Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Blogger's Challenge: Privacy Vs. Authenticity

Out here on the Fire Escape, I strive to be authentic, a word defined by Merriam-Webster as "true to one's own personality, spirit, or character." We could use that definition to apply also to an author's voice, and I'm convinced that blogging should offer a sample of that voice.

In this blog, however, I don't share too many details about my private life. I almost never mention church, friends outside the children's book world, or family members (with two exceptions: pets and parents).

The dictionary goes on to discern a difference between authentic and genuine:
Authentic can also stress painstaking or faithful imitation of an original (an authentic reproduction, authentic Vietnamese cuisine). Genuine implies actual character not counterfeited, imitated, or adulterated.
The blogs of authors Meg Cabot and Laurie Halse Anderson resound with personality that can't be imitated, and they talk frequently about their families, inventing on-line nicknames for their children and husband. I'm wondering if sharing more of my day-to-day life might make my own blog voice more genuine.

But what happens when I face a time of suffering or grief? How do I blog about that? Last year author Grace Lin (YEAR OF THE RAT) walked that fine line with courage and grace (she was named well), serving as an example for the rest of us. Thank you, Grace.

So here's my question: how do you balance authenticity with privacy in an on-line journal?

6 comments:

AC Gaughen said...

Man, what a great point. Especially because I LOOOVE Meg Cabot's blog, and though she does talk about personal issues, it is usually with humor and grace so that it seems sympathetic and yet totally accessible and relatable.

We all face this problem--how to open up without opening up too far, especially where this is a piece of your reputation and professional career--and I think the answer, for me, is that if it has to do with or affects my writing, another writer might benefit by me talking about it.

But then again, sometimes I just like to moan. ;-)

Always enjoy your blog, Mitali!

xAC
blog.finalword.org

gail said...

Mitali--I consider my blog to be a professional blog (if such a thing exists), and I only talk about family members or my personal life there if it relates to books or writing. For instance, I have a family member who is a grade school teacher and reads children's books, so I will blog about his responses to books we've both read. I will blog about books I read on vacation or bookstores I visit. If I were to visit an author's home while vacationing, I would mention that. I will only mention things about my childhood or volunteer work I've done in the past if it relates to something I've written or read.

It's interesting that you should be thinking about this now because I've thought about it recently, too. I don't have any plans to go more personal because I don't actually like reading personal material in writers' blogs. I mean, seriously, I've seen posts at writers' blogs about shopping, eating out in restaurants, labor and delivery, and housekeeping. Come on. I'm a New Englander! I'm not comfortable seeing all that stuff. To say nothing of not having time for it.

I have noticed, though, that some of the writers who do go way personal have very popular blogs. So, clearly, there are readers who like that sort of thing.

Melissa Walker said...

Great question to ponder, Mitali! I wonder about this a lot with my blog, which is very concise and not too personal, though I've started to be slightly more personal lately because I've started to really enjoy the dialogue with regular readers... it's a fine line to walk, and I think being authentic means going for what makes YOU comfortable. Then, the right readers will find and enjoy you.

Mitali Perkins said...

Thanks, AC, for the encouragement. You're right about tapping into our life for self-deprecatory humor; I love that, too. But what about when your personal life is on the rocks and it doesn't feel funny at all?

Gail, your dry, witty New England voice is one of the reasons I love your blog. No trivia allowed. But I think you're genuine.

Melissa, great advice. Yes, our comfort level will lead readers to us, but aren't we supposed to take risks every now and then? Perhaps pushing past our comfort level is better done in our fiction than in our blogs, but how then is the reader who finds us through a blog to get a sense of our willingness to break new ground?

Maybe I've got this wrong -- maybe my fiction leads people to my blog even though I'm hoping for vice a versa.

TadMack said...

I read this yesterday and after reading Gail's post, came back. The truth is, for me, that I don't really appreciate the cult of personality as much as I could. I love books -- and thus talk about them on my blog. I don't talk solely about MY book, but I'm glad people read it -- very, very, VERY glad, but you take my point: the world is bigger than just MY book.

Nor do I want to talk about my personal life. It's a struggle for me to want my picture taken, to see myself cheesing on other people's blogs in interview photos. I squirm when my old college asks me to do an alumnae bio for them -- I don't see how *I* can attract people with my person. Yet they insist that it is so, my agent insists that blogging -- if I would start one just for my book -- would be somewhere he could point people, etc.

I'm resisting.
I'm resistant.
There must be spaces in our togetherness, the poet said. And the first space I'm making is the boundary between what is personal and what is community. Certainly I welcome everyone to my community as you do your fire escape. But not to talk about me!!!

This could, of course, just be the frettings of an introvert...

Mitali Perkins said...

You're right about it being hard out there for an introvert, Tadmack.

In the pre-web days of writing books, authors were prized and protected as recluses who needed space and time to create great stories.

Now, in the age of Perez and Paris and People, we're expected to do all we can to become celebrities.

This is my ongoing struggle with promotion -- you gotta do it to sell books so that you can get that next contract and more of your stories can reach your readers. But it feels diametrically opposed to the life of solitude, selflessness, reflection, and small circle of true community I've always thought you needed to create art.

Haven't storytellers have always been counter-cultural? Think of Emily Dickinson writing poetry in obscurity, never receiving her posthumous fame or knowing her status as a recognized name.

Again, maybe I'm wrong. Some people seem to be able to produce good stories and generate a humongous fan base that pleases the publishers.