice, your self, to take a risk, how can you expect others to do so? Can we really ask agents or publishers or readers to risk their time and energy by spending time with us and our work if we aren’t willing to also risk?
I know everyone and their brother has seen the you tube of Susan Boyle’s phenomenal introduction on national television. (Or should I say, international television?) If you haven’t go watch it now. Just the first bit. Or even if you’ve already seen it, watch it again, because I want you to experience risk in a visceral way. (You can stop after the two minute mark.)
Think about this plain, frumpy, middle age woman in her unstylish frock walking out in front of an audience of millions. Oh the risks she takes! She is one of my risk heroes! In a society that is all about youth and beauty and success, the fact that she dares to walk out there and claim her dream is HUGE. Do not undervalue the risk that took. And then to compare herself to Elaine Paige! Well, you can hear the audience snicker. And when she—looking like she does—does her little booty shake? Never in a million years would I have risked that.
And then she opens her mouth. I think at that point if she’d even been averagely good, people would have been receptive, but that she was so phenomenally good! Wow. And the audience is totally with her, BECAUSE of the very things they were snickering about earlier.
A second video I'd like you to watch this week is Libba Bray giving her Prinz acceptance speech.* Watch how real and authentic she is. How she talks about Spanx and politics, things that would have been on my list of Things You Must Never Mention. Look at all the risks she takes, and yet it works so brilliantly because it all comes from such an authentic place.
If I were giving one of my writing workshops, I would encourage—no, I would insist—you take big risks. Embracing any kind of creative calling requires that we do that. And since your online presence is an extension of your writing self, I’m afraid that risk is required there as well.
Here’s a little secret I’ll share. Every single one of my posts here at SVP that has drawn the most traffic or garnered the highest number of comments has been one I’ve sweated and fretted over, considered taking down two minutes after putting it up, and generally had serious poster’s remorse over. Almost without fail, those are the ones that you guys respond to the most favorably. Clearly there is a lesson in there, and so I am sharing it with you, grasshopper.
This week’s homework is to explore what we’re afraid of.
Truly, what are we afraid will happen if we get a little more authentic on our blogs, or if we let our hair down as we tweet, or really cut loose with our FB updates?
The first exercise is to make a list of ten things you’re afraid people will discover about you.
Now look at that list, and make a second list of what you fear will happen by sharing more of yourself or your interests online.
Are those fears realistic? Are they even something to be feared?
See if you can pick one thing from that first list and play around with ways to let yourself bring more of that into your online presence.
When trying to decide on an online niche for yourself, keep in mind that sometimes we need a cause we feel strongly enough about to force us to take risks. It’s much easier for me to take risks here on SVP than it is on my own blog becauseit is almost always about using myself as an example of how if a terrified/incompetent/blundering introvert can overcome something, and so too can you.
As you look at all your layers and pieces of your self, try not to automatically reject those very quirks, foibles, and neuroses that will make you infinitely interesting to the rest of us.
And because I'm a big believer in irony, there will be no contest for sharing the exercises this week because I think exploring risk is just too private.
Email me, Alex, and I will get your prize out to you. Remember to tell me if you'd like a copy of The Hero Within or Made to Stick!
*I have spent hours trying to figure out how to embed it, and have given up. Apologies for my lack of technical expertise.
**Methodology: I assigned two consecutive number to every commentor who was willing to talk about their strengths, then plugged 1-16 into the random number generator.