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Did you know that with the right combination of words, plus a cheeky bit of negativity here and there, you can make even the best of things sound bad? Specky git gets a whole bunch of school children killed: Harry Potter. Rag-tag hiking group goes for a long walk and occasionally gets lost—giant spider also involved: The Lord of the Rings. Children fail to follow basic rules of contest: The Hunger Games.
Words, and the way you choose to use them, have power. It is interesting then that the people who arguably should know this best consistently and stubbornly insist on using them to tear themselves down.
I’m talking about your writer bio.
How many words does it take to undercut hours of work or an entire career?
One. “Just”. “Attempting”. “Tries”. “Only”. “Somehow”. These are all words I have seen writers use to describe themselves and their work, ranging from people who are being published for the first time, to people who, by every possible definition, have “made it”.
And yet, there it is. At the end of a thousand words that probably took hours of back and forth, or on a festival page above the multiple events they are taking part in, is a writer bio that for all intents and purposes is diminishing the writer’s own worth, and hiding their accomplishments amidst language that is basically apologising for them daring to take up space.
I’ve done it too. We’re afraid of seeming arrogant, and in a field that doesn’t have the same checkpoints or markers of accomplishment that most other occupations do, I guess perhaps we are all wandering around feeling like a bunch of fakes.
There’s a scene in Bambi where the animals are all hiding in long grass as hunters prowl. The music builds in intensity. Staying still, quiet and not running away is probably the best way to survive, but one pheasant can’t take it. She freaks out, and, while attempting to fly to safety, exposes her position to the hunters and is shot down.
My theory is that this is what we’re afraid is going to happen (metaphorically, probably) if we dare even imply that we are anything other than a bit crap. People will see us sticking our necks out, notice that we are fakes, and rescind our pen licences. Probably publicly. It doesn’t sound pheasant at all.
This is, of course, rubbish.
Anyone who is going to put you down for honestly listing your accomplishments should find the nearest bin, get in it, and have a good long chat with the green-eyed monster that lives within themselves.
But fear is not rational, and when something becomes the norm, it can be hard to break free of it.
At this point, it is important to clarify that there is a difference between self deprecation and self sabotage. It’s one thing to say that you look like you’ve recently climbed out of an old-school television set because you have long, dark hair and occasionally men in passing cars shout out “THE RING!!!” at you. It’s quite another for my writer bio to say “Elizabeth Flux stumbled into the writing world and people seem to keep publishing her work—she doesn’t know why.” Being the butt of your own jokes in a piece of work is a writing technique—telling the world you don’t deserve the space you’ve carved out for yourself is quite another.
Say something persistently and for long enough, and people will start to believe you.
If you’ve been asked to provide a writer bio, there’s a reason for that. It’s because your work is good, and someone wants to share it. It isn’t an elaborate trap, it’s an opportunity. So, sure, you could market yourself as “just a dictionary plagiarist” or as someone who is “chugging along”—after all, studios had the option to market Inception as “People Sleeping” or Se7en as “A Gwyneth Paltrow Movie”.
Your writer bio doesn’t need to say you’re the greatest thing to happen to Word since the paperclip helper was removed. Not telling people you’re crap isn’t the same as wearing a t-shirt with a picture of your face on it while ‘We Are The Champions’ plays loudly on loop in the background. Be honest. List your accomplishments, and resist the urge to metaphorically draw a moustache on yourself.
This is an ideas piece on the writer bio is part of a larger series where writers discuss ideas around the craft of writing. To read more like this, click here:
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Elizabeth Flux is a freelance writer and editor who has been published in Junkee, Kill Your Darlings, The Lifted Brow, Film Ink, Metro, Lip Magazine, Spook, and by herself on the blog she’s been writing from the age of fifteen. She previously edited On Dit, co-coordinated Buzzcuts in 2012, and coordinated Signal Express for The Emerging Writers’ Festival in 2013. In 2016 she attended the Hong Kong International Festival funded by the UNESCO City of Literature Travel Fund. Between all this she drinks vast amounts of tea and tweets terrible puns. Twitter @ElizabethFlux
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