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One Line Bios And Figuring Out Your Blog’s Story

One Line Bios And Figuring Out Your Blog’s Story


One thing that appeals to people about blogging is that somehow, by doing it regularly, people figure out what it is that will make them happy in their lives.

Not everyone. Not always. But often enough, for people who really commit to blogging on a regular basis, whether they do it for personal or professional reasons, blogging has the effect of making you gravitate toward your real passions (a little part of me died inside writing that last word, just so you know). It has something to do with the act of writing down stuff every day — in the process of doing that, you sort of figure out your own story. You figure out where you fit into your own narrative.

Now, if you want to be a professional blogger, it’s not really enough to just meander around and get to your story when you feel like it. You’ve got to have your story ready to go right away, or at least act like you have it ready to go right away. And you cannot really make your story super complex and multi-layered, with a bunch of sub-plots and multiple dreaming sequences that require elaborate waking mechanisms like that movie with DiCaprio and the spinning top. Or rather, your story can be that complex, but you need to have an easy version ready so that everybody can remember you in the short term, before they have time to get to know you and all of the many different incarnations of special snowflake that make up you.

When you are a professional blogger, trying to reach people, you need to make a story that is really easy for people to understand. One of the things I was telling a consulting client last week was that all of the bloggers who are known have some kind of “thing” that is theirs. And that maybe it’s not such a great thing, but whatever, they own it. In the best cases, this thing isn’t the only thing they are, but it is the thing that allows them to be remembered. For Il Duce, it is “the first woman who was fired for writing about her job on the internet.” For Pioneer Woman, it is “the city gal who found love and moved to a cattle ranch.” I am “the mommyblogger who says what other mommybloggers only wish they could say.” Now, none of these things comprise the whole of our identities as bloggers — in fact, some of them are not even true, strictly speaking. But they are easy to latch onto. They are things.

Every blogger needs to figure out what their thing is going to be — what their short version story is going to be so that potential readers can grab onto it, and take it away with them easily. The thing becomes like a virtual business card for you, and even if the first person who takes it away is not your ideal reader, they might take it with them and give it to somebody who is — they might hear your name mentioned and then say, “Oh, she is the one who ____________” within earshot of just the right person. How do you go about developing your story? I can tell you that in my own case it was not intentional — it happened as a result of interacting with the community, of always feeling like I was standing in a room where there was something crazy happening and nobody was saying anything about it, and feeling compelled to say something. But the process reminded me of some ideas listed I read awhile back in a post by Anil Dash that dealt with one-line bios. The majority of the post is about some tech dude who invented RSS . . . blah blah who gives a crap, when are you going to get back to the part that pertains to me . . . ahh! Here: he featured Conan O’Brien’s Twitter bio as a particularly fantastic example of a story conveyed through a one line bio:

Dash’s advice for writing a one-line bio, which might be thought of as a quick way of expressing your thing, your story, to people who are quickly passing by, is as follows:

In that way, one-line bios strike me as offering some important lessons about the architecture of meaningful things on the web: They should be brief, and structured just enough to give you a starting point without constraining your creativity. They should pack in enough meaning that they have value on their own, but be useful when annotating a larger work. They should be portable enough to work on almost any kind of website. And they should be useful enough that they can succeed even if the ego of their creators is modest enough to not demand credit.

And you? What do you have to say of yourself?

Comments (50)

  1. Dec 7, 2010

    Well crap. Now you’ve made me think and jesus but it’s way too late here for my brain to be working. Especially when I’m meant to be ignoring the Internet.

    My one line could be loads of things:

    The one who keeps getting more medical shit piled on top of her and her kids.
    She cuts the heads off ducks and roasts them for dinner.
    Have you seen the crazy cute duckings? She eats them. Eventually.
    Or maybe it’s just Rare Disorder Central, with some autism thrown in for fun.

    One line, feels like it’s not enough. I’m going away to think. Maybe about roast ducks.

  2. Yeah- I am not good at this. I have no idea where I’d start. But this is a good kick for me to get thinking about it…


  3. Sara
    Dec 7, 2010

    This perfectly sums up why it is that I discover new blogs, fall in love with them for a week or two while I devour their archives and wait for new content and then never go back again. Also, why I follow so many people that I like on twitter, but do not / cannot follow their blogs. I’m thinking about one blogger in particular who seems very sweet and talented, and while almost everyone in this “niche” knows her and her blog, she remains a small fry. Her story is all over the place, and for every one post of hers that I would read and enjoy there would be five others that jump all over the map, varying topics and genres that make it hard to figure out what she really stands for and who she really is.

    Now, I understand humans are complex and capable of having multiple interests and passions, and even sometimes having conflicting, simultaneous thoughts. And, I know that some people are writing for their own therapy slash enjoyment and aren’t writing to please an audience. But, I also know, through their meta blogging, that they’d love a little notoriety now and then. A pat on the back. A nod of respect.

    I think the way you align these separate but equal ambitions for your blog is by one of two ways that you’ve already demonstrated:

    1) Define your thing. Write your one line bio. Discover the role you play in your story. And then try to stick within a defined radius of that…


    2) Break your site into blog categories so that when you want to write fiction, or cutesy baby stories, or tangents about natural child-care products you have an appropriate place to do so and those who don’t want to read it can avoid those sections instead of avoiding your blog altogether.

    This has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Great piece, Anna!

  4. Dec 7, 2010

    I think the same is true for other professions. As an attorney, I’ve always heard it referred to as having an “elevator story” you can have ready to sell yourself- what would you tell someone on an elevator with you about what you do. I think maybe in the blog world, the elevator story might be more gimmicky or more about one event.

  5. Dec 7, 2010

    I completely understand the point behind this and see it as a valuable to establish myself & my blog as a brand but its still hard. I try to always relate any post I write back to being a mother and/or wife since I feel that if there was a gun put to my head I’d have to define myself as a “mommy blogger” BUT sometimes I have stuff to say that don’t mesh up with being a mommy blogger and I’m trying to figure out how to mesh all of that together. I think the only niche I know I have is that my post are either chock full of humor, sarcasm or stream of consciousness thought provoking words.

  6. Dec 7, 2010

    I seem to have been given “the pink-haired mommy blogger that swears.”

    I guess it works.

  7. Dec 7, 2010

    A few years into reading blogs, it occurred to me that personal blogging can pretty much be summed up by saying that, sure, every blogger has a story…but the best bloggers know what theirs is.

  8. Dec 7, 2010

    This is a hard topic for me to ponder, considering that I don’t think of myself as a writer. I don’t have a bigger purpose. Yet, I like writing for an audience. Maybe I’m the Seinfeld of blogging- just a blog about nothing.

    Too bad that probably only works for Seinfeld.

  9. Dec 7, 2010

    So here’s my question. For those of us who haven’t had an EVENT, do you see certain ways of approaching this working better than others? Say looking at your blogging history and seeing what your most popular posts were and building your story from there, or looking at your persona online and building the story from there–so, plot versus character?

    Or, do you think that for those of us who are small fry for the moment (look at me, dreaming big), it’s an opportunity to ignore the past and build the story we WANT to be known for? Or does that create too much potential disconnect for anyone who goes through our archives?

  10. Dec 7, 2010

    As a mouthy ex-corporate type who likes dead people, I think I can work with this.

    It’s really true, though. You can’t give people too much to think about. People hate complexity. If they can’t sum you up easily (or worse, can’t figure you out), they bolt.

  11. Dec 7, 2010

    and because of that. i’m now scouting off to check your blog out.

  12. Dec 7, 2010

    Yeah, I’m not sure it’s something you can figure out right away. I think you might have to go back through your posts and see what keeps coming up. Or, maybe it hasn’t revealed itself yet. Maybe you’re still figuring it out. Or maybe it is something that is still malleable enough that you can guide yourself towards it?

  13. Dec 7, 2010

    This is where the bloggers who have had EVENTs are lucky (to a certain extent): their thing/story is sort of thrust upon them, and they don’t have to figure it out for themselves. Then again, they also have less freedom.

  14. Dec 7, 2010

    Yeah, it’s a delicate balance: I am the first to say that your blog can be whatever it wants to be. But there does have to be some kind of thing that unifies it, and some kind of organizing principle so that readers don’t get confused. Ultimately, no manner of setting things up will please everyone, but if you can give enough options so that people have some flexibility with the topics they are reading, that helps.


  15. Dec 7, 2010

    People talk about the elevator pitch in other niches of blogging as well, but it’s a little bit different because usually it’s about a product or something. It’s not necessarily about a person. Mommyblogging is still a personal blogging genre and therefore the brand is tied to the person more than all of the other niches — your brand is therefore tied to your bio. I keep reading these Twitter bios and thinking they all say the same thing (my own included): “wife, mother, blogger, I live in _______. Mother to two boys. ” It’s becoming impossible to tell who the real people are and who the spambots are.

  16. Dec 7, 2010

    Right, but this is more than mommyblogging. There are tons of mommybloggers. How are they going to remember which mommyblogger you are? Or, if you’re not totally comfortable with being a mommyblogger, then why are you even bothering with that category? You don’t have to press yourself into that niche if you don’t want to (except, of course, for advertising purposes).

  17. Dec 7, 2010

    I’d say that’s true. Or, some of them have it given to them via the EVENT. Kind of a variation of the born great, become great, greatness thrust upon them thing.

  18. Dec 7, 2010

    After 3 years blogging, if I haven’t found it yet I’m probably in trouble.

  19. Dec 7, 2010

    Well, as I said above, I think the EVENT bloggers have their thing thrust upon them, which has its advantages and its disadvantages. For what it is worth, I don’t think I qualify as an EVENT blogger, personally. I think my thing is something that came organically at first and then at some point I became aware of it becoming a brand and then only from that point forward was it self-consciously my “brand.” I got kind of lucky, too, by sort of following my heart, not to sound too cheesy.

    But, having said that, I followed my heart at the same time as I was noticing a gap in the market. As I said, I was sitting there thinking, “Is nobody going to say something about this?!” about various things that were happening that I thought were insane in the mommyblogging community. I decided to do this again and again, in spite of intense criticism and pressure to conform both for personal and professional reasons — the theory being that there would be a market payoff if I did.

    This is a long way of saying, follow your instincts for your own talents but also keep an eye out for gaps in the market. What is missing from the market? Where can you insert yourself? How can you participate in this conversation? You can use the posts on your blog that have been popular as a guide, yes, but remember that huge chunks of your potential audience has not even seen your blog yet, so who knows if they would be liking those posts or others, or ones you haven’t even dreamed up yet?

    I think I approached it the way you approach a dissertation topic (god help me for even saying that because it sounds so pretentious, but sorry): the critics have a conversation about a text, over the course of years, through these articles and books. You have to read them and then say what your dissertation is going to be. That dissertation has to be a story sort of, and it has to contain you in it, and it has to build upon the past (the criticism), so it has to kind of speak to them, but it also has to be “new.” The blogosphere is kind of like that. You have to think of the bloggers in your niche as having this conversation that you want to be a part of, but in a different, exciting way, that will attract some attention, for the right kind of people. How are you going to reach them? What is the right kind of story to tell those people?

    Does that help?

  20. Dec 7, 2010

    Yeah, or if they think you have “random” “consonants” strung together as your URL, for example, they tend to be dismissive.

  21. Dec 7, 2010

    No, you just started thinking about it today, though.

  22. Dec 7, 2010

    Well, last night. I ended up blogging about it, trying to straighten things out in my own head. Writing is good for that.

  23. Laura
    Dec 7, 2010

    This is where I think it is helpful to examine the paths of established mommy bloggers who have made their children the primary focus of their blogs. At some point, these bloggers may decide (or have decided) not to write about their school aged children anymore, and the ongoing story line is ruptured. I’m noticing more blogs developing a secondary story line or area of expertise such as cooking, design, photography or fashion. Some blogs seem to handle the switch better than others. It is just plain weird to read an angsty post about how the kids’ lives are their own, but a week later, there is a post about their second grader throwing up Skittles in the car. Or, the blogger stops writing about her child (primary story line) and starts writing about the wacky neighbor/babysitter/dog that nobody cares about because, historically, the blog has always been about “Johnny” and his sensory disorder. I think it is key to slowly build up an audience on the other topic while writing less and less about family. Otherwise, it’s too jarring for the audience. You can’t write engaging stories about your family for five years and then suddenly start writing about gardening every day. It doesn’t ring true.

  24. Dec 7, 2010

    Well, OK, but that’s not your story, is it? I mean, maybe people remember what you look like or something that way, but that’s not your thing. I don’t think so, anyway.

  25. Dec 7, 2010

    Right, and the problem, always, is: are you a writer? Are you going to be able to do this, long term? I am talking about for people who want to craft a professional blogging identity here, of course — for people who just want to blog, this doesn’t matter. Blog about whatever you want. But if you want to create a blog that takes off, there has to be some cohesion. There has to be something people can expect to get and grab onto, quickly, and know that’s what they will get when they go to your site. The content will of course change from day to day, but there has got to be something that ties it all together. Do you have enough of a voice to do that? If what makes your brand is too tied to writing about your kids, you are going to have a problem when they grow up. But if you are writing only about your kids, all day every day, are you really a “writer” in the true sense of the word? I don’t know. I mean, I believe that there are great writers who choose to write about their families, but most people who are good writers don’t just write about one topic. In my experience.

  26. Dec 7, 2010

    I think of myself as the FAT pink haired mom blogger (or ‘blogger mom’ which is what my daughter calls me) that swears while discussing her life in intimate detail.

    Still doesn’t fit.

  27. Dec 7, 2010

    I’m lucky enough to have a fantastic set of friends I have met online that I routinely turn to for guidance. One is a professional blogger and the other is a publicist. I trust their judgment completely, and often run past them ideas for my blog. Neither woman is a mommyblogger, not that you, Anna, would find that surprising since you didn’t even know I was a mommyblogger. (That’s okay, no one does.)

    I also have the best account manager at my advertising network and she has generously answered more emails than humanly possible. She has also been instrumental in guiding me as I develop my blog.

    That said, I have little to no clue how I would characterize myself or my blog, and I don’t think that’s unusual. My interests are wide and varied, but I work hard, not always successfully, to reign myself in. I could never write solely on my family. As much as I love them, I would be bored to tears and so would my readers. I can say that people enjoy my anecdotes, stories (sometimes fictional), and photography. To that end, I am slowly developing sections of my blog to reflect those strengths in the new year. I had one idea that I thought was fun, but my blogging friend rightly discouraged me from proceeding. There isn’t anything like it being done right now, but the disconnect would have been too much.

    Self awareness is important, but just as important is a core group of friends in the industry that can serve as sounding boards and counselors. A second or third or fourth pair of eyes is priceless.

  28. Dec 8, 2010

    I mean this nicely, not critically: You need a new line. That’s not you at all. That’s Surface You, not Real You.

    I actually think of you as the one who does the videos now, where you highlight a woman for the week. I like those, and they mean more than your weight or your hair color.

  29. Dec 8, 2010

    For those short on time, please skip ahead to “IN SUMMATION:”

    I think you are absolutely right, and I often find myself referring to bloggers as, “oh, you know, the one who _______.” The biggest (which is not always the same thing as “best,” but that’s a whole different thing) blogs have a “thing.”

    The thing is, though, not everyone has or will ever have a “thing.” I’ve been blogging for about a thousand years, nearly 4 years in my current incarnation, and I fully admit I have no story. I have no “thing.” At all. I never, ever have.

    And I’m not saying this as an objection – like, “It’s not fair to say that! I don’t have a real ‘story’ and I can be big some day, too!” Not that at all. I’m saying I totally agree. I don’t have a story, and I’ll continue as an unknown blogger, likely indefinitely.

    I do bristle, sometimes, when a blog with pretty crappy writing but a good “thing” gets huge, or worse, the phenomenon of any post that deals with difficult subject matter or packed with overly flowery language and overwrought emotion is automatically considered “great writing” when it’s really just crap. But in general, I don’t get all het up about the unfairness of it all. I’ve got nothing, and some people have a “story.” I can’t just INVENT one, and I’m not going to rail against the unfairness of it all. I’m just a plain lady and my blog is just a plain blog, so if you don’t have a story and you can’t convincingly invent a story, I suppose you should just be content with being a plain lady like me.

    IN SUMMATION: Good point, I agree.

  30. Lauren (carterbiosea)
    Dec 8, 2010

    I agree with Kerry, Cecily. You’ve experienced too much in life to reduce yourself to a potty-mouth with pink hair. I’m actually a little curious as to why the pink hair figures so prominently, too. Also, like Kerry, I mean it as nicely as possible.

  31. Dec 8, 2010

    Yeah, I agree: having somebody that reads your blog and who is familiar with both the business side of things as well as the “discourse” (i.e. they read other blogs in your niche) is priceless. This is what I call a consigliere. Kerry does this for me.

  32. Dec 8, 2010

    Well, there is the rub. They don’t read that many blogs in my niche (although my ad network does, of course) but I can’t say I blame them. I don’t read many blogs in my niche.

  33. Dec 8, 2010

    TJ: I think you’re totally right — there are many, many times that there’s a “thing” that gets attached to crappy writing. Many times it’s because of an EVENT. But there are other times as well. I think that, arguably, a “thing” could be crafted to suit just about any blog, under the right circumstances and with the right set of tools. I think of it kind of the way Disney continues to manufacture celebrities out of children: sure, it’s easier to make a star out of somebody who actually has singing talent like Christina Aguliera, but they can also make one out of Britney Spears by using autotune if they have to. At the end of the day, they’re going to have to make both of them diet, and work out with trainers, dye both of their hair, put tons of makeup on both of them and invest a ton of capital in marketing both to the masses — the talent is just one little part of it.

    Blogs are kind of like that. Do you have the tools to figure out what your story should be? If not, do you have the money to hire somebody who can figure it out for you, and if they do, do you have the stomach to write the blog that they will tell you to write? Because in some cases, I think that might be a very difficult thing to do.

  34. Dec 8, 2010

    Well, surely they read enough to know a general idea of what is going on. I mean, it doesn’t take much to get the gist. Let’s not kid ourselves here.

  35. Dec 8, 2010

    It’s not rocket science, that’s for sure. Actually, I prefer they aren’t too familiar with the niche. Their ideas are fresh and unique, and their perspective is less skewed by what others are doing.

  36. Dec 8, 2010

    I’m so glad you wrote about this. I have been going in circles over the past few months trying to figure out my “thing.” I knew it months ago but I lost sight of it as I tried to write what I thought people wanted to read.
    I had a conversation with a reader about my blog and instantly knew that who I was and what I was writing about were not fitting together very well.
    Long story short, I got back to my roots, the thing that drove me to start blogging in the first place. Whether or not my readership ever really takes off, I’m much happier being true to myself and I think that shows through on the blog now.

  37. Dec 8, 2010

    Wow. That could SO describe me basically perfectly.

  38. Dec 8, 2010

    I am fully aware that this is and has always been one of the things holding me back. But knowing it hasn’t made it any easier to define “my thing”.

  39. Anna, when I tell people about your blog I always say, “It’s the blog I can have a conversation with”

    I read every single comments on every single one of your posts. I don’t even do that on my own blog (totally pretend I didn’t say that, because eventually I do get around to it…)

    I really appreciate the way you critically engage your readers. I just busted out a piece of paper and a red pen and took notes on your post and on the comments. You’re like what I wish professors would be like!

    I’ve been thinking about this for a long ass time. I started my food blog 3 years ago and I did a million different things. I wrote about my family then i tried to go all Simply Recipes and only posted recipes and that didn’t work out so well.

    So then I started another blog, on the side. I started a typical mommy blog where I wrote about my life. I wrote about my kids and how and why I raised them the way i did. i wrote about my marriage. It was a mommy blog without ads. I didn’t expect a single soul to read it. I was writing for myself. BUT THEN… the folks at my food blog found it and other people found it and all of a sudden I have readers, lots of readers. All of a sudden I’m going to food blogging conferences and everyone is asking me about “my other blog” and I’m like what the heck?! because i spend 10 minutes pouring out my heart and soul into the blog and I spend 3 hours pouring out my brains and talents into the food blog and no one cares.

    The other blog helped me find my voice. So now I’m trying to write on my food blog the way I write on my other blog. I have stopped writing on the other blog as a way to encourage myself to be more personal on my food blog. For example I wrote a post about how I paid my son a quarter to eat his dinner and people loved it. I didn’t even have a recipe! They didn’t care because they don’t care about my recipes. So now what?

  40. Dec 8, 2010

    Holy hell. I’m in trouble. I’ve been blogging for two and half years and I have no idea how I’d sum myself up in one line. I don’t fit into any niche—I’m not a mommy, I don’t write about business or a hobby. I’m a 41-year-old, childless, working woman who’s addicted to reality TV. I write about my dogs, my life, and whatever else moves me. My blog is like the ones Sara mentions—there are some great posts (if I say so myself) but more often than not, those are sporadic. If I’m honest, I’ve been lazy and unfocused with my blog and part of the problem is exactly that I need to decide what my story will be.

  41. Dec 8, 2010

    That’s great. I think it’s very hard to craft a thing that is out of sync with who you really are. I’m sure people try to do it but it’s asking for trouble.

  42. Dec 8, 2010

    Well, if they are reading your food blog, without recipes, and responding to it, then maybe you should just write it that way? I mean, not all the time, if what you really want to do is share recipes, etc., but it might be that your thing is the food blogger who doesn’t share recipes or something like that. (I don’t know enough about food blogging to know if there are others who do that — are there people who just write about food, like critique it or anything?) You have to try to balance what you want with gaps in the market. Don’t give too much to either side or either you won’t be happy or the blog won’t take off. So it’s kind of an experiment.

    And . . . don’t forget that not everybody is going to like it. There are people, of course, who call me a troll, every single time I write something. I don’t worry about those people. They are never going to change their minds. I don’t have to win them over — they are not my ideal readers.

  43. Dec 8, 2010

    I think people get intimidated by the one line thing. It’s not everything — I don’t think my one line bio is everything about myself at all. But I do think it’s the most complimentary spin on the one thing that I am most known for, that people will most associate with me within this sphere who do not know me well. People who read this blog regularly would say, “Oh there’s a lot of other things, too, or what about this, or that.” But you don’t have to worry about that stuff. You’re just thinking about the one thing that people will remember. But like you say, it may be that you have not yet arrived at that one thing yet.

  44. I go back and forth about this because I want to please myself but I also want to make this into a career so at some point I have to convince myself that just because I think my baby looks good with blueberries all over her face not a single other soul in the world will, because really it’s disgusting.

    I feel like a blog needs to be also have useful information. So this is where I battle between recipe and no recipe.

  45. Dec 8, 2010

    steph – for me at least, you’re the one who re-evaluated your parenting style after struggling with your son’s seizures. i think of you as holding your babies closer (i.e. babywearing) since that traumatic time.

  46. Dec 8, 2010

    ummm… sorry, meant to reply to steph 😉
    steph – for me at least, you’re the one who re-evaluated your parenting style after struggling with your son’s seizures. i think of you as holding your babies closer (i.e. babywearing) since that traumatic time.

  47. Dec 12, 2010

    Yeah, this comment is depressing me, because it could be me (except for the well-known part). I’m really having a hard time coming up with a strong focus. I’m trying!

  48. Dec 12, 2010

    I keep coming back to this, wanting to comment, but having trouble with what I want to say. Could be the lack of sleep from having a newborn. Maybe.

    I’ve been blogging off & on since 2002. Yup. I don’t have all of my archives, but I do have most of them. And even after all of this time, I’m not sure what my “thing” is. But I do know that I’ve thought about those people with EVENTS and I most definitely do not want that to be how I come up with my thing/bio. Because most of the events have been full of drama, trauma and upheaval. Not exactly how I’d want to find my niche. (I feel for those people whose notoriety has been forced upon them via unfortunate circumstances.)

    Maybe if I devoted more time to my blog. Maybe if I thought about it more. Maybe… maybe I’m just too lazy.

  49. Dec 13, 2010

    (I’m sorry, Anna, I guess this would have been better on the follow-up post. I read both of them in succession and have been pondering, but realized later it’s probably the next post that fits my response better.)

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