“Hi. My name is Sherry, and I am a writer.”
Have you ever noticed that every time you tell someone you’re a writer, the first thing they ask is if you’ve been published? It is an understandable question. They want to know if they’ve read anything you’ve written. They want to know if they’re talking with a New York Times Bestseller. But the question implies that the only way you can legitimately call yourself a writer, is if you’ve had something published.
In response, it has become universally acceptable to call unpublished writers “aspiring” writers. But what are we aspiring to? To write? That suggests we’re not actually writing anything yet. What we’re aspiring to, is publication, to have our books on the shelves in bookstores and libraries, and available to purchase online.
Is it only the unpublished who face this legitimacy question? Having a short story published in a lesser-known magazine, or a book published by a small press, or even self-published, often also engenders skeptical looks and the dismissive “oh.”
Such dismissive reactions lead to doubt in all writers. We begin to ask ourselves questions like: Am I a real writer only if I make a National Bestseller list? What if my book is only available online? What if I’ve only been paid a token amount for my short story? What if I self-published, is it a real book? We begin to believe things like: I’ve been writing every day for months or years, and I’ve taken a dozen classes on the craft of writing but I haven’t sold a story yet, so I guess I’m not a real writer.
This doubt in our identity as a few harmful results:
- Procrastination. If we don’t believe ourselves to be writers, it becomes much easier to skip a day or two or ten of writing. Not being a “real writer” means that writing must merely be a hobby. If it is a hobby, you can write when you feel like. If you’re having a lazy day, if you don’t feel like writing, it’s no big deal.
- Susceptibility to overwhelming negativity. Let’s face it. Some people can be jerks sometimes. Some people are jealous of your writing time, or the notion that you are pursuing your writing dreams because they’ve given up on their own. Some people might think you’re in competition with them for the same book slot in a publishing house. Sometimes they’ve had a hard road to publication and bestsellerdom and see your keenness as an innocence which needs to be squashed. And so they will tell you things like it is too hard to find a New York agent so you shouldn’t bother, or that taking certain kinds of writing courses aren’t legitimate because they only lead to a “cult of personality” mentality and false delusions of publication. They might suggest to you that your story doesn’t meet the theme of an anthology they are also submitting to. They may offer to critique your work and then rip it apart without offering any constructive feedback. And we start to believe them because they must know what they are talking about. So we don’t write as often as we want, or need to.
- Guilt. We feel guilty about the time we’re taking to write. But we also feel guilty about the success we’re having. Our stories were only published in a small magazine, we only received semi-pro payment, it’s a small press, I only have an agent who is sending the manuscript out to editors. Our guilt downplays all of our writing accomplishments and successes and we don’t take advantage of promotion opportunities because we feel we aren’t big enough to have something valuable to say, or we stop ourselves from submitting to certain markets.
So what can we do to overcome this identity crisis? Let’s deal with each of the above points.
1. Procrastination. Do you want your writing to be a hobby, or do you want it to be more? Write down the reason you write, and what you want to get from your writing. What is your ultimate goal with your writing? What defines ultimate success? Is it getting on the New York Times bestseller list? Is it having a reading in your local bookstore? What defines initial success for you? This isn’t that ultimate goal, this is that moment you look forward to with your first book or first story sale. For me, it is that moment when someone reads my book and says I helped them in some way, that I affected them positively. Will putting off your writing help you get there? I didn’t think so. Keep those lists near by so that when you feel like procrastinating, they will remind you of why you should write instead.
2. Susceptibility to negativity. As the kids say, “Haters gonna hate.” This implies that you need to have a thick skin and just brush off the jealousy. As writers, we tend to be sensitive souls, we take things personally more than we probably should. That’s what makes us great writers. But when it comes to negative comments, we need to have a thick skin. It takes time and practice. Remind yourselves that their jealousy and negativity has more to do with their dissatisfaction with themselves than anything to do with you. Before you even put any piece of your writing out into the world for others to see and comment on, look inside yourself. Look at all you have accomplished, where you started from and where you are now. If they criticize a course, you must know for yourself, what you gained from that class. Only you can know how much you’ve grown as a writer. If the critiques you receive are only negative and not constructive, find a new critique group. No one can tell you how to feel or what to think. If you feel and think like a writer, then you are a writer.
3) Guilt. Guilt often comes when we compare ourselves to others, and what is socially expected behavior. We all have our own paths. Some of us are more capable of being involved in more things than others, it doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else. Your path, your time, is yours and yours alone. Embrace it, love it, own it. Take a leap and submit to the bigger markets. Challenge yourself to learn more and to continually grow as a writer, Speak with authority and belief in yourself about the writing process, and the writing business. Most people have no clue how the publishing industry really works, it doesn’t hurt to politely open their eyes, politely. Yes, I did say politely twice, and I’ll say it again, be polite about it. Be knowledgeable and confident about it. Know that the time you spend on your writing gets you that much closer to achieving your goals. Think about what the payoff is for you if you reach your goals. And if you don’t? Is the avoidance of guilt or conflict for a few minutes or days worth the set back?
When we embrace our path, believe in ourselves, and “do today instead of putting off to tomorrow” we can be confident in ourselves as writers. We are not “aspiring” to write, we are writing, and in my books, that makes us all writers.
If you want to pursue this further, I will be teaching my workshop “Silencing Your Inner Saboteur” this June through Savvy Authors.
Writing and coaching are two of Sherry’s greatest joys in life. She considers it a great priviledge to be able to combine the two, and to work with other writers to help them achieve their goals and dreams. Sherry is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, holds an M. A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, and received her coach training through ICF Accredited Erickson College. Her book Silencing Your Inner Saboteur is available both as an e-book and hard copy through most online bookstores, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks. For more information on Sherry, her coaching, Silencing Your Inner Saboteur, and when Sherry will be presenting her workshops, visit her website at http://sherrypeters.wordpress.com.
All writers experience times when we don’t feel like writing, or have difficulty getting words on the page. We give these situations the umbrella name of writer’s block and blame our censor, critic, or editor. Silencing Your Inner Saboteur explores these issues and situations to discover that it is really a saboteur behind it all, preventing writers from achieving their dreams. This book is for writers of all stages, from those just beginning to those who are well into their writing careers. Inside this book, you will uncover the source of your inner saboteur, its disguises and tricks, and how to silence it. There are also exercises after each chapter to build the resources necessary for silencing your saboteur.