“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”
~E. L. Doctorow
I’ve been attending a lot of seminars on the importance of branding oneself as an artist. Branding makes sense. After all, categorization makes buying and selling easier. Consumers like to know what they’re getting and how to find it, and companies like to make it easy for consumers to find things to buy. That’s why movie genres like horror, sci-fi, and comedy and music genres like hip hop, country, and pop are so helpful. If you hate a certain genre, you can just skip over it to find what you do like.
As a writer, though, I have a hard time with branding. I don’t want to be branded as just The Greek Writer or The Art Writer or The Religious Writer. Call me schizophrenic but I like having different writing personalities. I wouldn’t want to only ever watch crime dramas so why would I want to only write about one topic in one voice for the rest of my writing career?
Well, if I want to build up a readership, I have to consider my audience. Does Stephen King have the same audience as Nicholas Sparks? Maybe, but not necessarily, and certainly if a reader is in the mood for horror she’s not going to pick up a Nicholas Sparks book. Whether I like it or not, branding impacts who’s going to read my books.
Some authors, Stephen King included, use pen names. That’s a great way to keep one’s writing identities separate. The downside, of course, is that loyal readers that may have taken a chance on a book in a different genre or subject matter (hey, readers don’t always stick to only one genre either!) by the author may miss out on a book they’d love because it’s (supposedly) written by an author they’ve never heard of.
Perhaps then, a better solution is to focus mainly on branding the book instead of the author. Think of it this way: just as a parent’s children are unique so are an author’s books unique, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not all connected and show traces of the author’s presence in them. After all, Stephen King’s pseudonym was cracked when a reader thought that a certain Richard Bachman wrote an awful lot like King.
That said, a schizophrenic writer can also be an immature writer who has yet to find her voice. We all have strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and sometimes it takes time to discover how those attributes come into play for us as writers. I, for instance, went through a period where I wrote on any topic that came along with a paycheck. The articles weren’t bad but one of my readers mentioned they could tell when I was really passionate about a subject. That made me reevaluate my priorities and my skill set. Now I still like to experiment with different subject matters but I’m more selective in the voice I use when writing.
How do you deal with writing schizophrenia?