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Writing & Bathing

kellysimmonsOur guest today is Kelly Simmons [1] whose novels have been hailed as electrifying, complex, and poignant, and aren’t those nice words? Her third novel, One More Day [2], just came out and everyone calls it riveting, so don’t buy it unless you want to stay up all night reading it. She’s a member of WFWA, Tall Poppy Writers, and The Liars Club, a group of published novelists dedicated to helping fledgling writers.

If I had to pinpoint one reason I wanted to write this post—I guess it’s because my sister is the pretty one. Oh, and social media is a demanding b–tch.

Connect with Kelly on Facebook [3], on Twitter [4], and on her blog [5].

Writing & Bathing

“I already wrote a great book; do I also have to wash my hair?”

When I was in college, one of my professors tried to convince me to switch from print journalism to broadcast journalism. It’s more lucrative, he said. You have a good voice. No way, I said. I’m not gonna blow dry my hair every day!

And so began a life lived authentically—and mostly behind the scenes. A life of writing and brainstorming, and only occasionally going to meetings, or teaching a seminar or two. A life you could live with a pair of blue jeans and a pair of black jeans.

But now, the life of an author is more visual than ever before. Every event, from a book signing to a book club appearance to an author meetup, is splashed all over social media. With photos. Without filters.

My kids and my beautiful friends have all tried to teach me how to pose, but I am hopeless. Do I jut out my chin at the same time as my arm? Do I smile with my eyes or my mouth? Is saying “cheese” even a thing anymore? And is it all right to scream “Not my thighs! Do not photograph my thighs!” at a bookstore employee?

As our President likes to say, “When I did it, I didn’t consider the optics.” Sigh. But the truth is, most readers and influencers encounter you first through your optics, and often, only through your optics. The impression you form through your author photos and social media feeds becomes who you are.

Admit it; we’ve all had visceral responses to photos of people we have never met. We’ve said, she seems nice. She looks like a great person! And then—We’ve also recoiled. We’ve rolled our eyes and JUDGED. What was he thinking, posting that? And her—Too perfect. Ridiculous!

ONEMOREDAY.FINAL COVEROur immediate, from-the-gut responses, come freely, unbidden, at everyone and everything we see. And we see so much that is airbrushed, photo-shopped and filtered, that it has skewed our worldview permanently. The world is prettier now. This is why Crest White Strips never go on sale!

When are you most aware of this? When you are asked to submit an author photo without your glasses. When I had my photo taken one year ago—an extremely fun outing with a group of other writers drinking champagne—the photographer sent me his favorites the next day.

“Those don’t look anything like you,” my husband said.

I stood at an odd angle. My glasses were off. There did not appear to be toothpaste on my shirt. Who was this creature?

“Your hair looks weird,” he added.

“It’s combed,” I replied. “I actually don’t care if it looks like me. Do I look like an author? Do I look nice and smart and not bitchy?”

“Yes,” my husband said.

“Do I look like an outtake from the Sundance Catalog, Plus-Size division?”

“Um, kind of?”

I nodded. That was okay. Sundance started off as a screenwriter’s community before they started selling embroidered clogs, after all.

“But, do I look like anyone you hated in high school?”

This may have been the point at which he rolled his eyes and left the room. There is only so much a man who looks ten years younger than he is and eschews social media himself can understand.

It used to be that the author’s photo inside the book jacket was all you were allowed to see. Now, the world clamors for more tiny squares each day, as if assembling a photographic mosaic that will help others figure us out. Is she worth reading? Is she worth knowing? And, what did she do that I can learn from?

The answer to that, my friends, is stand sidewise and use a lot of blotting tissues on your sweaty forehead.

Back home, at the computer, there are sentences to wrestle with, adjectives to delete, characters to form. Characters who don’t stand with arms akimbo, whose teeth are chipped, whose smiles are crooked. Characters who would never look particularly good on Instagram or Tumblr.

I will never filter you, I whisper to them. Hashtag promise.

Do you have any strategies for creating photographic content without losing your sanity—or sense of self-esteem? How you can grab a few quick visuals—and get back to your writing?