In my previous post, I showed you how to use your “persona” to free up your writing. Your persona is the speaking voice your readers perceive as they read, and is not the same as you, the author. It’s a fictionaled version of yourself directed at outsiders.
There’s also an internal persona, how you represent yourself to yourself. It’s also an artifact you create and modify. In sticky situations while you’re gathering information, it can push you through barriers to get what you need.
My son Jason, then 16, attended a summer course for student journalists at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg. He liked to hang around Al Lang Stadium, right up the street, where his favorite New York Mets played during spring training. One day, he lurked outside the empty stadium’s gate, staring at the pitcher’s mound. He wanted to stand on that hillock and see what home plate looked like to pitchers, but the sign over his head commanded “No admittance!” He looked at the mound, then at the sign, then the mound, then the sign. Then he asked permission and got it. He swaggered onto the field and stood on the mound.
How did he do that? He thought of himself as a student journalist, rather than just another baseball fan. His journalist persona made him act like one. Put on the face of a tiger, and you’ll be one.
I’ve interviewed many reporters who covered disasters, wars, and mayhem. Each told a story of a moment of extreme danger, and I always asked them how they kept themselves from going to pieces. Every one of them said he just took notes on what frightened him. They let their journalist persona function rather than giving in to their fear as a person.
Many writers never produce deep stories because they hesitate to approach people or ask hard questions. Your mother warned you not to talk to strangers and not to bother people you don’t know. And she might have a heart attack if she heard you asking tough, intrusive questions. My very-Southern mother would disown me if she knew I talked to strangers about that most taboo of subjects: money; even worse, I write about it.
You deal with your mother’s restrictions by defining your own persona, not as a child, but as a writer, and living it. “That’s what writers do, Mom. I have a license to ask questions, dodge hand grenades, and stand on the mound.”
[Care to share stories of defining your persona?]