In nonfiction writing classes, they tell you to imagine your “ideal reader.” This is the person, real or imagined, who would absolutely fit the profile of the audience you are looking to buy your book someday. This person would totally get your jokes and hang on your every word. If you were writing about zombies, she would love the undead. If you were writing about neuroscience, he would be Dr. McDreamy. You learn how to write to that person, in a sense. One writer I heard speak imagines a twelve-person ideal reader “collective.” He writes down their names when starting a project and posts them above his desk and periodically “checks in” with this group of readers to see how he’s doing. Sometimes his mom is on the panel, sometimes Mother Teresa. He never mentioned whether Dr. McDreamy is on his list, but that’s OK because the good doctor is busy with my work anyway.
This is a good trick, I think, because it keeps you aware of your audience. Most people, people who are not writers and instead took worthwhile college courses like macro-economics and cellular biology, have never really thought about this. But these people now also tend to have Facebook pages and Twitter profiles. They are writing their lives every single day, and some of them, it is pretty obvious, are not thinking of me and the rest of their audience when they, sometime near the breakfast hour, post a little anecdote about how potty training their toddler is (not) coming along.
Even the pros seem to mess up when it comes to “writing to your audience” on a forum like Facebook because, if you imagine yourself at a dinner party with all the people on your friends list—your mom, your boss, your nephew, your college roommate, that random kid you sat next to in seventh grade, that colleague you met at the writer’s conference you attended two years ago, your former student, your drinking buddy, your pastor, your crazy friend’s fundamentalist husband, your civil-rights-activist cycling companion, that one friend of a friend who just won’t take a hint when you keep un-friending him, your husband’s grandma… it gets a little muddy. When you’re also using social media for professional purposes, I totally understand why some people just cop-out entirely when it comes to writing up a brief bio.
We all have a “grandma voice,” or a way our voices change when we’re on the phone with someone especially old or young or important or fragile, someone we’re trying to impress or trying not to offend. But there is no “grandma voice” on Facebook or Twitter. (Or your BLOG, for that matter.) What you tweet is what you tweet, and you can’t really pretend you didn’t say it once it’s out there in the world. If your grandma or your boss happens to see it, and they weren’t the “ideal reader” you’d conjured up in your head, it can be a tad embarrassing or maybe even cause some conflict.
What becomes apparent very quickly, though, and especially when you’re often putting stuff out there among The Webs, is that there is going to be a disconnect, no matter how adept you are at representing your truest self, between YOU and, as Rachel Held Evans described it in a wonderful blog post, YOUR BRAND.
So any “About Me” section is daunting because this is description sticks around. I looked around at a few examples to see how others have tackled the writing of a Twitter profile.
It seems as though, if you’re enough of a rock star, you just go ahead and keep it short and obvious, because everybody’s pretty sure of who you are already:
Margaret Atwood: “author”
Jim Carrey: “Actor Jim Carrey!”
JK Rowling: “Author”
Comedians, pretty predictably, try for funny:
Ellen Degeneres: “My tweets are real, and they’re fabulous.”
Jason Bateman: “Friend of Will Arnett’s.”
Conan O’Brien: “The voice of the people. Sorry, people.”
And then there are the philosopers:
Peter Rollins: “Peter is a tiny fragment of the universe perceiving itself for a moment.”
Nadia Bolz-Weber: “Nadia spends most of her spare time writing bios in the third person.”
The people I relate to most are in the category of “the nothings.” These people just flat out Refuse. To. Play. That. Game. Stupid. Twitter. Or they didn’t even realize that there was a place to create a profile. If the people I follow are a good indication of the overall population of Twitter Users, than just over 25% go that route.
Here’s where I landed:
Katie Savage: “Author of GRACE IN THE MAYBE: INSTRUCTIONS ON NOT KNOWING EVERYTHING ABOUT GOD. www.AuthorKatieSavage.com”
Bor-ring. But at least my hair dresser from five years ago and my mom’s best friend won’t get the wrong idea about me.