Publishing is full of big leaps. You sign with an agent after a twenty-minute phone call. You sell your book to an editor you most likely have never met in person. When your book comes out there are all sorts of leaps—giving public readings, doing interviews, writing essays and op-eds—endless opportunities to do things you have never done before. But what I consider to be my biggest jump happened many years before all this.
My big leap? Calling myself a writer.
Now I don’t mean when you are at a cocktail party and a stranger asks what do you do, and you say “I’m a writer.” I actually still can’t choke that out without adding and a pastry chef, which is the thing that people are always more interested in anyway, because, you know, cookies.
What I’m talking about is how I see myself when I open my laptop and get to work.
For many, many years—we’re talking at least 15 or so years—I wanted to be a writer, but there felt like a Grand Canyon-like gap between who I was (a reader, a lover of stories, a journal writer who couldn’t figure out how she felt about anything unless she put it down in ink on paper) and who I wanted to be (a Writer with a capital W).
During those years of thinking about writing I attended the occasional workshop, bought every writing-craft guide I could find in bookstores (reading maybe 1 out of every 10), read about a million novels, daydreamed, occasionally told a friend about my daydream, perfected my excuses—I don’t have time to write, real writers have MFAs, I don’t know how to write—you get the drill. Basically anything other than trying to put my ideas down on paper.
Why, you ask? There are a lot of layers to that answer, but in the end I think it all comes down to fear. I was terrified. Afraid to try and fail. What if I sucked at writing and I had wasted all this time? And if my one dream didn’t work out, where would that leave me?
I wish I had an inspiring pull-up-your-bootstraps-and reach-deep-within-like-a-Julia-Roberts-movie story where I found the strength within myself to start writing, but the truth is it was a series of losses that pushed me past my fear—there is nothing like losing people you love to remind you that your time on the planet is limited. I finally got to a place where I knew it was either time to try writing a novel or time to give up the dream. So I began.
But even then, I didn’t fully see myself as a writer. More like someone who happens to be secretly working on a story. What opened that door for me was being with other writers. The more workshops I took—the more people I saw taking themselves and their work seriously—the more I saw myself in them. We were all the same— showing up, putting words down on the page, studying craft, learning how to edit, killing our darlings, trying to make the best stories that we could. If I took them and their work seriously, which I did, then I could take myself and my own work seriously as well.
So now when I boot up my laptop, and open my current Scrivener file, I do so knowing that I’m a writer. It’s a title that I am incredibly proud of.
Just don’t expect me to say it out loud to you at a party.
My favorite resource for fighting through any resistance to making art of any stripe is Steven Pressfield’s THE WAR OF ART. This whole book is a serious kick in the pants. You will be left excuseless at the end.