Mystique, Social Media, and Other Distractions

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A week or so ago, I read a post by Porter Anderson over at Writer Unboxed about mystique. At the same time, I was reading Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking. They are two different ways to live your creative life. Very different ways.

Amanda Palmer has stripped naked and let her fans draw on her body. Can’t see the Porter Anderson doing that. To be fair, there aren’t many authors who’d go that far. I certainly wouldn’t.

But Palmer doesn’t seem to hold much back. She tweets. She Facebooks. She couch surfs. She hugs fans. Her fans believe they know her well. Anderson thinks authors are at risk of sharing too much. Stop posting pictures of your food, sort of thing.

Palmer is a rock star and Anderson is a serious author. But whether you’re a musician or an author, you’ve got to connect with people. You’ve got to get people to want your work. The endless question is how to do that and not be a jerk.

First, I don’t know why people get all in a bother because people post pictures of the food. In my feed, the only people who post pictures of food are people who love food. They cook. They share recipes. Or they’re on a diet and the pictures keep them on the diet path. Or they’re eating something news to them. I’ve posted pictures of food or coffee with action figures.

I always get annoyed with the post police. Seriously, post what you want.

But what about mystique? People love Palmer, and she’s an open book. But that’s who she is. She’s a sharer. She’s not putting on an act. If you don’t want to post lots of things, don’t want to tweet, don’t want to talk about your daily life, then don’t. Easy. More time to write.

If you want to talk about social media taking away from writing time, that’s a valid point. Even Palmer mentions in her book about how she didn’t write a song for a year. But that wasn’t just because she was tweeting. She had a lot of promoting to do. Which if you want to be a successful author, you’ll have a lot of promoting to do.

Heaven knows I don’t do much promoting. As my book sales will reveal.

But time-wasting isn’t limited to social media users. Writers will always find ways to avoid writing. They’re pros at this.

Know your audience. Don’t share things you shouldn’t with the wrong audience. I wouldn’t share much Anderson. He obviously doesn’t want people to.

But as Palmer points out, sharing is risk. Sharing opens you up to criticism. Sharing means risking rejection. One thing I took away from Anderson is that he doesn’t want to deal with other people’s mess. Fair enough. I don’t want to deal with everyone’s mess.

Palmer talks about people sharing with her. People have messy lives. People can spill a lot of stuff. Telling people not to share means keep things neat. No messes.

What is mystique? Hiding behind veils? Hiding the flaws? Not showing people how the work is made? But what is wrong with doing any of those things?

The beauty of mystique is that you don’t have to risk sharing. And if you don’t let people overshare with you, you won’t be expected to overshare back. You put out the work. The audience takes (or rejects!) it. End of story. If you overshare, they might reject your work and you as well.

Striving for mystique can come across as pretentious. Snobbish. Don’t show the rabble how the work is made so they can ooo and awww and believe they can never hope to join the club.

Mystique is hard to explain. How many veils do you need to have mystique? One? Two? Seven? How much can you reveal? Is there a list? Is one picture of food okay? What stories and events may I share before I lose my mystique?

Mystique takes work. And I have fun sharing pictures of my coffee. I know my coffee pictures bore or baffle some people. I don’t care about those people.

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Are we talking about lowering veils or pulling back curtains? One reveals a beautiful dancer and the other exposes the man behind the Wizard.

Often, when people talk about mystique, they mention Salinger hiding away from the world to focus on the art. I have to struggle not to roll my eyes every time I hear this. Was he reclusive because he was a great writer? Because he just didn’t like many people? Because he was terrified of criticism? I don’t know. It’s not my business. I read Franny and Zooey and didn’t like it.
If a reader doesn’t like your work, being mysterious isn’t going to help.

Then you can pull up examples of authors and other artists who shared too much. Far more worrisome than sharing pictures of food is sharing ideas on politics and religion. That will get you haters in a heartbeat. Unless your sharing a picture of you eating the world’s last albino elephant or your neighbor’s cat, food pictures are actually fairly safe and not actually revealing. Lots of us like french fries, after all.

In the world of social media though, it can feel good to hide away. It’s different too. You can just remove yourself from all the noise. That’s not a bad thing.

The thing is, if I like a book, I like it whether or not the author shares photos of meals or shopping lists. The work is what matters.

Veils, curtains, or glass walls with Wi-Fi that reaches Mars, it doesn’t matter if you aren’t sitting there doing the work.

Thanks for reading!

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