Friday, April 18, 2008

How important is persona for a writer?

Asked recently how important persona is for a writer, I gave the question some thought.

There are the writing eccentrics, those larger-than-life people. Hemingway, the brawling, safari-clad, hard-drinking Papa. Dashiell Hammett, the guy who knew life's seedy underbelly: I picture him in a fedora, for some reason. The wistful, reclusive, gifted poet -- that's Emily Dickinson, and a host of others like her. Anne LaMott is the snappy, sassy, brilliant, earth mother. Truman Capote -- kind of fey, a little ruthless, hugely committed to his own work, probably a hoot at parties. Dorothy Parker -- luminous in her vicious circle, tart-tongued always.

These are all writers I consider to have personas. By them, I'm a bore.

However, in my small fishbowl world of regional/community journalism, my personality has become completely enmeshed with what I do. Some love it, some don't. C'est la vie. C'est moi!

And no, my persona isn't French ... I start from a place of genuinely liking almost everybody, and let them prove me wrong from there.

It's how I approach my work, and how I get so many people to talk to me, to call me, to let me get their picture. And if you haven't guessed, it's not that of a hard-bitten cynic -- but I know some hard-bitten cynics who that approach works for.

I will say that while you're honing skills and getting experience, persona is not necessarily non grata, but it's no substitute for hard work and competence. If those things don't come first, then you're pretty much a buffoon with "a deplorable excess of personality." (Quick, what movie did that come from?)

Albert Einstein could get away with never brushing his hair because his work was brilliant.

I'm not having such a great hair day myself. I think I'll wear my fedora.

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