April 8th, 2011 / 12:07 pm
Behind the Scenes

my face is a gavel

Is there a correlation between someone’s personality and their literary output?  Do you ever find yourself anticipating/hypothesizing/predicting/assuming what someone’s work will be like based on their intelligence/sense-of-humor/self-awareness/”‘moral’ character”/etc.?  If someone is annoying in real life do you assume that their work will come at you in a 14 pt., bold, helvetica-like font and be annoying as well? And then, after you assume that, how often do you find that to be the case?  If you are well liked, will your work be well liked?  For those of us TOTALLY CONSUMED BY POETRY AND LITERATURE, is not our work the truest representation of ourselves?  I want stories.  Please share.



  1. Noah Cicero

      Pound, Hamsun and Celine were all nazi assholes and everyone likes them.

      I think, “truest representation of ourselves” comes from your social duty. Have you lived up to your duty as a family member, friend and member of society. And this can be reflected in the literature you produce. Does your writing contribute anything to society. I don’t mean anything political, xTx never writes anything political, but I think she makes a positive contribution to society. She gives us stories that entertain while teaching.

  2. Adam Robinson

      I always think someone’s work IS their intelligence/sense-of-humor/self-awareness/”‘moral’ character”/etc. I don’t see anything being different just because it’s written down.

  3. A.Goetz

      This opens up the difference between casual writers and professional writers. do casual writers have more freedom in what they produce? are professional writers simply providing what they are forced to produce? is there a lower/middle/upper ground?

      for me, a casual writer, i have been trying my darnedest to develop a story and my biggest fear is that it will fall on deaf ears and become a huge word.doc locked away in the dungeon that is my computer.
      I’ve been trying to ask myself if being a casual writer makes me free-er with my ideas. at the moment i’d say no. i’m still too concerned with this imaginary audience, leaving me writing for others and not myself.
      then again i’m creating what i want, when i want, how i want.
      my brain is a cluster-**** bomb.

  4. Hegelian Backwash

      I don’t buy it. Nazis thought they were performing their social duties. Even Eichmann, who had read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, claimed to be following the categorical imperative and said (in his defense) that he was only doing his “duty” (although to be fair to Kantians, he was far from obeying the moral law).

      With that said, you need more than some effluvial deontological motivations. That “something more” is hinted at by critical theorists of the Frankfurt School like Marcuse, Adorno, Horkheimer, and Habermas (although Habermas trails away from the latter group in some deep and profoundly significant ways that cannot be put into sound bite form here). But even then, there is something unsatisfying about that whole enterprise. Anyway. . . .

  5. NathanH

      If you string together enough sentences to produce a huge word document and that document starts at a beginning, has a middle, and comes to an end, you are no longer a casual writer. And, as the cliche goes, the best way to face your fears is head on, the good news being that your “biggest fear” is an easy one, since it’s going to come true. Your work will fall on deaf ears. Lots of them. Until, hopefully, the day comes when they do not. Check out Greg Gerke’s appreciation of William Gass in The Nervous Breakdown – he mentions that Gass spent a decade struggling to get a book of short stories published. And that’s William Gass.

      As for your imagined audience, no one will ever read your own words as often as you do, so they ought to suit you. If you dig Michael Connelly books and decide to crank out a thriller, fantastic, the process is worth the result, whatever the result. If you hate thrillers but decide to write one out of a crass desire to cash in on all the publishing cash getting thrown around these days, you will likely be disappointed on numerous levels. And by “you” I’m not referring to you specifically, I mean anyone who decides to write.

      Bottom line, create what you want, when you want, how you want. But when it comes time to deliver that work to an audience, and that audience has finally given you their full attention, make damn sure your work succeeds on it’s own terms and provides something of value to its intended readers.

      Thank you, A. Goetz. I think all that was more for me than you. Carry on.

  6. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      When you meet someone and they say and do things that you like, and you in turn want to spend more time around them because of all these great things, then it only makes sense that they would write great stuff, so long as they aren’t tricked into believing that in writing they have to prove something different than what they prove as a person. A person who says and does things you like has a good understanding of his or her environment, and I’m pretty sure the more a writer understands people and things, the better he or she’ll write about them.

      If a person has a bunch of irrational hang-ups and is opaque in their thought-process, then they’ll likely write shitty one-dimensional books and rely on grammar as a leverage chip way too regularly.

      If a person is a daydreamer who might not know what to say to people but also has a very weird outlook on life, then he or she might not be very good at fiction, but they might produce something more substantial in poetry.

      It’s pretty simple. You meet someone, you listen to them, you look for any logical inconsistencies in the way they think, you look for pride, you look for selfishness, you look for rhetoric to improve his or her position around friends rather than rhetoric with sincere intent (to learn, I mean), and if you see any of these issues, you can pretty much tell that that person can’t write about someone else, because they aren’t even fully aware of themselves.

      I mean, this is pretty obvious, right?

  7. Frank Tas

      Just because have asshole political affiliations doesn’t mean you are automatically an asshole in person. Look at Pat Sajak.

  8. Frank Tas

      Just because you*

  9. Anonymous

      following the logic wave then, can we become better writers by becoming better people?

  10. Frank Tas

      Shit yeah. Being thoughtful helps you understand why people do the things they do while also keeping you from being the guy who doesn’t like someone because you “Don’t get it,” which is the equivalent of saying “Figuring things out is HARD.”

  11. deadgod

      sometimes yes, sometimes no

      a car is not what it looks like; nor is a car only a means of transportation

      things have facets, angles of entry and expression

      – and people are unusually complicated ‘things’

      sometimes a person’s writing is a lot “like” them, in the sense that aspects of writing actually are similar to aspects of personality (which is, I think, a strong but limited sense)

      sometimes a person’s writing is almost nothing “like” them in that sense of similitude

      I’d guess that hanging out with Austen or Henry James felt quite a bit like reading their writing feels; I don’t think that’s true of Hemingway, and they say Bergman was nothing as tormenting to work with as the torment his movies depict and can excite while being watched

      I can’t think of a usefully predictive Rule in this regard, but am gladly open to the possibility that someone else can

  12. deadgod

      But, wise and mighty Raptor, are there not people who speak differently from how they act? – hypocrites, in a word.

      A counterexample to your generalization would be a glib hypocrite – someone who writes with facility and even dexterity about the inner lives of other people, but who, in her or his personal life, is dully – or willfully – uncomprehending of her or his responsibilities to actual family/friends/acquaintances. I don’t think this pattern is that uncommon. ?

  13. megan boyle

      i think about this to the point that it’s making me self-conscious about my choice to write in all lowercase letters right now. people will either think that’s annoying or like it. maybe my IRL equivalent is grinning a lot by default, which some people will like and some will find annoying. some people probably don’t even think or care about either of those things. i write about my perceptions and experiences and shit and mostly just add auxiliary comments in conversations so maybe people either think “she is quiet and observing things” or “i think i heard her say something funny” or “she’s a douchebag” or nothing at all, and each of those opinions seems consistent with how i think the people who would think them would perceive my writing.

      writers seem sort of like founders/owners/c.e.o.’s who have paid enough attention to one of their ideas to make it into company so they just naturally think about ideas their company represents and want to act in ways that make their company successful. i think even if i don’t like someone’s writing or how they act towards me IRL, i still like interacting with them because it’s interesting to have the context of their writing accompanying them as a person. everyone has little bonus kits or something.

  14. Frank Tas

      Oh, of course there are, Mr. God, but I don’t think writing and acting differently is automatically hypocritical. Personal life and writing are two different things, and it might not be fun having every aspect of your life painted in the same tones. And, also, because personal life and writing are two different things, they shouldn’t necessarily be approached the same way.

      A person can be very merry in person, and very witty and funny and insightful and thoughtful, but these same characteristics might be the same reason a person might have a very somber take on the world in his or her writing: being witty and funny in person helps soften the harsh truths about humanity derived from intuition and thoughtfulness. So laugh about it with your friends because laughing is more fun than moping, but write about it in a more serious voice because that part needs to be heard, too.

      For example, using your example down below, I’d propose that Hemingway probably was a lot different in person than his writing because when you write hopeless stories all the time, you need to use life as an escape from your own work, you need to go out and be an asshole and drink excessively to remind yourself that even though YOU KNOW

      Life Is Hopeless and Meaningless

      it can still be a lot of fun.

      And yes, I think that counterexample isn’t that uncommon, especially because in trying to understand a human being, and possibly understanding a human being better than he or she knows his or her self, a person might become frustrated with humanity and potentially lose hope in it. Trying to understand people is really fucking exhausting. Can you a blame a guy for giving up?

      Well, yeah, you probably can.

  15. Frank Tas

      but I don’t think writing and acting differently is automatically –> but I don’t think the writing and acting differently *are* automatically

      And change “personal” life to “social” life.

  16. davidpeak

      i’m not anything like my writing in real life, not really. do people really make these assumptions? i don’t think a person’s writing is who they are, it’s just something they do.

  17. davidpeak

      i’m not anything like my writing in real life, not really. do people really make these assumptions? i don’t think a person’s writing is who they are, it’s just something they do.

  18. reynard

      when i was a teenager i saw this movie brink! on disney channel that was about that

  19. Noah Cicero

      yes, it is very hard to describe how to be a nice person. In the book Life and Fate there are several scenes of nazis and stalinists doing simple nice things.

  20. Jackson Nieuwland

      Ican relate to the self-concious lower/uppercase thing so hard. Glad to know someone else thinks about this

  21. BAC

      what if it’s a journalistic work?

  22. stephen

      i like when writing seems reflective of the writer’s personality. it’s hard to know whether it is or not in some cases, but with it becoming increasingly common for writers to have a blog and a social media presence, especially if they’re young or youngish, it can be easier to get a sense for what the writer’s personality is like. i think that sometimes a person’s writing feels more “realized” to me, like they’ve found a style that feels like its own something, and sometimes that seems connected to letting his or her personality flow into the writing and inhabit it in little and large ways. i am aware, however, that one’s writing can never be attributed solely or even in majority to his or her personality–i know there are many factors and influences, i know that writing is in some sense artificial even as it has its roots in orality and community–and i know that the personality itself, one’s social presentation, is equally mysterious and complex. but the attempt to have one’s writing somehow reflect or embody one’s personality is a pursuit i’m interested in, both for my own writing and in reading and appreciating other people’s.

      as for a story, i have had several instances where i know a person’s internet presence via their comments here on htmlgiant and my impression of that person’s personality via those comments “ruined” any chance of me appreciating that person’s writing. a poem i had found pretty good now felt “tainted.” in fact, i read something recently by said person and was tempted to facebook friend and compliment the person but resisted, because of feelings that the person was unattractive in a way i try to avoid. not very benevolent of me. i think writing can be appreciated apart from the writer, but i find it more humanist, more gratifying, and somehow more modern to ~not~ separate the writing from the writer.

  23. stephen

      interesting to me, though, is sort of a counter direction in “modern” writing (i’m using that word just to mean contemporary and exciting or “relevant,” whathaveyou)–that of Blake and those who are in league with him or influenced by him. my rough understanding of blake’s preferred ideal of the writer or writing–and please, if you see this and feel like it, please correct me if i’m imprecise or wrong, Blake–is the opposite, to not only separate the writing from the writer, but also to think of or try to create a writing process whereby the text sort of “arrives” as it were, without the literal writer of it feeling as if he/she authored it. sort of a nullified author, a nothing.

      i find these kinds of ideas compelling, too, even though they are seemingly in direct opposition to what i described above.

      sometimes i’m at an impasse in thinking about it.

      i’m interested in benevolence and nothingness and humility, too

      but i feel like i would like to deal with where i am and who i am, even though i can never understand either. i’d like to strive and try, and in that striving, in that trying, embody the poignancy of living and dying in confusion,–not to write about something, per se, but to be that thing itself–sometimes in pain and terror, but, with focus, in an overflowing of what we call love

  24. NLY

      Writing is an extension of your personality–it is by simple necessity made out of what you are–but it’s a selective extension. To say that someone, say Shakespeare, writes unique individuals isn’t to say the work is thereby less a function of his personality, it’s merely to say that his control over his own components allowed him wider berth than someone whose writing was merely what the personality was at the time of writing. Then again, to say that someone whose writing is more directly in line with their personality is merely reproducing their personality would be just as much an error–these are the parts of their personality which they have combined and recombined and simplified, intensified, before re-immersing in a new associative web, almost like coughing out your own moon. In this sense writing comes out of a personality in contest, or cahoots, with itself–anything which does not challenge or affect the personality is usually self-indulgent, or at worst self-flattering.

  25. deadgod

      Not “automatically hypocritical”; hypocrisy is a vivid example of the slippage/separation between something someone does (and shows other people – surely an image-intentional editing function) and the actuality (or ‘whole’) of that person.

  26. Adam Robinson

      Yeah, journalism is massively important but I don’t think a good and true story will ever be compromised by the author bio. I think Fox News doesn’t have credibility problems because their people are jerks, but because their reporting is questionable. On the other hand, people are inclined to believe their questionable reporting because they like the image of Fox News as fair/balanced and simultaneously conservative.

  27. kb

      I try to annihilate my personality. People “expressing themselves” give me the willies.
      :/ So, I don’t assume that what people write is going to correlate to “how they are.”

  28. effervescence

      usually the annoying people who seem intelligent write well but their stories are annoying

      usually the nice but fine people write stories that are nice but fine

      usually the intelligent but not in your face people write well but the stories are boring

      usually the people who are sort of funny but not that intelligent write stories that are sort of funny but not that good

      usually i write the best stories because i’m the best

  29. effervescence

      anybody still trying to figure out who frank hinton is? doesn’t seem like it…

  30. Anonymous

      I tend to like poets whose poetry I like, regardless of whether I knew them or their poetry first