So many hats and only one head.
But masks? When DJ asked me to write a blog post on the topic “The Mask Worn by Every Writer,” I had to give that one some thought.
And in thinking about it, I came to realize that writers wear masks, too, under all their hats. Some of those masks are literal, so to speak. They hide the identity of the authors wearing them. But some of the masks are metaphorical- I’m thinking in particular of the mask that projects a sense of confidence that the author often doesn’t feel.
The identity mask is an easy one to understand.
Say a man is a teacher by day and a writer of erotica by night. Or a woman is a judge by day and a writer of political non-fiction by night. These are writers who might want to keep their real identities under wraps to avoid some potentially embarrassing situations.
But the confidence mask? That one is a little tougher to explain and to understand.
My editor told me once that the best part of being a writer is having your work “out there.” And the worst part of being a writer is having your work “out there.” I love that statement and I share it whenever I run into another writer who is discouraged by unkind comments in a review.
Is there anyone who hasn’t received a negative review of a work that took months or even years to write? Is there anyone who hasn’t wanted to sit down with a person who wrote a negative review and explain exactly how much sweat and gnashing of teeth went into writing that book they just panned? Have you ever gotten a review that’s just so mean it makes you wonder how that reviewer can sleep at night? I may or may not be speaking from personal experience here…
But if you follow the advice of other authors, you probably don’t contact that reviewer. (If you do, you’ve got more guts than I.) I think most authors avoid engagement with their negative reviewers, as much as they might want to confront those people. We just keep smiling and writing. We project an image of confidence, pretending that those negative reviews don’t cut us to the quick. We might even pretend to like and appreciate those reviews because they tell us about something we may need to correct or change in our writing.
But no writer likes a bad review, I can assure you. We might appreciate some constructive criticism, but not when it’s couched in terms that say or sound like “I hated your book.”
Writers also put on the mask of confidence when we talk to people about a book we’re writing or how successfully our books sell. When an acquaintance asks how the writing is going we don’t generally say, “Well, I’m not really sure about my work-in-progress. I can’t figure out how to move this one scene along and the characters aren’t gelling like I want them to.”
No. Instead we say, “It’s going well! I’m really into my work-in-progress and I can’t wait to finish it.” We say this because a) it’s true even if it’s a bit misleading, and b) because that mask of confidence has wormed its way into our words and put a positive spin on our feelings.
Because wants to read a book the author isn’t confident about? No one.
The mask of confidence is a good thing. It helps protect our feelings as writers, it helps us to project an image of strength, and it can even teach us to think more positively about our books when we may not always feel our words are worthy.
Do you wear a mask? What does it say about you?