does not describe me fully
it is where to start

Sunday, December 18, 2011

“It’s business. It’s not personal.”

“It’s business. It’s not personal.” How often has one heard that? I admit the usefulness of the concept. Decisions made under the spell of emotion and private urges do not always bode well for the greater good.

But, does downplaying the personal bode well for a writer of fiction? Except for formulaic writing, what is fiction except a personal statement? Then, having written the story, what additional obligation does an author have to his readers? How much of his personal life should the author reveal?

In my case, my writing has been influenced by my unique life story, including culture, religion, business career, and overcoming illness. Those influences individually, though, are not what I find compelling about my life story. Instead, I find compelling how I have built bridges across them. Indeed, the challenge of building bridges is usually at the heart of the conflicts addressed in my fiction.

There is, however, no fiction market segment called “Building Bridges.” I have always believed that I could rely on the content of my writing to reveal my unique perspective to the world. I wonder, though, if I have missed a bet in connecting with readers. After all, what starts off as a country song can cross over into the more general market. It might not pull that off, though, if not already successful in the country arena.

I also remind myself that once the product has left the computer and forays into the commercial world, it is no longer solely a personal statement but, indeed, a business. And, business requires identifying market segments.

My head hears that. My heart resists. Could insistence on the theme of "Building Bridges" ever work? Or should I just go the expected route and self identify focused solely on culture or religion or business or overcoming illness or something else? Will my choice make any difference in how my writing is received? And, in marketing my work, how much of Judith Mercado should be revealed to motivate someone to buy my work?

This last question, by the way, is what prompted me to write this post after a recent encounter with someone who had not realized the role illness had played in my life. He did not realize it because I never talked about it. So it got me to thinking about what an author's obligation is to his readers. The result is this post. Obviously, I have not answered my own question.


Michelle D. Argyle said...

That's a tough, tough question. I believe once a piece of art is shared with the world - even if it has a price tag attached to it - it becomes something separate from the author. I don't believe the author owes the readers anything, honestly. It's completely personal what the author decides to share of themselves outside of that art. The art is what it is. It may contain pieces of the artist, but it not THE artist.

I think when readers start expecting that authors owe them something, they're missing the entire point of art/book/poetry/song, etc.

Judith Mercado said...

Michelle, thanks for your insightful comment. Your conclusion is one I share. The work and the author are indeed separate entities. It actually behooves me as a writer to remember that, lest my self esteem and self image be inextricably tied to the "success" of my written work.

Nevine Sultan said...

This is a question I battled with for a long time. The fact is I finally decided that all I owe my readers is my written expression. I believe that it is very difficult for us to separate ourselves from what we write as it is, and in that sense we already share so much of who we are.


cleemckenzie said...

I loved this, "My head hears. My heart resists."

When I create something, that's a very personal act. When I share it with readers, that's a very public one. If I write only for myself, it comes to the page much differently than it does when I expect others will read it.

I'm essentially a private person, so I feel no need to tell anyone personal things. I have seen other writers who do, and they've built a large fan base by doing so. In my humble opinion it's the reality TV influence. I don't care for reality TV either, so that may be the divide.

Great question. Loved my visit. I'll be back.

Judith Mercado said...

Nevine, you are so right. We pour so much of ourselves into our writing and then think we have to give more? I don't think so.

Cleemckenzie, that huge fan base you mention seems enticing until one remembers the associated cost. It's not a cost I am willing to pay.

Malcolm R. Campbell said...

If we're going to call our work fiction rather than creative nonfiction or memoir, then I believe the story must stand on its own.

There's a tendency these days to promote some novels by adding the tagline "based on a true story." Readers seem to like that, and it probably does add interest to a story in a variety of ways.

Like most unknown authors who are urged to blog continuously about their books, I find myself sharing some of the realities behind my fiction because there's just so much one can say about a book.

In my case, there really aren't any "secrets" other than the fact that some of the things in the books actually happened. But there's nothing earthshaking there, so as I blog about the books, I don't feel like I'm pretending to "share all" while actually leaving out something that would truly impact how a reader sees the story.

It's a hard choice, what to share and what to say about the reality behind some of our work.


Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Judith this is an important question you've asked and I don't quite know where I stand on it. All the previous comments are extremely valid. I think we, as "artists" must be true to our inner drive to create the unique expression (whatever the medium) that is ours, and ours alone.

Whether that expression taps into a collective vein and spreads to all the corners of the world taking our words and creative expression is no something we can control (it is, I believe, part of our Destiny, Karma, call it what you will)

On the matter of whether we owe our readers anything...well, I believe that we have been given a gift and, as with freedom, that gift comes with a responsibility towards our readers.

As to what we should or shouldn't reveal of ourselves; that depends entirely on the individual personality and what each of us is comfortable with.

Thanks for another thought-provoking post! :)

Judy, South Africa

Judith Mercado said...

Malcolm, “stand on its own” Absolutely. It is just that in this age of personal blogging and personal responsibility for marketing one’s work, the burden has increasingly fallen on the side of being out there personally and not just as author. This does not make it right, however, and the driving criterion has to be the one you state.

Judy, I sustain that if someone reads my work carefully, they will know all there is to know about me, maybe not in the mundane trivia of actual life events, but certainly in the exploration of emotion and spirituality inherent in my work. But, given my life story and my ability to write, I do sometimes feel a sense of responsibility to share through my writing insights I have gained, though never in a preachy way. Bottom line, I can’t not write and I can’t not be myself. How those two elements get conveyed to the world I suspect is a changeable thing.