My biggest mistake as a writer?
I concealed parts of my life and focused on the things I thought the crowd wanted to hear.
We are often tempted to write about topics and issues that we imagine our audience will want to read. We come to believe that our own lives are not interesting enough to appeal to a broad audience.
I am a lawyer for a large technology firm and a professor teaching business law and technology. But I used to worry that this was not enough.
So, I hid the parts of “me” that I was sure my audience would not be interested in. Who wants to hear the thoughts of a middle-aged lawyer and law professor?
I substituted my “credentials” with more generic words: business expert, innovator, content creator. I avoided direct references to my work and life in my stories. I concealed what I do and who I am.
In hindsight, this strategy was a mistake. It wasn’t sustainable.
Individual stories were successful, but — over time — it became more challenging to find topics. Writing became harder and a lot less fun.
But I don’t regret it — I learned so much from “my biggest mistake.”
Who Are You?
There are tons of excellent articles that can help you improve your writing. Writing style. Title and content. The length of the piece. When to publish. Where to publish. What to publish.
But “who” writes the article is often more important. Exactly the same story, written by different authors, will always have a completely different impact.
No surprise here. We love to hear from celebrities, such as successful entrepreneurs, prominent politicians, and impactful experts. Writers with a history of writing for notable publications — high-profile newspapers or magazines, for example — also attract a large number of followers.
But what if you are not “rich or famous”? How can you create an identity for yourself that is real and appealing?
Are You Telling the Truth?
I decided to change my profile, ditch the “empty” words, and replace them with the truth.
The results were instant and more impactful than I imagined. It inspired me to write more and faster. It’s so much easier to write stories about your true self, work, and life. You can write from experience — from the heart.
Being true to yourself is an enormous step forward. But I also learned that being true to yourself is no longer enough. The meaning of authenticity has evolved.
In a digital age, where everyone has a voice, where there is so much content, and the attention span of readers is shrinking (it is now measured in seconds), it is not enough to “be true to yourself.”
Distinguishing yourself requires something extra. To really stand out as a writer, you need to create a unique “character” that the audience can connect with and learn from.
This is what most successful social media influencers do. They cultivate a character.
These “characters” are grounded in reality — they have to be “real” to be credible and sustainable — but they are also manufactured. They are a partial, artificial version of a more nuanced and complex whole.
We live in an age of manufactured authenticity.
You may respond, “people have always done this,” but they haven’t — they couldn’t. Several technology-driven changes occurred over the last two decades that disrupted everything:
- The fragmentation of traditional social roles opens up endless possibilities for constructing a unique personal identity.
- The emergence of social media creates a platform for articulating, testing, and iterating a manufactured version of “you.”
- The proliferation of technologies means that everyone is “online” — even when they are offline. We are all active participants in a global digital culture.
What Makes You Unique?
So, how do you go about manufacturing authenticity in this way? How do you create a “digital me”?
Think about your life and what makes you different? Focus on the unique aspects of yourself and build from there. Don’t worry too much about whether you think anyone is interested; focus on what it is about your life that is different.
Now, let’s say you come up with three or four things that make you different — the next step is to ask what themes or ideas tie those things together. Then, build your “character” around these ideas.
Take me. I realized that people who meet me are always surprised to hear I am a lawyer and law professor.
I love technology, play video games (and thought of myself as a “hardcore” gamer when I was younger), and firmly believe that we should reform education. And, I get energized and inspired when I am outside running long distances and enjoying nature.
I am operating at the interface between the conservative legal profession, technology, and innovation.
Now we are getting somewhere.
When I highlight my passions and connect them to my work, I can “manufacture” a character while still being true to myself.
In a digital age, everyone can easily build a character that expresses those parts of ourselves that are unique. This character gives us a starting point from where we can then write and build a focused portfolio of pieces that target a specific audience.
This strategy provides a source of direction and focus — not only in how we write — but also how we live our lives and the kind of person we are.