Anyone who has ever put words on a page has probably struggled at one point or another with that oh-so-glorious question- am I a writer? They say that to call yourself a writer, you simply have to be writing. That seems pretty straightforward and easy to grasp- but don’t be fooled. The doubt monkeys- well, mine comes as monkeys. I don’t know about yours.- they still crop up again and again, still over this question of identity, of whether you have the “right” to call yourself a writer.
I’d like to share with you guys a few things my doubt monkeys say to me, and how I try to answer them back: maybe some of these will resonate with you. Feel free to use the arguments I do, if you need- and when that doesn’t work, there’s always coffee ice cream with chocolate chunks.
Guilt Monkey Argument #1: You Don’t Have Anything Published
I’m not saying never ever, because through youth and young adulthood I’ve had various small pieces out in various small venues…but I have yet to be PUBLISHED-a story in a magazine, or a book on a shelf with my name on it. What I always come back to is that, essentially, “writer” is a name and title we assign to someone who puts words on a page. Sometimes I think we imbue it with this particular holiness: Behold, a Writer! But frankly, writer is no different than teacher or lawyer,or even blonde, tall, or pudgy. They are all just words. They come with particular meanings, yes- we expect a teacher to have a classroom perhaps, or a lawyer to have some knack for public speaking. We expect a blonde woman to have hair in some shade of yellow, and someone tall to reach things we- or I, at least- can’t. We expect that a writer is a person who, when other people are watching tv, or taking naps, or doing their laundry, is instead sitting with a pen to paper or fingers on a keyboard, putting words in lines. Whether these are good words or bad words, orderly or a disaster, seen by many or only their creator, this is essentially irrelevant. If you string one word to another word, most often followed by a third, you’re a writer.
Guilt Monkey Argument #2: You’re Having Neither an Epiphany Nor A Dark Night of the Soul
I see people all over the place endlessly saying they shed tears over their work, or it was like ripping their hearts out to put the words on the page. Other people go on writing journeys that seem to lead them to these moments of wonder, awe and amazement- at what, I’m not totally sure. Please don’t get me wrong, if you find that much of your heart and soul in your writing, then I am quite glad for you. That is the power of words after all. But me, I rarely feel that way about a story. I feel struggle, yes, when I can’t get a section right, and I feel definite triumph every time I reach the end. But for me, writing a novel is very much like performing in a play. I adopt the story, the skin and bones, of the person to whom that world belongs. I write what they see and hear and feel, hopefully well enough so someone else can have the same experience. But I am always between- conscious of myself, aware that the story is inevitably changed simply by the fact that I am the one writing it. There’s a sense of deliberate removal from the events on the page- an impartiality that, for me, is the only way I could tell a story truly. All of us write differently, just as no two stories are the same. That style doesn’t make us any less a writer.
Guilt Monkey Argument #3: (my personal frequent-flier nightmare) You’re Not Writing At This Moment
Sometimes I go several days without writing even a small section of whatever novel I’m in the midst of. This is frequently the result of one too many pots on the stove: work, school, volunteering, managing my disease and all the ripple effects of muscles that occasionally break out into their own song and dance routine, long distance family events, friends and adventures, etc. Other times, I simply don’t write. I have the time, but I use it otherwise. And every single time I do, this little monkey surfaces again. But being a writer is more than that very basic definition we established earlier-stringing words together. Writing is living with open eyes. Writing is a constant awareness of the thoughts in your head, the beat of your heart, the sound of your footsteps on pavement. Writing is noting how the sun falls as it crests the hill, the smell of your morning coffee, the whispered gossip in the cubicle next to you. Writing is more than words on a page- writing is a kind of living. You might do it so naturally you’ve never stopped to note it, but don’t be mistaken- not everyone lives this way. You may not be mid-project at this exact moment. You might even be a few months post-project and not sure what that makes you. But as long as your silence is deliberate…a silence of waiting and nurturing ideas, deliberating lines and soaking in all the world has to offer, a break in the rush where you take time to just be alive, so you can imbue that vibrancy into your work, then my friend, I am pleased to tell you: you are indeed a writer.