Michael Kwan Byline

This is a subject that we explored very briefly earlier this year in a What’s Up Wednesday roundup where I linked to a post by Allyson Bird, but I feel it is a subject that is worth discussing further. There are many reason why someone may choose to be a professional writer. Perhaps they feel that they have a story to tell. Perhaps they’re fascinated by the power of language. Or maybe they just want to make a name for themselves.

But therein lies a strange paradox. While there are certainly some extroverts among us, the stereotypical image of the professional writer is that of the loner. This isn’t always true, to be sure, but I find that many writers tend to be more private individuals. Maybe it’s because we find ourselves holed up in our home offices for so many hours of the day. We’re alone with our keyboards and our thoughts and, perhaps, this sense of isolation brings with it a certain level of comfort. At the same time, we prize the value of the byline. Many of us want people to know who we are.

There is intrinsic value in that byline and I’m not just talking about the passive marketing that results from this. It just feels good to be published. It just feels good to see your name attached to something that you accomplished. The barrier to entry for publication, particularly online, is a lot lower than it once was, but it’s still there. And that’s why it feels even better when you see your byline in something bigger, like the Wall Street Journal or Time Magazine. And that’s why, monetary concerns aside, it felt good to see my name on the cover of the book I co-authored with John Chow.

This phenomenon, this obsession with the byline and this desire to be publicly recognized, is not unique to writing. Look to professional photographers and many of them are keen to have their images published in a major magazine or book. Look to professional musicians and you’ll see how happy they can be when their song finally makes it on the radio or when it reaches the top of the charts on iTunes. What about that struggling actor who finally gets his big break, starring in a major television show or movie?

Is it necessarily fame that we seek? Is it that we assume this fame will be accompanied by fortune? Or do we just want to be respected for our craft, acknowledged as being among the best at what we do?

Maybe, just maybe, we are just seeking validation… but isn’t everyone?