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.

However, the winner of last week's drawing is #6, Alex Beecroft**!   

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.


PK HREZO said...

Those are prime examples. Libba is just so refreshing and real. And I get chills every time I see that Britain's Got Talent video. Just awesome.

Such a wonderfully motivational post. Just as we want those quirks in our characters, so, too, should we hold dear the ones in ourselves.

Stephanie Burgis said...

I love this post. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I also love this post! And again thanks so much for doing this workshop, Robin!

R.L. LaFevers said...

Exactly, Pk! And I should have mentioned just how simply brilliant Libba's speech is, aside from a terrific example of authenticity.

And not only do I get goosebumps when I watch the Susan Boyle video, I often tear up. Yeah, I'm hopeless. :-)

So glad you like the post, Stephanie! And nice to see you here.

Tiffany, it has absolutely been my pleasure. So glad you're getting something out of it.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous post -- and definitely something to think about. Thank you!

Anonymous said...


I do think carefully about what I post online--because once it's out there, it's out there forever. And I want to respect other people's privacy, and never write out of impulsive anger.

But beyond that, I try to be accessible. I have a personality, I'm imperfect, I have likes and dislikes. Sometimes I put up a post (or write a story) that I think some may quarrel with, but when it's important enough to me, I post it anyway. I'm willing to stand behind what I've said.

I can never tell which of my posts will get the biggest response. Sometimes I wrote things that I thought were just off-the-cuff throwaway amusement, and got more comments than usual.

Shari Green said...

Aw, why'd ya have to make me watch that video of Susan again... bawled my eyes out. Then clicked to watch Paul Potts's video and cried some more. And then Libba... I love her speech. But you know, for all the times I've watched someone like Susan or Paul or Libba and been caught up in the emotional power of it all, I haven't really thought about RISK. (I'm a bit slow at times, lol.) So thank you for adding this perspective. Great food for thought.... Thanks!

Karen L. Simpson said...

Thank you so much for this workshop. It has been helpful on so many different levels.

Anonymous said...

My prize book came today -- thank you so much. I am looking forward to reading it.

Anonymous said...

I’ve hit a wall with this week’s exercise, Robin. LOL!

I don’t really have any fears to list, but I feel pretty strongly about being cautious online. Also, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that I’m not the most exciting person in the world. It seems I only cut loose when I’m another character—and the idea of sharing information about unpublished work does not appeal to me at all.

Anonymous said...

Great post and I love Susan Boyle! I have branched out from what I normally talk about on my blog and I am getting more traffic. I love telling the stories too. Obviously I'm selective. said...

I've only now discovered this blog and workshop, so this comment is being posted late. But I think it is relevant.
For many years I published, edited, wrote a small town weekly in an extremely conservative (read “backward”) rural community. I’m a socialist. My readers were my neighbors, friends. But “friends” who didn’t know me. Not even in my editorial column did I reveal myself. Instead I was the town cheerleading captain. And I did the impossible, starting an independent newspaper and succeeding in a period when most independent papers were folding. A few years after I sold the paper and moved, I learned from the then editor that I was “a legend.”
My novel, my first, is situated in a fictional community similar in many ways to my old home. It was written at a safe distance and I never once felt constrained. Now, however, as I make FaceBook friends with old friends down there and contemplate a blog, I find myself shying away from revealing myself, searching for ways to be authentic and yet acceptable. Ideas for blog posts seem always in the nature of cheerleading again, this time for the area’s wondrous landscape, its ecotourist destinations, rather than talking about how private property relations lead inevitably to devastation of the environment—rather than talking about slavery in agricultural labor, the danger of world domination by Monsanto as it comes to control food production internationally, the poisoning of the soil and air by agricultural chemicals, the dangerous loss of genetic diversity due to production for mass distribution of food, etc. I find myself being cute and trite. Yuck.

R.L. LaFevers said...

Kangaroobee, that is great to hear, that you've had success branching out on your blog! A great example to us all. :-)

Skipper, wow, that's quite a dichotomy you've got going there! Your example makes a great case for creating an author persona that is separate from your private self, exactly so you can have the freedom you need to talk about the things you are passionate about.

Have you considered that? Creating a split personality for yourself? I am also wondering if you will be comfortable publishing under your real name when you are leery of blogging about similar topics under your real name. Maybe the right thing for you is a psuedonym, one used for both blogging and publishing?

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