By Shannon McFarland
I’ve lived through my entire story and it’s hard knowing where to start.
I don’t want to brag telling my own story. But I don’t want to undersell my value.
I don’t want to sound conceited and overbearing by saying too much about myself.
I feel like my story is not interesting or unique enough. I don’t want to sounds cliché.
Or what if someone calls me out as not authentic, an imposter even? Not good enough?
You may have felt all or some of these. I have! Whether it is writing a bio, pitching in front of a group, the About page on a website, or filling the tiny box on the side of your Twitter profile, it’s tough. Especially when it is about you or something very close to you. I tell stories for a living and tell people this all the time: telling your own story is difficult.
For me, I can gather information and write an About page for an organization or professional, no problem. Ask me to write an About page on myself? I could stare at a blank page for days. How do you sum up your life, passions, or company?
As a content strategist and freelance writer, I’m networking, meeting clients, constantly listening to their stories, and also sharing my own story. My life, expertise, and writing. I have to pitch myself. I have to put it on my own website. I’ll tell you, I’m getting better at telling my own story, but it is a challenge.
My troubles are for all the above usual reasons, and more. I’m also working against my occupational training: as a former journalist, you have a mindset that you are not the story. It’s not about you. The people and events are the story, you don’t get involved. Journalism conditioned me to tell the stories of others, never myself. The word “I” did not belong or appear in most of my writing for several years.
5 tips for wrangling your story
I’ve learned a few techniques that help me with this particular kind of writer’s block. Techniques that I use, teach, and must constantly remind myself.
First, do a brain dump.
Stream of conscious writing. Vomit words onto the page. Just write, without editing, few constraints around the topic, and no judgment about whether it is any good. Or record yourself speaking to a transcription app, which is a nice trick for getting past a block.
One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, calls this the “shitty first draft.” In her book, Bird By Bird, she explains how you have to make mistakes, give yourself room to throw around ideas, and drop all perfectionism.
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” -Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Read more about Bird by Bird on Amazon (affiliate link).
Second, make a deadline.
It might be totally arbitrary, like you must get your ideas on paper before dinner today. Add some urgency, it keeps you more focused.
If you can, find at least one person who will hold you to it. Tell someone what your deadline is. It’s easier to procrastinate when you have only yourself to disappoint, but if you risk the opinion of someone else, you’ll may work faster too. My brain certainly knows when I have unlimited time and will wander all over the place if I allow it.
Without a deadline, my thoughts pop from question to question, jumping across tangential topics without the depth to dig for meaningful answers, like a laser pointer teasing a cat. Under deadline, I can concentrate like a programmed laser cutter.
Third, get an outside perspective.
It’s good to get feedback from someone else, like a trusted friend, mentor, coach, or consultant. After all, professionals know what they are doing and make the time for you. Ask for help.
If I’m working on something about myself, I will also step back and treat my own story like a fictional character. It helps me get outside my own perspective. Imagine how someone else would understand and piece together this story.
Fourth, accept that the story is not over.
This is a work in progress. Life takes unexpected twists. A company evolves. Careers change. Everything goes through phases, transitions, and hopefully improvement.
Again, drop the idea of perfection. This is a work in progress. Your story is a living story. You are writing the ending.