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Hiding Behind Your Words

February 2, 2010

Why do we all have so much trouble talking about ourselves?

As many of you surely know by now I’m involved with the Chinese Whisperings anthology. The second anthology is in the planning stages, and a couple of days ago the call went out for new author bios. Suddenly the Facebook pages are abuzz with authors wringing their hands, cringing over the need to write 100 or so words about themselves. And before any of you think I am above all this, the only reason I’m not fretting over it is that I’m redesigning the website for the project—so in a week or two I’ll be pacing the floor writing my own synopsis of my life.

But why does this relatively simple act send most of us into near hysterics? We are, after all, writers. Words are our specialty. What we do as a profession or hobby causes the average person to shudder in fear. This should be easy, right?

But it’s not. Very few of us find it easy to talk about ourselves in anything other than an aw shucks, self-deprecating way. And when we actually have to summarize ourselves into a short paragraph we get stuck in the mud—if we’re lucky we’re trying and spinning our wheels, but many of us just sit there with our heads slumped against the steering wheel.

In preparation for this post I did a simple search online and found thousands of articles on this. Most are bloggers complaining about the need to write their own, or magazines for writers offering advice on what makes a good bio. But after browsing through many of them I was surprised that no one had come up with the relatively straightforward way I approach it.

1. Write it as a character summary. Try to pretend it’s not you, that you’re writing about. Write about a character, instead. That’s something we all have experience with. You may feel self-conscious about talking about your own accomplishments, but you don’t have trouble selling your characters, do you?

2. Brainstorm. We’re talking about a short paragraph here, so if you write fifteen it’s not like you’ve wasted a lot of time. Try it a host of different ways. Try a funny one (or two), a businesslike one, and at least one in any other style you want. There’s no need to add pressure onto your shoulders by assuming that you have to get it right on the first try.

3. Use your friends. Who reads over your stories. Do you have an editor? Are you in a writer’s group? These are people who can easily read and comment on a short paragraph. But don’t take their criticism personally. Remember, the paragraph isn’t about you—it’s about a character.

This all makes it sounds easy, which it isn’t. But we already have the skills in place to write something and to do it in a compelling manner—yes, you do, otherwise you wouldn’t need the bio. Just try to use the skills you already have. It might not make it easy, but it should make it less difficult…

..I hope.

My apologies for the lateness of today’s post.

Evidently, WordPress and I had a fight last night. And though she le me in the door to create my post, when I came back later in the night to finish it and post it, she wouldn’t let me back inside.

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Dale needs to put his head down and finish the blog redesign he’s working on, because he needs to revise his own author’s bio.
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5 Comments
  1. February 2, 2010 10:17 am

    Yep. I’m one of those fretting bio-writers! Last time, I actually had to interview myself. I got a bunch of questions together, some my own, some from my friends, some from my wife, some from my kids (I even hounded the dog for some questions, but she didn’t want to participate in my game). Then I answered them. When I finished, I wrote a narrative of it and pared it down to the 150 words. It meant a lot of stuff had to get cut, but it got the job done.

    I can’t even write a resume because it has to be about “my” accomplishments and “me” in general. “I was just doing my job” isn’t a good enough way to represent onself in these things. Maybe it is all about humility, but I’ve talked to people who are very confident, pompous even, and when they have to sit down and do this kind of work, they freeze.

    And I, too, have listened to many people telling me, “But Rob, you’re a fantastic writer, this should be easy for you!” Well, it’s not easy… and I always thought it was just me that had this problem!

  2. February 2, 2010 4:27 pm

    I like writing about myself.

    Uh oh.

  3. February 2, 2010 8:21 pm

    So next time around – I pull names out of a hat and assign it to one of the other writers to do the bio… that would be fun.

    As I write, I’m yet to update mine. I always struggle to find a the right balance between light hearted and serious – not too much back story. I think the majority of writers are terrified people will find them boring. Then there is the whole stigmatism of being full of yourself.It’s ok for musicians to ‘pimp’ themselves but we can’t say a word about ourselves without thinking it is somehow wrong.

    I wonder how much of the hangover of writing about ourselves, contaminates self publishing…

  4. February 3, 2010 12:52 am

    Most of us probably knew next to nothing about the authors we loved before the advent of the internet. Authors seemed a real mystery back then. Perhaps that explains some of the reticence to write about ourselves, subconciously we want to keep an air of mystery about us? :)

  5. February 5, 2010 7:17 am

    It’s hard to write about yourself. You feel like you’re making yourself vunerable. Who want to know how old you are? If you are young, they might think you are immature or inexperienced. If you old, they judge you yet again. Your personal life, do you have a family? Boring. Are you a college grad or are you self educated? What are your likes and dislikes? Will you be judged on that?
    When we create our bio, we shouldn’t care about what others think about us. But for some of us it’s human nature to be concerned.

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