First day of school—at a new school. Again. After half a dozen times, you’d think it’d be old hat. It never was. I remember sitting beside dad in the pickup truck, both trying to work up the courage to ask the question and trying to figure out what the question even was. Then it blurted out.
“Dad, what do I do?”
He gave me that look—the one that said I’d done it again. I’d said something ridiculous, yet he knew it was important to me. He didn’t joke.
I tried again. “I mean, I don’t know anyone.”
“Just be yourself, Chautona.”
How do you, as a six-year-old, a ten-year-old, a thirteen-year-old, a fifteen-year-old know what that even means? I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who I wanted to be even. And I didn’t even know enough to be able to articulate those thoughts I didn’t have enough life experience to have yet.
But I did get the gist. Sort of.
It began, all over again, when I had to “put myself out there” as an author. I wanted to call home. I wanted to hear Dad’s voice and say, “What do I do?”
But I knew what he’d say.
“Just be yourself, Chautona.”
And now I knew what that meant.
It meant that all those things my parents taught me from the time I could hear their voices until today—all those things they’ll continue to teach me long after they’ve left this life—I needed to continue being that person. Always. Even behind a screen.
What does that mean, practically speaking?
- I like to laugh. Did you know that?
- Books? I talk about them like they’re my best friends. Because they are.
- People are more important to me than anything—especially those people I call family. The ones I call friends.
- Doing the right thing—even when it’s not “fair.”
- Giving. I love to give.
So, that’s what I did—I showed those things.
I continued to be myself behind that screen—always. Even when I’d rather pretend I wasn’t “that” person. Sometimes, the temptation flared to pretend not to think things I do or live the life I do. It would be easier if I “hid” the fact that we homeschool (no more “aren’t you worried about socialization?” questions from people who just don’t get it).
Sometimes, it would be easier if I pretended to keep normal hours so I didn’t have to reassure people that yes, in fact, I do sleep. A lot.
And there are other things, of course. Things that I don’t bring up online ever because they’re me. They’re a private part of my life that I don’t share with almost anyone. But since I don’t share them with my local friends, and even with some of my family, I don’t share them online.
So, why is all this so important?
Because I’m an author. I’m not just behind that screen anymore. I meet with readers at events, while I’m traveling, at conferences. We sit and talk and it’s comfortable because I have been me all along. I don’t have to remember not to swear in front of people… because I never do, even to myself. I don’t have to remember anything when I’m around them.
And it’s all because I’ve been me all along. I’ve taken that reminder to “treat others how you’d like to be treated” that I heard all my life, and I’ve been that person on my Facebook page, my Twitter feed, on my Instagram. I comment on their posts because it makes me happy when people comment on mine. So, I figure it’s probably the same for them.
It means a lot when someone recommends my book in a Facebook group. So, when someone asks for something and I know another author has just the perfect one, I make sure I share it. Even if I’m sharing 10x more than anyone mentions me, I do it anyway.
Three things to remember when you’re interacting online—being yourself.
* Your values.
They’re a part of you. You don’t have to hide them, but remember if you hold unpopular opinions, sharing them judiciously and with tact goes a long way toward people “agreeing to disagree” with you and being put off by you.
* Your tone.
Remember that sometimes tone is hard to read online. Be yourself but also remember that you can come off stronger online than you really are. So, sometimes you need to tone it down. For example: if you’re naturally a sarcastic person, it’s part of who you are. Your friends probably love it about you. But if you’re indiscriminate with that sarcasm, you can be unkind rather than witty.
* You’re righting, grammer, spelling, an $h!#%
Yes, I did all that messed up for a reason. We’re authors. If we want potential readers, agents, and publishers to take us seriously, we need to put the best part of this part of our personality out there first. We don’t write books and throw them to people without editing, right? Online, our writing does serve as an “interview” with potential contacts.
People forgive a lot in online messaging and even quick Facebook posts. But even with my dyslexic fingers that insist on turning would, could, and should, int woudl, coudl, and shoudl, when I see someone consistently use the wrong your/you’re or to/two/too, I judge the quality of their writing before I’ve ever seen it. It’s not fair. But I do. I have to remind myself that even people with grammar and spelling disabilities can write fabulous books
But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to scream, “There’s a D on the end of and!” when I see someone saying, “I did this today an man it was fun!”
So, blog posts, actual Facebook page posts, and longer posts in groups? Take the time and make sure you wield your words with care.
And be judicious with your “language.”
Even people who embrace a more colorful vocabulary than some of us get tired of having to read extraneous words. So, if you use the F-bomb like a Valley Girl “like,” maybe leave a few off now and then. Yes, it’s the “real” you, but sometimes it also comes off even harsher “on the page” than it does in person.
Being yourself is just that—being the authentic you.
But sometimes that also means toning bits down or pushing yourself out just a bit more to be heard in the clamor of online noise. You can do it, though. Trust me. If I can, anyone can!
Just like Dad said I should. Smart guy, my dad.