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.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
I LOVE this post. I just turned in book #13, and I wrote on Twitter about a month ago, 'You know how weird this writing life is? I've written 12 books & counting, and still, when I start a new one I'm like: I don't know how to do this. What makes me think I can do this?!'
Thanks for this, Kerry. It's good to know I have lots of company. And now I have tools!
Good to see your smiling face. Hope to see you in October!
Isn't it amazing how we never really quite believe we can do it? But, of course, you can. You've totally got this book. As for October - registration was full before I knew it was open. So, alas, I will not be there.
Wonderful! Can you hear the whoops of recognition and hollers of "Yes!" -- all the way from quiet suburbs in Connecticut?
I thought I heard something... LOL. And yes--everybody I know seems to fall into this mode from time to time.
Thanks for this, Kerry. I've been writing for decades, my debut novel will come out next spring, and when someone asks what I do, I STILL put 'writer' as a postscript, if I mention it all. I'm resolving to seize a different mindset!
Yes! Seize the mindset. Practice in front of the mirror and in your head. 🙂 Because - YOU - Rebecca - ARE A WRITER! Also - huge congrats on the release of your debut novel! That's fantastic.
#3 Yes. I'm working on novel 21 and I KNOW it's going to suck and nobody will every buy it and I probably won't even finish. But I show up for work everyday, and I've passed the 40K mark.
And that should be every day. Hate that mistake. But I haven't had my coffee yet.
Not having had coffee forgives all sins! (Also, you're actually allowed to make little errors. Even big ones.)
Awesome. I'm at that point in my current novel, too. Nobody will ever read this, it's total crap, I've forgotten how to write... it's all a lie, as you've figured out already if you've written 20 novels. Because, WOW! That's amazing.
I love this post! I typically refer to myself as an "aspiring novelist" - but I'm working on my third novel. None have been published (yet), but that doesn't take away from the fact I've written 3 novels. No more "aspiring" - it's just writer/novelist from now on!
YES!! My work here is done! Seriously - this post began as a bit of a rant about the whole "aspiring" thing. You can't aspire to do what you are already doing! You are a novelist! Celebrate it. 🙂
I always find it interesting that when I go to the doctor, dentist, etc and they're gathering information, they say "so, you're retired?" - I always say, "no, I'm a writer" but who knows what they put down in that little box on the form? I think I'm going to start saying an idea I got a few days ago from The Creative Brain on Netflix (watch this, it will inspire you!) - "I create stories that don't exist yet"
Oh, I LOVE THAT!!! And yes, I'm amused by the people who believe I "retired" when I quit my day job. I'm writing and teaching writer mindset full time -- and busier than I was when I was on the clock every day.
You totally struck a nerve. I was just talking with my daughter about how hard it is in a capitalist society to believe that you ARE something unless you're making a living at it. Always nice to be reminded! Thank you!
So true. And yet, if we pursue art in any form, we ARE artists, whether it ever sees the light of day, or whether we get paid.
Such great advice. Have to keep reminding myself when people make fun of my genre or doubt me because they've never heard of me. The wife of my husband's coworker said something really rude and snarky at the Christmas party. It hurt, but I 'm a writer--she doesn't matter. She wasn't going to buy my writing anyway.
I'm also considered press because I contribute content to a friend's blog and can go to events with press admittance privileges. Another blogger and I were commiserating at some snubbing us. But, both of us know how far our reach can be with the help of social media platforms. We reach people on a national and international level where some of the others only reach locally or regionally. When Hollywood producers and actors notice mine, I feel vindicated. And, no, I don't need likes/RTs/comments/etc... for validation, but it doesn't hurt.
Hey, Denise - all of us want validation and it stings when people are outright rude or nasty like that. I try to frame it as a question to myself, like, "What is going on in your life that makes you feel the need to drag me down?" More recently I've been following and teaching a forgiveness practice for all of that. Those comments, that negative energy, does nothing but bring us down and interfere with our glorious process. I'm working with this mantra when somebody like that gets in my way: I forgive you. I'm sorry (that you feel triggered by my success, etc.). Thank you (for the opportunity to grow and learn). I love you. And let me be clear that this is for MY benefit, not theirs. They never need to know, and it frees me from the grip of that toxic energy.
That is so true. Forgiveness is so we may go on freely. It never means the wrong was right. Thanks for reminding me of this. I never think about doing it with regard to comments about my writing, but why should it be any different than any other aspect of my life?
Have a lovely weekend! Those words of kindness meant so much to me.
Denise, the idea of forgiving our critics and those who dim our light is new to me too - but it's amazingly helpful for getting us back on track. 🙂
My husband and I are recently retired and we've started traveling and doing other things we dreamed about. My writing has taken a bit of a back seat. Satan whispers that I'm no longer a writer because I don't write every day and often don't even have a word-count goal for each day. I fit my writing in among times with my husband. I needed your reminder - I AM a writer!
You are totally a writer! And you know what? It's not necessary to write every day and you get to decide what kind of writing schedule works best for you! If having a goal is helpful for you, consider a weekly goal instead - that way you can skip some days and write on others.
Love this. Thank you.
My pleasure. Happy writing!
I so needed this today. I was feeling like I hadn't made much progress on my novel, and all the negative thoughts came into play. Well if you were a real writer, you'd do this many words a day or you'd have this many pages written. Thank you for reminding me that just showing up to write is a good measure of success, too.
I honestly believe that showing up to write is the best measure of success. 🙂
Aw, I love this! Thanks for the encouragement!
Any time! Happy writing.
I already said this to you privately, but I'll say it again publicly: This is fabulous, but...are in my head? I needed to read point #4 - Love Your Writing. Too often, I forget to savor the parts of this job that I truly love: storytelling, character building, and word-crafting.
It makes it so much easier to get to the writing when we remember it's a thing we GET to do, rather than a thing we HAVE to do. Also, yes. I'm totally in your head. ~cue creepy violins~
Thanks for the inspirational post, Kerry!
You are so welcome!
[…] Having doubts about your craft? Kerry Schafer shares five steps to embracing your identity as a writer. […]