by Tasha Seegmiller
I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s first TED talk. I know it has been at least once a year for the past dozen or so, but there were some years that I needed to watch is more often. It is easily my favorite.
Despite all this, I have still struggled with my identity as a writer, with my belief that I’m competent in this craft I have chosen to pursue. The failure of a manuscript to find a publishing home has all too often equated to a failure of me, of identifying myself and my work as one in the same. If a critique group didn’t go well, I suck. If my agent doesn’t want to represent a particular idea, my ideas are stupid.
I am at the point in my mental health journey where I can start to recognize when the voices are amplified by my depression and anxiety. I’m getting better at calling them out as liars and doing the work to ground myself in reality.
But I’m an English professor, teaching composition to college students and I see it creeping into their writing process as well. Even though I have them read Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts,” even though they read how it is hard for Stephen King to write, the process of getting words on paper, of seeing what they made versus what they meant to make, of recognizing what they are able to write and what they are reading are not the same. Very competent, smart students who are thriving in different subject areas stare at a blinking cursor, paralyzed by the fear of unattainable writing perfection.
Recently, I learned about the importance of separating ourselves, of taking the time to find out who we are, as people, and then who we are, as writers.
So, take a few minutes and ask yourself who you are? Without roles or responsibilities or expectations or titles, who are you? Are you naturally funny? Are you laid back? Are you driven? Are you serious?
Now, who are you as a writer? I know several people who are naturally kind and funny who write very dark stories or poems. There are several people who are lazy in real life but prolific writers. There are people who feel like a character from their book.
But here’s what I want to help you understand (what I’m trying to help myself understand):
The work you are creating is honed by practice, awareness, and the tools you have. The work you are creating is not a manifestation of you. The work you are creating does not have a single bearing on who you are.
You are not your work and your work is not you.
You are a person, full of characteristics that allow you to love and live and celebrate and notice and share and laugh and eat and sleep. And when it is time to create, we need to create space for ourselves to mentally, physically, psychologically, emotionally, subconsciously cross the boundary and allow the writer self to enter into a maker state.
The work done during the maker state is not a reflection of you.
If we are going to work through this, we have to understand that while there are many writers who have practiced and studied and read and written and received feedback and even won awards, every single one of them will acknowledge they reached that point because of intentional persistence and also because of a bit of luck.
Luck that the market was looking for what they were writing at that exact time.
Luck that an agent/editor saw the vision they had for their work and helped them hone it.
Luck that some influencer/award panel/etc. loved that particular book that at that particular time.
They are not worth more than you. You are not worth less than them. You are a creator, honing your skills and practicing with tools that will allow you to make better work.
To repeat: your work is not you and you are not your work.
Do you agree, or disagree? Do you struggle with separating your work from your self? Do you have any suggestions to offer for how people can achieve this?
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Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is an MFA candidate in the Writing Program at Pacific University and teaches composition courses at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven, is the mom of three teens, and co-owner of a soda shack and cotton candy company. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.
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Too true, Tasha. It also helps me to remember that every single writer feels like a hack (even Stephen King) AND that even the Bible doesn’t have all 5 stars. Write on, warriors!
Yes! Every creator has felt this.
Hahahaha! I never even thought to look at the Bible. That made me laugh.
Good advice. Imposter syndrome is real, and some days I think I should rearrange my office so my desk faces the framed awards I've won, or the shelf with my published books (although I'd miss my wildlife-watching).
We just have to remind ourselves that our art and our identity are not the same 🙂
Thank you, Tasha! How timely. Mired in edits or frustrated with my inability to keep up with blog posts - it seems like I'm always shaming myself about my writing. What a wonderful reminder to keep it all in perspective while I continue to improve the work I love.
I get it. I really do. Just remember that the health of the creator is essential for any creating to happen.
I agree, Tasha. I named my voice of doubt Voddy. My voice of inspiration is Voila. (I have a couple of other named muses, too, but I forget them at the moment.) Sometimes, I let them duke it out so I can just go on with my work. LOL!
My voice of doubt is an uppity librarian with a too tight bun. Makes her cranky but that doesn’t mean it’s a reflection on me.
I absolutely love that you name them, Karen! I might have to get in touch with that for my own.
I allow my "failures" as a writer to color my vision as a whole. Because I can't figure out edits or a plot I feel stupid in everything else. Right now I feel I'm in a state of flux and can't find my place anywhere.
Oh, I get it. Instead of trying to see where you are going, can I suggest you pause, for just a moment, and see how far you’ve come? Go back and read some of your very earliest writing. And remember what it was like to write for fun. Open a new document, call it playground or sandbox and just play for a while. Sending love.
I think it's something each individual has to address with oneself. No one answer will work for each person.
I would say to step back and reassess if one receives less than flattering feedback. Read it, sit on it, and then take a good look to see if it's valuable. Sometimes harsh feedback is just mean, but sometimes it's blunt, but helpful. It's too easy to get mad and say something nasty in reply. Being argumentative doesn't serve a purpose here. It's not meant as a personal reflection of who you are, but instead meant to help you put out a better product. We don't always see potential problems in the stories we create, and a nudge in the right direction can be gold. Separating oneself is key in this instance.
Tasha, I've notice for me that I feel worse about myself when I don't do the work than when I do. It doesn't mean that everything that falls from my fingertips is amazeballs, but that I have a lot of gratitude for any words I get onto the page. My work life isn't always so conducive to sitting my butt in the "my writing" chair (as opposed to client writing that I get paid for), and neither is my psyche.
But that feeling when I sit and create on MY stories? Golden!
Yes. The opportunity to work on writing is great for keeping the brain playing nice.
Such an excellent and timely post. I wonder if women struggle with this more - I often let things outside of me colour my view of myself - but probably it's universal to all humans. Thank you for the reminder. I am more than my work.
I used to wonder that too but the more time I spend around male writers, the more I realize it’s a universal thing for all creators.