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Being a writer means doing the work, not assuming a personality

February 22, 2013



Harlan Ellison likes to tell the story of the college professor who told him he’d never be a writer. Many of you perhaps have not heard of Ellison, a prolific author of novels, short stories, essays, screenplays, television scripts, and other works.

Over the years Ellison has drawn a large fan reading base. He’s also been popular on the college talk circuit with his blunt and humorous commentary. He can be outrageously funny one moment, an angry lunatic the next moment. Harlan, is in fact, a character. It works for him. It’s who he is. He’s one of those rare creatures who perhaps talks even better than he writes.

Unfortunately, there are too many writers and would-be writers out there who worry too much about how they come across as a personality. Instead of allowing the writing to speak for itself, they create for themselves this kind of image. Maybe it’s the wearing of a beret angled at a rakish angle, the John Lennon glasses, the tattoo across the bicep of the scantily clad girl on the motorcycle.

The point is, a writer has to do the work before even thinking about reinventing him or herself. Sit the fanny in the chair and write. You don’t need the costume of a writer, or what you think represents the costume of a writer.

The need to shout out to the world who we are or want to be often comes from lack of self-confidence.  It’s that way with writers. Sure, there have been the Hunter Thompsons and Norman Mailers of the literary community, the rebels who misbehave and over-indulge themselves and grab a lot of publicity. But those are rare birds.

As a writer, you don’t need to assume a persona. Be yourself. Don’t feel the need to convince others that you’re this incredibly interesting person, this creative soul with heavy thoughts or unique perspectives on the world, who flees to a garret every evening at midnight to pound out prose on an old Remington typewriter with a bottle of Scotch beside you. Is it really necessary to announce to the world that you’re weird, odd, quirky, that your very eccentricities mask some burgeoning literary genius?

That act can wear out pretty fast.

But back to my Harlan Ellison story. After punching out the professor, Ellison was kicked out of school. Not long after that, he fled to New York City and became a writer, publishing his short stories in magazines.

He took action. What about you? Don’t waste time reinventing yourself. Use time to write. And that character you created for yourself? He might just work fine in one of your books.




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