How to Define Who You Are as an Author (and Why It Matters)
If you’re the sort of introspective writer (um, all of us?) who enjoys a good personality quiz, this will be fun.
How would you describe who you are as an author?
Who you are significantly affects what you write, how you write it and how readers interpret it — whether you intend it to or not.
That’s why a foundational principle of good composition, the rhetorical situation, starts with this key element: author.
What Is the Author in the Rhetorical Situation?
Simply put, the author is the writer of any piece. You’re probably used to using the term to mean a writer who’s published a book, but in the rhetorical situation, “author” is pretty much synonymous with “writer” or “creator,” whether the creation is a novel, a script, a blog post, an email — any composition.
Understanding the author is important from both sides of the page: as a reader and as a writer.
As a reader, the first questions you ask yourself about any piece are likely about the author: who are they, what do they know, why should you listen to them?
As a writer, you need to know how your audience answers those questions about you. Who do they think you are? What do they think you know? Have you given them a reason to listen to you?
Knowing your role in what you write is your foundation for the other elements of the rhetorical situation that will make for a great piece: how you speak to and understand your reader, and how you present your story or ideas.
How to Define Who You Are as an Author
For those writers in digital media who’ve been inundated with tips for defining your brand or finding your key value proposition, this will be a little familiar — but isn’t quite the same.
Defining who you are as an author isn’t necessarily about carving out your market and determining your appeal (though, when you get to that, this exercise is valuable). It’s about understanding what makes you you — even when you’re not trying — because those parts of you will seep into your writing.
Before You Start Writing
Before you write, think about — or, if you need to, figure out — who you are to the reader. Before they read a word of your piece, the reader will draw conclusions from your byline. Based on what you’ve done to this point, what conclusions will they reach?
Think about how the reader will answer these questions about you:
Who is the author?
What else has the author written?
Is the author an expert on the topic they’re writing about?
What are the author’s biases?
For example, if a reader lands on an article that claims all children should be potty-trained by age 2, they’ll look for hints about the author to determine whether to heed the advice:
Have they heard of the author before?
Is this article consistent with other opinions the author’s shared?
Is the author a parent or expert in human development?
What is the author’s motive for recommending a particular potty-training age? Do they work for Huggies? Were they raised in a culture that potty trains differently from the audience?
Answers to questions like these create the frame through which an audience reads your work — or determines whether they read it at all.
While You Write
As you write, continue to consider your role in the piece and how you convey it to the reader.
In relation to what you’re writing, think about:
What do you do?
What do you know?
Where have you been?
Why are you writing this?
Why are you writing it now?
To dig deeper into your personality and what makes you unique, you could also think outside of your subject matter:
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
What’s interesting in your personal or job history?
What do you value?
You might not find a place for these personal details in your writing, but they could influence your tone or voice and help you better relate to readers. They can also explain your relationship to the subject you write about so readers understand where you’re coming from.
Back to the potty training example, the author can let readers know who they are by including things in the piece such as:
A blatant introduction that includes their experience or expertise.
Anecdotes that illustrate their experience with potty training.
Opinions and facts (with supporting resources) that explain why the subject matters to them.
Write Your Author Statement
To define who you are as an author, jot down a few sentences about yourself and how you relate to what you write. I recommend doing this exercise several times:
Write an overarching statement about who you are and what kind of stuff you write. This is similar to defining your brand and value proposition.
Before you start any project — a new blog, a book, a course, a workshop, a class — write an author statement to define your role in the project. Figure out why you’re creating it and what you uniquely bring to it.
Before you write literally anything — an email, a tweet, a Slack message, a blog post — think about your role as author. If it’s too tedious to write a full statement, just consider some of the above questions before you commit words to the page. It’ll help you suss out your biases and better understand how the reader will interpret your words.
Here’s an example overarching author statement: Mindy is a (fictional) new life coach with a decade of experience as a corporate manager and a yoga teacher. She has a master’s degree in clinical psychology, has been married for five years and recently gave birth to her second child.