Less than five years ago, if introduced to someone new, I would never utter the words, “I’m a writer.” If prodded about hobbies, I might say, “I’m trying to write a book,” or “I do some writing on the weekends.” I was writing a novel at the time, but, in my mind, I wasn’t a “writer.” That was too lofty a title for the likes of me.
So, what was I willing to admit that I was five years ago? A lawyer, a director at a corporation, a mother. All of those were okay for me to claim: I had the degree, I had the job, I had the kids. Look, see, here they all are. The writer thing was slippery, translucent. I wasn’t being paid for it. I didn’t have the certificate. It was what other people could say who had their names on the spines of books. I couldn’t put myself in that group.
In fact, what I was saying, or not saying, was that I didn’t think I had the right to the title of writer. I was drawing a line between me and the authors, and I wasn’t crossing it. And if, subconsciously, I always saw this line between us, would I ever believe I could be over there with them? Would I ever jump across?
In the past five years, I’ve made some headway. Writing is a five-day-a-week habit. I’ve allowed others to read my writing. I’ve talked to my children about my writing. I’ve attended several workshops and conferences. I’ve sent out some query letters and even entered a few contests. All of these acts have brought me closer to the line; they have even allowed me to say, occasionally, “I write.”
But has the line disappeared? I have to be honest and say “no.” I’ve come a long way, but I’m still doing it, this boxing-in. I noticed it just today. I was emailing a friend, someone who knows I write, and I was describing the work I’m doing on my current book. And when I reached the point where I was characterizing my draft, I suddenly stopped. I was already typing something akin to “it’s so bad it needs to be entirely rewritten.” But then, hands poised over the keys, I asked myself, is this true, Kristin? Is this what the comments about my book really said? Or is this what I think deep inside, what I feel about my writing, a mindset that will sabotage me every time?
Humility is a good thing. Believing you can always learn more and get better is, I believe, the best way to be. But succumbing to your inner critic, that being who tells you you’re never going to make it, is bad. Fight against it. And, maybe, write this to yourself, so you can look at it sometimes and repeat it in your head: “I’m a good writer.” Or if, like me, this statement still seems too far out there for you, start with something else, something like this: “I believe in me.”
Tom Quigley said:
Hi Kristin, thanks for this latest post.
I loved reading this, and its rather spooky too as it is also something I’ve been reflecting on myself just this past week. My anxieties were just the same as those you describe, in that I didn’t feel truly qualified to call myself a writer, whilst I was happy to label myself a father, husband, communications manager. In the end I concluded that all those other things were activities, jobs, or tasks that I undertook; that they didn’t define me as a person.
Writing, on the other hand, isn’t just something that I do, it’s who I am.
I’ve been following your posts for a while now and I can truthfully say that you are in every aspect a writer, and a wonderful one too. I hope one day you will also see that for yourself and have the confidence to say it out loud!
Keep writing, keep believing :o)
Hi Tom, what a lovely, lovely comment to receive. It makes writing this blog more than worthwhile. I’m so glad it struck a chord with you, and, reading your own words on your site and elsewhere, I can tell you that you are also a wonderful writer. We must keep on, mustn’t we?! Thanks so much for taking the time to write such a personal, special comment.
Isabel Costello said:
What a great post, Kristin, and one so many writers will identify with. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given was by the poet Caroline Natzler who was teaching a class I attended at City Lit just before I started my novel, and that was ‘take yourself seriously as a writer.’ It’s hard to do that without owning up to being one! More recently I the bestselling author Joanne Harris said, ‘There is no such thing as an aspiring writer. Only people who write, and people who don’t…’ I know myself how corrosive those times of self-doubt can be, but the more we believe we can do it, the better we write. You are most DEFINITELY a writer. Tell yourself in the mirror every time you brush your teeth!
Hi Isabel, and thanks for your lovely comment. Though I struggle with writerly legitimacy, I so agree with you and Joanne Harris that there is no “aspiring” writer: if you write, you’re a writer, and if you don’t, well then. I hope my post will help anyone who is doing something very important to them and are afraid they might not succeed. We all must stick together and shore each other up! Maybe I’ll start a club. . . . Thanks again for writing!
Kirstin, A great post and a subject I’ve also blogged about as your feelings touch a nerve for me too. Even quitting my job, to do the MLitt and having a story published hasn’t made me feel that I can call myself a ‘writer’ in public. If someone asked, I’d say that I was a ‘student’ and soon my label will be ‘unemployed’! I still struggle to get over my feelings of sounding pretentious by describing myself as a writer but my confidence is a WIP, like my novel!
I found this blog post, http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/02/21/25-things-i-want-to-say-to-so-called-aspiring-writers/ encouraging and after reading it I changed my Twitter bio etc to include writer and sound more positive. Keep the faith 🙂
Hi Helen, and thanks so much for your thoughts. Like you, I have been able to state I’m a writer on Twitter, but somehow writing the word is a little easier than saying it out loud to someone else! It sounds as if you’re quite a way down the road toward self confidence, however, and I think your decision to quit your job and do you MLitt speaks volumes for your resolve and your passion for writing. Can’t wait to see what you post next on your blog!
Orly Konig-Lopez said:
Great post Kristin! This is a topic I think many unpublished writers deal with. Over the last year or so I’ve finally gotten comfortable saying “I’m a writer” because that’s what I am – getting involved with writing groups, going to conferences, contest finals, requests from agents, those have all helped boost my confidence to stand in the “writer” camp. However, when someone recently said, “I hear you’re an author,” I was very quick to jump in and say no (I think I scared the poor lady). It’s probably just in my neurotic brain, but I’ll accept the label of author when I’m published.
So cheers to all “Writers” and I think we have the right to be proud of what we do – paid or not (yet) we all put butts in chair and fingers to keyboards and torture our brain cells for that next combination of words that will make people take notice. 🙂
Thanks for the lovely comment, Orly. I agree with you – we should be able to own up to the moniker of “writer,” regardless of whether someone has decided to pay us for it. I also think it’s interesting how you cannot accept the label of “author” yet – our minds are mysterious things, aren’t they? Thanks again for the nice comment.
Wonderful post. Yes, it took me years of writing AND teaching Creative Writing before saying outloud to folks “I’m a writer.” One of the reasons is because then, the first thing they say to me is, “Oh, what have you published?” But now with my blog, with an e-Zine, and two finished novels and dozens of short stories later, I say, “I’m a writer, and I’m published in many different ways.” But if I feel like it and have time, I lecture that being a writer isn’t necessarily publishing….it’s WRITING!
Hi Pam, thanks so much for your lovely comment, and you are absolutely right: being a writer is writing first and foremost. The publishing part, though we all want it, is not entirely in our control. I will keep reminding myself of that as I continue to catch myself dreaming of my published novel, when I know that the writing is what gives me joy, which is why I do it after all.