Why is it so damned difficult to believe that we are really writers?
I was discussing imposter syndrome recently with a highly successful author who has two bestselling non-fiction books out and is in the middle of an extensive, publisher supported tour. She confessed that she doesn’t really feel like she’s a writer.
Sound familiar? I hear this from my clients and writer friends. I see the phrase “aspiring writer” all over the internet. I often feel like a fraud myself, despite eight published novels and more under contract.
Part of the problem is that we keep adding silent tags onto the word writer, associating it with qualifiers like:
Successful (whatever the heck that means).
The truth is, if you show up to the page in any form with any level of consistency at all—you are a writer. This holds true no matter where you are on the journey. It doesn’t matter whether you have an agent or not, are indie or traditionally published, or are just beginning to explore yourself on paper and nowhere near the point of publication—you are still a writer.
You are a writer while you’re cleaning cat boxes, changing diapers, making dinner, or slogging away at the day job to pay the bills.
When we don’t believe this—when we buy into doubt’s whispers and think of ourselves as wannabe writers, or aspiring writers, or even newbie writers—we enable all of our excuses and stunt our potential. If you’re not really a writer, then why should you work to learn the craft and skill that will make your words sparkle on the page and keep readers glued to your plot? Why should you sacrifice other parts of your life to make time for writing? Why should you risk the fallout of bringing the deepest part of yourself to the page?
One of the most essential steps you can take toward deepening your writing life, pursuing your writing dreams, and getting closer to your personal definition of success is to embrace and internalize the belief that you really, truly, unequivocally are a writer.
No qualifiers. No tags. No unspoken “buts.”
Here are five steps to get you started growing into your writer identity.
Say to yourself, right now as you’re reading this, “I am a writer.” In fact, get up from your chair, go find the nearest mirror, look at yourself and say, “This is what a writer looks like.” Practice telling other people that you are a writer. If you’re tempted to add a qualifier or a but to the statement, explaining that you’re not published or nobody’s heard of you--resist the temptation. Stand fast. Practice saying, “Hey, I’m Kerry and I’m a writer.” If this feels wrong and strange, if you feel like a fraud, that just means you need more practice.
If you hang out with writers, you’re going to find it easier to assimilate the belief that you too are a writer. Whether you join a local writing group, hang out in an online forum, or join an online critique group, you’ll discover that you’ll feel more like a writer if you belong to a companionship of writers. This is your tribe.
On the days when everything is totally dark and you’re convinced that every word you’ve written is horrible and that you were really born to be a ditch digger—write anyway. Write for five minutes. Give yourself permission to write horrible, sloppy, godawful prose that you would never show to another living soul. Just showing up as a writer, even for just a few words, helps dispel those paralyzing doubts.
Passionately. As if it’s a secret paramour you can’t get enough of. It’s so easy to get swept up in lofty, down the road goals of agents, publishing contracts, record breaking sales, and the elusive rainbow gold of fame and fortune. This focus can feed the doubt and keep us from the page. Whatever success we’re aiming for is always a gazillion miles away, and it’s hard enough to keep believing that we’ll ever get to the end of a draft. Bring yourself back, over and over again, to what you love about the process of writing. What drew it to you in the first place? What do you love about your current work in progress?
If it’s hard to believe in yourself as a real writer, see if you can believe it just a little bit, or for a minute at a time. Employ your imagination. Ask yourself this question: “How would it feel to believe I am a real writer?” And this one: “How would a successful writer approach this situation?” Act as if, while the belief catches up with you.
And while you’re growing into your writer identity—keep writing. Thank all of the writing gods for this one thing: doubts are just doubts, and we are not defined by them.
Kerry Schafer, also writing as Kerry Anne King, is the author of nine novels, including the Amazon Charts and Washington Post bestselling novel Whisper Me This. She is also a writer mindset coach and speaker, helping writers ditch their doubts, dance with their demons, and delve into creative delight so they can get their words out of their heads and onto the page where they belong.
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