Narrative nonfiction is tricky, full of emotional nuance and blatant subjectivity. Also, thanks to technology, we all write it all the time. More, most of us publish it, either in the traditional sense or via social sharing, blogging, texting, and emailing. Although we put varying degrees of effort into digital narration, bits and pieces of our personal stories are everywhere.
For artists, engaging in digital and social media can be particularly complicated. We want to promote our work and maintain friendships at the same time. We want to let our risky humor fly with buddies, but ensure our parents only see our wholesome posts. We want to make fun of political officials, but not get hacked and threatened (see: Sony Pictures and North Korea). We are vulnerable online. But while everything is open and sharable, technology also invites us to create personas.
Persona, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the image or personality that a person presents to other people.” In Latin, persona means mask. In marketing, persona means to take a certain angle to appeal to a particular customer base. Meanwhile, the persona of an artist can both feed art and allow some anonymity.
It is what we choose to show, be that an accurate portrait or not, that shapes our audiences’ view and causes those who know us best to scratch their heads or chuckle at the inconsistencies. Persona is nothing new, especially when it comes to artists. The first person that comes to my mind when I think of persona is Salvador Dali and his magnificent upturned ‘stash with its brilliant sheen. Dali’s outward appearance, right down to his pet ocelot, reflected his artistic sensibilities.
Persona can also mean opportunity, especially in the digital age, as it provides artists platforms to further project and promote their work without compromising self. I do not view it as dishonest or fictitious but rather as a sort of holding back from a world that wants to know our every move.
Thinking of persona intentionally may help writers to make strategic moves online. Here are a few ways to develop persona:
- Create author pages and author accounts that only relate to your creative work.
- Share writing news judiciously, with the people who are interested. Do not inundate people with every step of your artistic journey, unless people truly engage and invite such sharing (if you get a lot of Likes for your cute cat photos, but everyone goes silent when you post about writing, you’re probably not engaging your immediate audience).
- Think about persona as the truth, but the truth you choose to share. The real fans of your work will make a concerted effort to get to know you better, so let people work to discover the person behind the artist.
- Define your artist, and promote without cringing. It is beneficial to consider the difference between what you want readers to know and what you want your friends to know.
- Have fun and be entertaining, explore new sides of yourself—the side that gets you writing. This is a good move for everyone involved.
- Consider the security of your personal information. Really. Information is power.
Our short narratives can be shared easily and quickly, but the art of digital nonfiction is really defined by the framing of the information and images we share. Persona can be flamboyant or reigned in, and it can happen naturally to some extent. But when we conscientiously construct our own artistic portraits, we remain in control of our personal information. More, we become an extension of our art.