Sunday, May 15, 2011

Identity Crisis

I still feel funny referring to myself as a writer.

It seems sort of idealistic. A little too pie-in-the-sky maybe. What do you do? Oh me? I'm a writer. As though this somehow implies I spend my days pouring over poetry by the fountain, and sampling vegan foods from around the world, and contemplating the human condition with any number of brilliant acquaintances from my diversity roster.

For the record, I haven't read much poetry since college, and my vegan experience peaked at the Whole Foods salad bar. I do have lovely, smart friends, but we usually spend our time eating pie and catching up on what’s happening in our day jobs.

The truth is this: I hesitate to call myself a writer because I’m afraid I might be a bad writer. I swim too, but I don’t call myself a swimmer. Michael Phelps is a swimmer. I’m a person who likes to swim. So maybe I’m just a person who likes to write.

I mean, I do suck at grammar, and Spellcheck is the only reason I don’t look like a total idiot in print. For crying out loud, writers are supposed to be good at the mechanics, right? Yet, some small voice inside of me insists that these things don’t matter. That being edgy, and mysterious, and brilliant – all those stereotypes I set up and then fall short of – aren’t important either. They’re just layers of padding, built in excuses so I don’t have to admit that I’m afraid of looking like a fool.

And the truth is I am afraid. I send my manuscripts to my agent and then chew my nails down to nubs, and eat everything in sight, and refresh my inbox forty times an hour. I rehearse what I’ll tell my editor if she doesn't like my work. I remind myself that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks – what is this middle school? – as long as I’m happy with myself…blah, blah, blah. And you know what I’ve learned? It’s okay to be neurotic. It’s okay to be self-conscious. If I wasn’t so afraid, I wouldn’t care, and if I didn’t care, writing would just be a hobby.

Here’s how I know it’s not: When I wake up in the morning, I want to write, and when I go to bed at night, I know I haven’t written enough. I think in sentence form (typically grammatically incorrect sentences). I’m distracted by dialog being spoken in my head. And I will always assign hero and villain status to individuals in my everyday adventures.

When I write I feel like my best self, the self I want to be. When I put it all out there on the page, I feel fulfilled. And if that makes me vulnerable, and that vulnerability makes me scared, that’s okay. Because this is who I am.

Maybe writing isn’t your thing. Maybe it’s basketball, or, I don’t know, acting, but you don’t know if you’re any good. Own it. If it’s what burns inside you, if it reframes the way you think and is a part of every decision you make, you aren’t just a person who likes to act. You’re an actor.

And me? I’m a writer.

29 comments:

Katie McGarry said...

Oh Kristen, this is a brilliant post! It is so true. I always hesitate before telling people I am a writer. By the way, I laughed out loud several times while reading this. Especially at the assigning hero/villain status to people in my everyday life. I think I'll start doing that.

Kristen Simmons said...

Thanks Katie! I'm glad I'm not the only one!

Eve Marie Mont said...

Great post, Kristen! Why is it that people hesitate to call themselves by their true life's work--writer, artist, actor--but have no trouble defining themselves by their day jobs, which are often done just to pay the bills? It's nice to give ourselves permission to own what we love!

Kristin Lenz said...

What a wonderful, honest post, Kristen - I can so relate! Somehow it's easier to feel competent and successful in our day jobs, where we've had specific education and training and structure over time. But writing is so subjective, and every book is different. Although, I remember feeling very scared at the beginning of my social work career too. BTW, this post also revealed your social worker empathy and insight! And if your writing is this insightful and honest, I can't wait to read your debut!

Jenna Cooper said...

From what you said--you are a writer! There is no one form of being a writer, writers are everything. And, F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of the worst spellers in the world--didn't change the fact that he's a great writer.

Colette Ballard said...

Kristen, I LOVE your post!! It's so me! There's not many people that even know i'm a writer. I never wanted to explain or feel like i had to justify or receive negative energy. I try to make up for my lack of outward confidence by doing lots of visual and mental positive thinking. And i have to say, getting my new agent has given me a confidence boost: )

Jennifer Wolf said...

Excellent Kristen! Spoken well for all of us. Welcome to the blogsphere!

Kristen Simmons said...

Eve and Kristin - thank you for your comments! The truth is we carry so many roles we could call ourselves almost anything (wife, student, social worker...), but it always seems backwards to me when the identities we are most passionate about - that scream the loudest inside of us - become the ones that we hide. As though they are fragile.
Jenna - thank you! I feel incredibly validated by this bit of information about F. Scott Fitzgerald. Am tickled. Ha!
Collette - Congrats on that agent! And yes, I know just what you mean!

Kristen Simmons said...

Thank you Jennifer! It's very...exposing...

Elissa J. Hoole said...

nice post, Kristen, and I find myself feeling the same things about claiming that title of writer or author or whatever to the world. It's a leap requiring confidence for sure! Well done. :)

Jenny Lundquist said...

Great post, Kristen! I totally relate. I had heard a million times that if you write, then you are a writer (and I tell people that, too). But I have to admit that it wasn't until I had a book deal that I felt comfortable calling myself a writer. And I know what you mean about getting distracted by dialogue in your head--sometimes my husband or children will have to repeat a question two or three times before i really "hear" it!

Jess said...

Fantastic post, Kristen! I especially loved this: "When I write I feel like my best self, the self I want to be."

I'm still getting used to calling myself a writer, too. And I think you're right--we're neurotic bc we care so much! Or at least that makes me feel better for being so anxious sometimes. ;)

Saumya said...

This is a great post and one we can all relate to!! You are a writer because it is what drives you throughout your day. I have issues calling myself one as well and find myself stammering, "Yeah, I enjoy writing...."

Kristen Simmons said...

Thanks for commenting Elisa, and Jess! Saumya - I stammer the same thing. And Jenny - my husband feels your husband's pain on that!

Karen said...

Love, Love, Love this!! You go girl! When you win that Pulitzer, I hope I'm invited. Enjoy every minute Kristen. I'm definitely a fan! And a poet by golly. You can see some of my work at poetry.com and search by
name. :-)

Jill Hathaway said...

This SO resonates. Thanks for being so honest! I'm sure we can all relate!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great post. I can so relate. I don't have an agent or editor yet because I haven't finished my manuscript. So I don't even have that accomplishment to convince myself I'm a writer. I'm sure I'd have as much self doubt even if I did reach these stages. I'll be glad to know I'm not alone.

Jenny Torres Sanchez said...

Kristen,
I love, love, love this post! It's exactly how I feel and what I think every day, every time I face the page, every time people ask me what I do. I always feel the need to over explain but also make less of the fact that I'm a writer. You're so right, we should own it. And be proud of it. And stop feeling weird about fessing up to it.

Kristen Simmons said...

Thanks for commenting Karen. So nice to meet a poet - how cool! Thank you for the link too!

Jill, and Jenny, thank you for your comments. So glad to hear you can relate.

Natalie, committing to work on a manuscript is an accomplishment in and of itself. I've struggled with self doubt too, but you can totally do this. Can't wait to hear more about your progress.

Paul Jones said...

Kristen,
WOOHOO! Sound the trumpets, roll out the carpet, and stand back boys. There's a new blogger in town! LOVE IT!

One of my favorite writers, Frederick Beuchner, once wrote that a person's true calling is found in that place where her great passion and the world's deepest need meet. And you've found it.

You have a voice, a true, sincere, vulnerable word that the world needs to hear. And whether the world has the good sense to know it or not, it is all the better for it.

I wouldn't even dream that what I had to say were unique or worth sharing if it wasn't for your constant encouragement. And, yeah, I'm diggin' that last paragraph, by the way. :)

Tickled to death to be one of part of those every day adventures of yours, only now I'm totally paranoid about my hero or villain status. Maybe I'll go write about it...

Shine on, sister!
(High 5 for A-5)
:)

Jennifer Bosworth said...

Love this post! Keep them coming!

Kristen Simmons said...

Paul, I would tell you if you were a hero or a villain, but that would ruin the end of the story. HIGH 5 for A5!!!

Thanks for the support Jennifer!

Lisa Tapp said...

Great post, Kristen! And so very true. I wonder what defining moment allows us to claim 'writer' as our status. Is it the first book? Multi-books? NYT best-sellers?

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great post, Kristen! It is scary telling people you're a writer. Usually they ask if they've read anything I've written (even if I was published, how would I know what they've read?).

Some people will look at me like I've just told them I want to eat their head for dinner, especially when I tell them I write for teens. But I still tell people I'm a writer. I'm proud of what I do and how much I'm accomplished--which is far more than I accomplished as a drug rep.

annegreenwoodbrown said...

So clearly you're not alone on this. What's weirder--calling yourself (myself) an author! Still sounds bizarre to my ears.

Kristen Simmons said...

Lisa - yes, what will it take? Maybe not being able to answer is what strives us to be better? I don't know.

Stina - I admire your bravery. And that's hilarious about eating their head for dinner. Thanks for commenting!

Anne - Thanks for commenting - author is a whole new level for me too!

Jus Accardo said...

This is SO well said. Awesome, awesome post :D

"It’s okay to be neurotic. It’s okay to be self-conscious."

This hits home. I think most (if not all) writers feel this way. We're afraid what people will say when we tell them what we do, and we're terrified to disappoint our readers.

You said it perfectly.
"If I wasn’t so afraid, I wouldn’t care, and if I didn’t care, writing would just be a hobby."

sgchris said...

Unfortunately what most of us struggling writers find dilemma with, once we find the courage to identify ourselves as writers, is that if we haven't gotten anything - i.e. Book - published yet, most people ....well, have no interest is the mildest thing that happens a lot of the time. It can get rough. Thankfully most of us are well read so there is something to talk about....if they bother. ;}
Course there is the little difficulty you mentioned of 'lines of dialog' running thro' our heads that teeter toward distraction.
Great thing about writers talking, published or not, is nice to know things such as that happen to others as well. ;)
[I guess it's 'comforting' to know others hear voices as well. But only if they are writers perhaps. ;} ]
Thanks for the great post.

Kristen Simmons said...

And thanks for the great comment!

I often struggle with this as well. If I can't validate myself as a writer, why should others? Especially when there's nothing tangible to show for it (for example, a book). I think that's when it's most important to rely on our writer friends for empathy and support, and to remember that the product we create is so much more than a physical thing - it's passion, and creativity, and intrigue.

Thanks for bringing this up. You are not alone!