If no one knows you better than yourself, then how come writing about yourself can feel so hard? Whether you’re preparing a grant application or a short bio for a website or presentation, you might find yourself struggling as you try to strike a balance between sharing your story and divulging too much information (while trying not to sound like you’re bragging about your accomplishments). If you’ve ever found yourself in this situation, you are not alone.
Christine Hennebury is a storyteller, writer and creative life coach who helps people with persistent frustrations and creative challenges (including the challenge of feeling “stuck” on important projects). She is also a graduate of Business & Arts NL’s Creative Edge program and offers the workshops “Creating Connection Through Storytelling” (focused on how stories build empathy in the workplace) and “Putting Stories To Work For You” (which looks at storytelling in workplace communication). On March 31, she will share her expertise during her session “The (Short) Story of You: Crafting Your Artist Bio With Ease” as part of the Business Workshops for Artists series. This special artist-led workshop is hosted in partnership with artsUNITE / UNITÉ des arts, a newly launched free, comprehensive wayfinding service that connects artists and creatives with the resources they need.
Christine recently took some time out to chat with us how about how to overcome some common writing hurdles, the importance of shifting your perspective, and how taking small steps can lead to great results.
Business & Arts NL: Why do some writers find it so difficult to write about themselves, and are there any tips or tricks that can help make it easier?
Christine Hennebury: I think it starts with the fact that we are always under a lot of pressure not to brag and not to toot our own horns, so in many ways, it’s an unfamiliar and uncomfortable thing.
When we end up in a situation where we have to write about ourselves, we end up tangled in trying to be clever and impressive. We want people to like us and we want to be understood but we are still walking that line of trying not to brag. By this point, we can get locked into a kind of perfectionism that can make the task seem nearly impossible.
I think the first helpful thing is to be kind to ourselves about all of the discomfort this can stir up. We can remind ourselves that it is okay to be a little uncomfortable and that the feeling will probably pass.
Next, I find it helpful to give yourself a little emotional distance by thinking in terms of sharing information instead of talking about themselves. I get my clients to ask themselves things like a) Who will be reading this? b) What do they want/need to know? c) What do I want them to understand? That helps to make the bio a bit more about facts instead of about baring their souls.
Finally, I get them to work in small steps so it doesn’t feel as hard. Those steps would be different for everyone but they might include revising the list of facts they generated above, some freewriting, creating information blocks on index cards, multiple fast drafts, reading aloud, it all depends on what makes sense for that individual.
Business & Arts NL: Whether you’re writing a piece of fiction or an artist bio, writer’s block can kick in. Are there any tried and true methods that you can recommend for helping overcome this?
CH: Obviously, there are all kinds of reasons why a given individual might struggle with their writing but, in my experience, a lot of the struggle comes down to three things – focusing on the results instead of the process, worrying about being original or creative enough, or trying to do too much at once.
If you are focused on your results, you are going to be plagued by concern about the quality of your writing, you’ll be imagining what people will think, you’ll be wondering if you’ll be able to sell the piece, that kind of thing. All of those things are valid concerns…once you have the piece written. If you keep your mind on the result, it’s really hard to get yourself to sit down and write something less than perfect. And, of course, everything you write is going to be less than perfect, especially in early drafts. The only method I’ve found to overcome this is to focus on the process of writing instead. That means exploring ways to temporarily let go of your ideas about the result, lower your bar for success, and undertake some practices that make your process a little easier.
Worrying about being original/creative enough is a very specific kind of results-based concern. Lots of artists get trapped here because, on some level, they are comparing their ideas and their unfinished work to work that is already out in the world. That’s a really discouraging thing to do, it’s hard on your brain! When my clients are worried about their originality, I remind them that their work probably seems unoriginal because they are so familiar with it. Their audience will feel differently. Also, I like to remind people that even if the thing they want to say has been said a hundred times, it has never been said in this particular way by them. So by bringing their specific life experiences and personality to the project, they are definitely being original and creative.
Finally, some people who are struggling with their writing are trying to write the whole blog post/article/book or whatever all at once. I like to compare this to trying to shovel the driveway. When you look out at that smooth expanse of snow, it seems like an impossible job, and it’s tempting to head back to the couch with a snack. However, if you get your gear on and start shovelling, it will eventually get done. Your writing is much the same way. You can’t write the whole thing at once but you can craft it word by word, sentence by sentence and get the job done. I still recommend having a snack though, whether you are shovelling, writing, or hanging out on the couch. 😉
Business & Arts NL: What makes an artist bio stand out (in a good way)?
CH: A strong bio helps the reader understand your connection to your work and makes it very clear why your work is part of a given event or exhibition. In a grant application, your bio shows the funder how your work could help them meet their mandate.
So, it’s not about being cute or clever, it’s about showing connections and continuity.
Sometimes, it takes a bit of exploration to find those connections and that continuity but it gets easier with practice.
Business & Arts NL: What are you most looking forward to with regards to your upcoming workshop?
CH: I’m really looking forward to being able to help people find ease around the bio writing process. As a coach, I love being able to remind people of their strengths and their previous successes and helping them figure out how to smooth the path ahead. This workshop gives me the opportunity to do that on a very large scale and that’s really exciting.
Business & Arts NL: Anything else you’d like to add?
CH: I’m honoured to be part of this early collaboration with Business & Arts NL and ArtsUnite and I appreciate everyone’s trust in me to deliver some of their first joint programming. And, I have gotten so much out of my membership with Business & Arts NL that it is wonderful to be able to offer something back to the organization and to the community.
Workshop: The (Short) Story of You: Crafting Your Artist Bio With Ease
Date/Time: Wednesday, March 31 from 2-3pm NDT
Location: Online via Zoom
Registration: Click here