Ha! You fell for my click bate! This was a trap to attempt to show you how to set boundaries between your writing career and your personal life. Bamboozled again! I want to show you how to set firm boundaries and keep your private life private. This is something I’ve been asked through the years, and I have two big methods you can apply to various aspects of your life.
Just say “no”. This is what I did at first. Because I’m a mean and scary cowgirl. “I’m a fan of your work. Can I add you on Snapchat?” “No, but thank you.”, “I literally just met you 10 minutes ago. You wanna go cruising tonight?” “No, thank you.” “I wanna see your family’s ranch.” “No.” You can just do that. You can just say “No”. But politely. “Can I meet your kids?”, “Can I have your discarded tissues?”, “Can I read your WIP?” No, no, no.
It’s all about misdirection. Completely different than “No.”, you can just have two of everything. Like, a personal social media account, and a business one. You can easily get a PO Box for about $60/yr so you don’t have to tell everyone where you sleep. I did that because I come from a village of 20, and if someone road tripped, walked into town and said “Where’s Helen?” to one of my neighbors, they’d be like “Oh, she’s up the tree out back. Go on over!” because that’s our culture. Not telling people where I lived cut down on unpleasant confrontations like “Helen, I’ve come to kick you like an old pair of clown shoes.”
“Say when, you scoundrel.”
What’re they gunna do? Wait at my PO Box, in the next town over where I went to school, until I show up?
Anyway, I’ve been doing this more and more. Things like having one social media account for the people who love me and want to know how I’m really doing, and the other I just use to be obnoxious and talk about my career. I don’t really want “I feel like a giant blood blister” to come up when someone Googles me, because I had strong opinions about getting a normal, healthy, period; But I do want all three of my books that are in print to come up instead! The thing I love about this method though, is that it’s helped me stop putting up so many walls between my heart and new friends. We have time to get to know each other, and talk, and actually build a relationship, before we plunge into the depths of my full-lilt crazy… Or you know, garden variety vulnerability.
Anyway, you’re going to have months like “Two of my close friends died, and while I’m grieving I’m also waiting for the other shoe to drop, because Grandma told me death comes in threes, but now I have to go on tour and act like I’m the happiest person alive… Aaand one of my favorite cousins is on hospice.” Not showing your friends you’re struggling is a crime, because you’re isolating yourself, and cheating yourself out of deeper relationships. Particularly the devalued platonic relationships! But no one wants to break apart in public. So. Two accounts.
Those are my two methods of, well, keeping people at arm’s length. (Totally healthy!) The biggest thing I think you need to watch as an entertainer, is exactly how much information you put out there. I.e. If you don’t want strangers asking about your cousin’s cancer diagnosis, don’t put it out there. You’re allowed to be a private person.
Yes, there will always be some vulnerability in writing and putting your work out there. It’s your baby, and it’s going to have a little of you in it. My friend told me she saw straight through Marlene, and saw me ranting about my situation at the time when I wrote about The Tooth Fairy. There is a margin, where, like it or not, you’re going to be exposed through your work. (Which, I would like to take this time to point out that all of my friends died after I got back from tour in March 2022, thankyaverymuch!) But that doesn’t mean you have to be like “Oh, my YA characters are doing stupid crap I did as a teenager.” In public. You can be cryptic and be like “Yeah, I knew some kids who did stupid crap like that as teenagers.”
Also, not every part of your life is for Instagram. Listen, and listen well, you do not owe anyone an explanation as to how your life. Unless they’re paying your bills. Which is why I specify on Patron that that money gets reinvested back into my career, my fridge, and this website, and on Kofi that I will be spending all funds on rum, unless I’m lying and I waste it on reinvesting in my career. I try to be transparent when people donate money to my cause. But outside of the bill they’re covering for me, I don’t tell them much.
Any who, back to The Gram.
You don’t have to post about where you’re going all dressed up like that. (I think my last dressy selfie was when I was headed to a classy event at my day job.) You can literally just be like “Ayyo, lookit me. I’m hawt!” and people will be like “Rad!” You don’t have to post a pic of you and your besty getting ice cream at 3am, during a heart-to-heart, every time it happens. You can just go do that, and not tell anyone. You can even be hecking cryptic with your posts. For example, I announced I will be letting go of the last semblance of sanity I posses, and posted a picture of my prayer journal, where I suggested to Jesus Christ that He put Josh Groban in my life so we can get married. Am I okay? No. Will I be elaborating further? Absolutely not. Am I at least having fun? You bet your sweet bippy. Bro. If you wanted, you could just post a picture of you gnawing on a different tree every week and make the general public think you’ve finally made good on your promises to fade into the woods and become a crypted. Or, you know. You could just only post about your writing…
As an aside, if you choose to take the cryptic crypted posting route, and you’re fairly active on social media, I firmly suggest you make a private account where your loved ones can see how you’re actually doing. Like, bro. There’s people who actually care about you. Let them in.
One of my bigger concerns is trying to keep my day to day life out of my career. Sometimes employers get touchy about, you know, you asking for strangers on the internet to buy you rum. Before you get called into the office, make sure you can actually laugh, when HR shows you your own post. *Finger guns* This problem could be solved by taking on a pen name, and that way, H.M. Pugsley has no day job. If you choose not to take on a pen name, you don’t exactly have to turn over the name of every literary journal and blog you write for. Stay wild, moon child. Run free through the valleys of the glorious internet.
You’re also allowed to say “I don’t want to work here anymore.” A couple of years ago, I had a job where the management made me so uncomfortable I buried all of my social media, which got in the way of trying to have a viable writing career. I think they were worried about me talking about the semi-legal things they were doing, online, to customers. Which, while I was looking into protections for whistle blowing employees, I wasn’t using social media to draw attention to them. I would’ve gone to the county courthouse, not the county Facebook page. I do highly recommend finding a new job before quitting the one you’d don’t like. However, Covid-19 made the whole situation a wash for me. Before “No one wants to work anymore” was a chant that ran wild through the streets, there were reports online about employers asking their employees for their social media passwords. Like everything else, you’re allowed to say “No. I sell you this part of my time. My personal life is mine.” or to your readership “No. I sell you these stories. My real life is mine.”
Anyway, I know what I’m doing all the time, and I always get it right my first try. Definitely listen to me. There is no way to have your privacy without saying “No” and meaning it. There are gentle ways to redirect people, but at the end, at the bare bones of it, you have to be good at telling people “No”. Figure out which pieces of yourself you’d like to play close to your vest before you put yourself out there. You’re more than allowed to have a private life, but you have to be willing to be firm about it.
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