Thursday, June 20, 2013

Writing 101: Professionalism

In the world of the theater, a term developed to describe the invisible but very real barrier in front of the stage. A classic stage is made up of three sides -- a back, and two wings. The front of the stage is open, but that doesn't mean it's passable. This part of the stage is protected by the invisible barrier that puts the audience on one side, and the performer on the other. 

This is what's known as the Fourth Wall. And when you're in indie author mode, you're on one side of it. Everyone else in the world is on the other. In other words, you have to learn how to maintain your professionalism -- and that means holding some of yourself back from the world...maybe even most of yourself.

I'm Rubber, and You're Glue

Now, the phrase Fourth Wall is generally used to refer to movies and television. The Fourth Wall separates us, the viewers, from those who are entertaining us on the screen. They're acting something out for us to see, and usually those magical people onscreen interact only with each other.

But sometimes, quite rarely, actors on the screen will directly address us, the viewer. You'll see a good example of it in the movie Mary Poppins, actually, near the beginning when Dick van Dyke looks into the camera and talks right to you. This practice is known as breaking the Fourth Wall. It's very rarely done. When it is, one of two results is pretty much inevitable: it's either spectacular and clever, or it's just plain creepy.

The wall of professionalism is similar to the Fourth Wall, and for the sake of this post it's an able metaphor. The point is, you've got to erect a barrier (albeit invisible) between you...and everybody else. This is how you maintain professionalism.

What is professionalism? It's much more than using the formal tone of address when you're writing an email letter. It's a lot more than proofreading your Tweets and status updates to make sure they're well-written. It's more than giving yourself a schedule, and sticking to it. And it even goes beyond the amount of time you spend polishing your writing. Professionalism is an attitude that you've got to inject into your every interaction while you're in your indie author persona.

What does that mean, exactly? It means not getting too personal, for starters. Tell people a little about yourself, because you're a real person. If you're mad for ice cream and water polo, feel free to say so on your Facebook page. But all your followers don't want read about your recent breakup, and you shouldn't be bumming people out when your beloved cat dies (sorry if your cat has died). There's personable, and then there's personal. Guess which one you're supposed to be.

Being a professional also means being able to take criticism, no matter how unkind, and suffer it with a smile. As an indie author and a public figure (so to speak), you're going to take some shit. It'll come at you from unexpected places. A random tweet, a scathing review, a few choice comments on your author blog -- heck, you might even get an email in your inbox titled "hey shit head." And you should suffer all of it with a smile. For the most part, you just ignore it (an act which truly requires greatness and personal strength). But when it's appropriate and necessary, laugh it off. When someone points out a spelling or grammar error in one of my tweets, for example, I'll congratulate them for passing a secret test -- all in a tongue-in-cheek manner, of course. Ignore it when you can, laugh when you can't and don't take it personally. It feels personal, maybe it even is personal, but you don't get personal.

After all, you're a professional now. Wear it well, and you'll find it much easier to take the slings and arrows that are bound to come your way.

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