How Embracing My Identity as a Writer Changed My Self-Perception
Have you ever started a project, perhaps a poem or short story or novel, only to give up in the middle and say to yourself, "I suck at writing; why did I bother trying"? Perhaps you finished a particularly enthusing novel, only to look at your own work and think that it never quite compared. Well, stop there. Put down the pen (or just leave your keyboard be) and take a breath, because you are not alone.
I want to share, at least in part, how becoming a writer has changed how I perceive myself and why this journey is so important.
The Mistake of Comparison
I used to have many negative thoughts about my writing. Heck, I barely thought I was creative in the least, let alone talented in anything at all. I simply understood that I "just did some things well," and that was about it. Nothing special. Not like my peers around me or the writers I aspired to be like, all of whom clearly had something that I sorely lacked.
Throughout my teen years and into my college days, I took to writing in the nooks and crannies of my intense STEM-oriented degree program, especially when inspiration struck unexpectedly. However, that inspiration soon yielded to harsh criticism where I would compare the words on my page and the story in my heart to the beloved books displayed on my shelf. My work never added up; I never saw on my page the brilliance that appeared in so many bindings.
Only in the last couple of years have I been able to look back at my own writing and see the potential that I so quickly discarded. Truly, I made a huge mistake in my teen and college years: the mistake of comparison.
This was the first attitude that I had to change, that early drafts cannot simply be compared to a finished product. Many of us never get to see the painstaking work behind the polished works of so many famous authors, so it's easy to believe that they simply birth greatness with little to no effort.
Once I stopped with the comparisons, two amazing things happened: I was able to grow as a writer, where I began to value the process of writing and crafting stories; and I began to develop confidence (in many aspects of life) through establishing an identity.
It all started with a podcast.
Valuing the Process and Establishing Identity
It was early afternoon and, at the time, I was employed by my church while finishing my Master's degree. I was setting up tables and chairs in preparation for groups that were meeting over the next couple of days, but my mind stirred. It craved something more than simple repetition; it needed something new to chew on. So, I started looking for a podcast about creative writing. In the back of my mind, it felt like yet another attempt at affirmation, a way to prove that I didn't suck at writing as much as I kept telling myself.
I found the Write Now Podcast, hosted by Sarah Werner, and I was hooked from the first episode. "What's keeping you from writing," she asks. In the first episode, she talks about how we become disheartened with how our work never appears to stack up against the books we read and how we can be gripped by the fear of failure or expectations, or even of the very thing we produce. But, there are two moments in this podcast that stood out:
- "...it's okay to fail, and in fact, the only way that we're going to get anywhere when we're writing is by making a commitment to fail a lot."
- "You need to give yourself permission to call yourself a writer."
These ideas were revolutionary and completely shifted my perspective, not just on writing, but about myself. Before this, I had no strongly-established identity, something I should have developed in my teens. I was too afraid of disappointing my family, not meeting their expectations, to even explore myself. That is why this journey has been so important for me.
Failure and Permission
Failure is part of the PROCESS (any process, really!). When my writing didn't seem to stack up to my expectations, I cast it aside and decided that I wasn't cut out for it. Failure is what we experience on the road to success. When we hit a snag or all the pieces topple down, the best thing we can do is learn from the experience, pick up the remains, and begin again.
Giving myself permission to call myself a writer is a matter of IDENTITY. I am a writer even when I fail. I am a writer when I don't know what to write next. I am a writer when my characters frustrate me and my plot is convoluted beyond the point of understanding. Despite all of this, I am a writer, and so are you, if you choose to be.
The Change in Perception
Fearing failure and lacking an established identity held me back personally and creatively, but exploring the benefits of failure and choosing an identity have drastically changed how I perceive myself and how I move through difficulties in my life.
Since becoming a writer, and choosing to identify myself as such, I find myself more frequently in a space of confidence. When I create, I can appreciate all that I have made, both the good and the bad. I no longer question my capabilities because I know that failure is inevitable, even on the road to success.
I experience more joy in life and find myself pursuing opportunities that I never dared consider. Would you believe that I am seriously considering a literary agent? That is the magnitude of change: "I suck at writing" changed into "I think I need to find a literary agent." For the first time, I am writing with joy and vigor, passion and confidence.
These experiences have spilled over into my professional life, where I can walk into interviews and honestly say that my greatest weakness is experiencing disheartenment when I fail, but using those moments of failure to remind myself that it is an inevitable thing that we experience on the road to learning and success.
Resources for Aspiring Writers
I mentioned the Write Now Podcast, hosted by Sarah Werner. I encourage you to check it out. Sarah does an amazing job presenting her content and shares a ton of relevant information for writers, aspiring or otherwise, on topics related to Impostor Syndrome, succeeding in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), websites, marketing, SEO, and so much more.
Get connected with the #WritingCommunity on Twitter. Become well-versed in "Writing Twitter" hashtags, such as #amwriting, #amediting, and #amquerying. Those hashtags are great resources for connecting with writers in the same stages of their work as you!
Finally, get in touch with other writers locally. Set up a writing group to help one another with drafting, editing, and critiquing work. Truly, the importance of a writing group cannot be understated. C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) and J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), among many others, participated in a literary group together at the University of Oxford. Writing groups can be found through social media or (if you are enrolled at a college) sometimes found as part of college English writing classes or clubs.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Vincent Ravencroft