Writing identity (or lack thereof)

I’ve been wrestling (maybe not the right word, but let’s go with it) with my identity as a writer.

I know, weird, right?

I spend time putting words on paper, I push the Publish button a few times a week, I write paper and reflections for school. And yet, there’s a part of me that still struggles with the label of Writer. “Hello, my name is Stephanie and I’m a writer.” Doesn’t really flow off my tongue as easily as, say, “I’m Stephanie and I’m a student.” Or, “I’m Stephanie and I am the proud mama of four guinea pigs.” And yet, writing has been a part of my life for much longer than either of those two things. (Although school does give it a run for its money.) I more often say things like, I practice writing, I like to write, or I write. But to attribute writing as a descriptor to who I am? It happens less frequently than I sometimes like to admit, given how important writing is.

journals
This was taken in 2008. You can believe more have been added since then.

So, what is it about the title of writer? What does being a writer mean? I mean, when I mention that I write (or try to embrace writer), everyone’s first question, “What do you write?” Ummm… that’s never been an easy one to answer, as I haven’t published anything (except blog posts), what I write isn’t neatly categorical, and as I mentioned a while back ago to a writer friend, fiction’s not my strong suit. I was having this conversation with M. Fenn yesterday after our writing date and even with her, a really good friend of mine who’s been reading along with my crazy adventures since mid-2005 and with whom I’ve been having weekly writing dates for awhile, it’s interesting to think about.

What does it “take” to be a writer? Does a writer have to publish? Does a writer have to have a by-line? Does someone need to want to get her/his stuff out there to be a writer?

What stories am I telling myself about what it means to be a writer?

As is often the case, I have no answers, but asking the questions feels really powerful.

How about you? Are there labels you don’t actively claim? What stories do you tell yourself about them?

And, if you’re a writer, do you claim the label? Why or why not? If you do, what was the turning point for you?

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17 thoughts on “Writing identity (or lack thereof)

  1. “What do you write?”
    “Words on paper.” :)
    I used to have a hard time claiming the title “writer,” and it has a lot to do with coming from an academic background, where being a writer means very specific things–being in a certain kind of write group with the right people, writing only certain genres, being published in the right places. That environment broke me. I left having completely lost my voice and any semblance of confidence in my own truth. And slowly, I started to write for myself, because to not write at a certain point meant to die, I HAD to write. Then I started blogging, and now I’m working on a book and shorter things to send out, writing letters, blog posts and comments, facebook statuses, tweets, emails, and you know what?! I am living the life of a writer. If someone else wants to try and argue that I don’t count, that’s their problem. It’s my primary practice, something I do every day with deep, profound intention and purpose. I don’t need anybody else to believe in it for it to be real for me, for it to be my experience, my truth. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. :)

    • Oh, Jill. First, such love and compassion for you in your description about the academic pursuit of writing and what that did/was like for you. I’m glad you found your way back. :)

      And I definitely resonate with the “not to write at a certain point meant to die.” I’ve been five day without practice (writing for myself and not for an audience of some sort) and I feel all out of sorts.

      I love the roundedness and fullness of your description of “living the life of a writer” – it’s beautiful and so affirming.

      And I’m glad you’re stickin’ to it, and that you’re here.

  2. If someone told you *they* were a writer, what would you assume about them?

    (It took me a long time to settle into “dancer”, but I have. I think performing helped, and I know that 5Rhythms did, but I’m not sure when it happened.)

    • Oh, that’s a fantastic question. And I wonder if some of my self-pressure is based on that? Because my immediate thought is “Well, they write.” The other would be a knee-jerk reaction to ask, “What do you write? Have you published?” When, while those are interesting questions, it’s more about wanting to read them, not judging them. So, what are questions I could ask, instead? (And to myself, too!)

      For you and dancer, does it seem (in retrospect) a more gradual process for you? Or not something you’ve thought about?

      • I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with your questions! But I think we sometimes have radically different standards for ourselves than we do for other people, so it can be a useful perspective to try on. ::hug::

        It was definitely gradual. And thinking about it, it’s still not always something I would say to someone, depending on context. Because “dancer” means certain things to most people, and what I do is not always that, so it can lead to *way* more explanation than I initially intended. But the answer to “are you a dancer?” is most certainly “yes”.

        • It definitely it an important perspective to try on, just to test the waters and see what we think. :)

          And that makes sense that it was both gradual, and that it may involve more conversation than you want at times :) It’s a conversation to have on your terms, rather than other people’s, eh?

  3. I claim being a writer. I didn’t at first. You’re right. It’s awkward. But it’s easier when it’s one of my many descriptors. I’m a mom and wife and friend and daughter and sister. Oh yeah and I’m a writer. I still struggle explaining what u write but the more I claim the title the more practice I get at that part.

    Publishing is the world’s measure for a writer. Writing is a writer’s yardstick. You write therefore you are a writer.

    Good luck Stephanie, carving out your space with this one.
    ~Gail

    • Gail, thank you for your words. I appreciate the thought that while “writer” is really important to me, it’s not the only important piece of my life. In some ways, it takes the pressure off from the question “What am I doing, as a writer, to make a difference?” Even recognizing that that weight is there is POWERFUL.

      And I love the image of publishing being the world’s measure, but the writer’s is the writing itself. Reminds me of the Brenda Ueland, “I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like child stringing beads in kindergarten, – happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.”

      Thank you, Gail, for being a part of this process and space to lean into this.

  4. I think there are as many ways to be a writer as there are people writing. Of course, other people might have more rigid rules about that and look at you funny, if they don’t think you’re playing the game right. Screw them, I say. ;) That said, I don’t think I really claimed the title “writer” until my first story was accepted because being published had always been an important element of the writing picture to me. It isn’t to everyone, and it doesn’t have to be.

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