I recently did an author interview (not yet live) with Wendy Van Camp of No Wasted Ink, and her questions were truly thought provoking. One that got me thinking most: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I won’t answer that question here, because I answer it in the interview. Still, the question itself got me thinking about the importance of an aspiring author considering herself a writer for the first time: truly embracing the title with assertive humility and believing, “that’s what I am.”
You’re a writer, in fact, the moment you start writing. But come on: none of us feels like a writer at that point. None of us knows what we’re doing.
If anything, first starting out feels more like you’re tinkering around with something new or playing dress-up or some other game; you just don’t feel serious, skilled, or important enough to claim the gravitas the title of “writer” brings with it.
“I am a doctor.”
I recently watched an episode of Scrubs that focused on Dr. Elliot Reid (this relates, I promise.) If you’re not familiar with the show and the name trips you up, Elliot is a woman; she’s played by actress Sarah Chalke.
The episode focuses on the fact that three years out of medical school, Elliot has never told anyone she’s a doctor. She goes through these convoluted descriptions of what she does that make it seem as though she hasn’t graduated yet.
She has never had a defining “sink or swim” moment to give her the confidence to claim she is what she’s been for quite some time. When that moment comes, it is, of course, a big deal for her.
She becomes better for it: more confident, more self-assured, more willing to take measured and necessary risks for the good of her patients.
“I am a writer.”
All writers have a bit of an inner Elliot, I think. I know I do. We each overcome that doubt and lack of self esteem in our time and in our own way. The steps and the moment are different for everyone.
Every writer, at some point, must make a push to claim to be what s/he is. To take pride in what s/he’s produced, even if that work isn’t of the quality the author would like and isn’t ready to be published.
Claiming to be a writer:
- motives you to become a better writer. Once you accept and own the title, you want to do it justice.
- makes it easier to deal with the setbacks and struggles of writing, because you gain the confidence to accept that you can handle them.
- spurs you to pursue whatever personal goals “being a writer” implies for you; when you know you’re a writer, you feel as though you’re on your way.
Claiming what you are doesn’t have to come after a victory
Perhaps the craziest thing about this is: it doesn’t take a positive result to give you confidence.
(Scrubs spoiler alert, by the way)
Elliot’s sink or swim moment comes when a patient codes, and she’s in charge. She loses the patient, despite her best efforts and doing everything right.
Inside, she knows she did everything right. She knows she did everything she could. So, despite losing the patient, she tells a woman outside the hospital, who asks her if she works at Sacred Heart, “I’m a doctor.”
What does this have to do with writing?
It doesn’t take winning an award, signing an agent, or getting a string of 5 star reviews to make a writer.
Maybe you’re looking at the horrible first draft you wrote, but you’re able to see where it’s bad and you have ideas about how to make it better.
Maybe you’re ready and rearing to jump right in and make the tough edits, or maybe you’ve made them and you’re mentally prepared for a beta reader or editor to tear your baby to shreds.
Maybe a horrible first draft is so horrible you deem it a lost cause, but you’ve learned from it. You know what not to do next time. You have an idea for another story, and you can’t wait to tackle it.
Well, you are writer. Hopefully you know that, and you feel that. You can claim that. If you’re not ready to claim it yet, maybe reading this post will give you a push toward claiming it.
Because you are a writer.