Or at least I feel like one.
Not in the Mission-Impossible-ripping-the-face-mask-off-to-reveal-I’m-Tom-Cruise kind of way, but in the I-know-any-day-the-writing-police-are-going-to-show-up-and-take-away-my-keyboard kind of way. I haven’t done anything stupid like plagiarize or anything like that. It’s just deep down, I feel like I’m not good enough to be called a writer.
It’s ridiculous for me to feel this way, I know. I mean, it’s just a title, right?
Plus, I have the credentials to prove I’m a writer: I’ve won an award for a short story, I’ve published a couple of books, and I’m working on finishing up the second book (Seeing Scarlett) in the three book Scarlett Series. Yet even with this tangible evidence that at least some people like my work, I can still hear that little voice in the back of my head telling me that I’m just wasting my time, that people are only saying they like my work to be nice, that I’m awful at what I do.
Believe me when I say I am not writing this post for some kind of pity party or looking for praise from the world where people may feel the need to tell me I’m wrong in feeling this way. The reason I am writing this confessional is because after seeing a few posts from and having a few conversations with my fellow writers, I have found I am not alone.
A few months back, I made a new writing friend and we made plans to meet for the first time over lunch. I have to admit (this is a confession, remember), I was nervous. I sat there, talking with her, waiting for her to see through my facade and recognize that I wasn’t really a writer at all. I knew at some point, she would stand and throw her napkin to the table with a look of disgust on her face as she stormed from the cafe. But the lunch went off without incident and I breathed a bit easier, knowing my cover had not been blown.
Days later, we met again. I was still nervous, feeling like a covert agent trying to blend in when she told me about a time she spoke to an English class about writing. She said the entire time she stood in front of school-aged children, she felt like a fraud.
“Maybe if I get an English degree,” she told me, “I’ll feel like I’m qualified to be called a writer.”
At that moment, I realized I wasn’t the only one to feel inadequate when it came to writing. Another one of my writer friends posted that she’s afraid her work will never be finished because she can never feel it’s good enough. This sense of incompetence infects a majority of writers at one time or another. Because this craft is such an intimate, soul-wrenching business with a large majority of it done in solitude, I presume it’s easier to believe in your inferiority than to believe in yourself.
So at what magical point does one stop feeling that their skills are substandard and start believing that they are good enough to be called a writer? Is a degree in English? Signing with an agent or publisher? Selling x-amount of books? Have x-amount of positive reviews?
Honestly, I don’t know as I still battle with this when I start a new project, thinking deep down that maybe my last book was a fluke and this one will need to burned and the ashes scattered before anyone ever reads it.
But what I found when listening to other writers was that we all struggle to string words together in a way that conveys the images in our head to the reader. We all strive to better explain what our character is feeling or doing. We all wrestle with telling a story while, at the same time, trying to silence that voice of doubt that is often more brutal than any antagonist any of us could ever imagine.
Why do we do this? Why do we burden ourselves with such heartache and torture?
For those who do not possess this gift (or curse, depending on how you look at it) of writing and would rather have a root canal rather than write fifty-thousand words, it may be hard to understand. But we, as writers, endure these hardships because that is what writers do.
We write not for the glory, not for the pleasure, not for the money since we may never experience any of these things as the fruit of our labor. We write because we must. We write to silence the characters that demand to be heard. We write because we have no choice.
If you understand what I am saying here, then you are no imposture. You, my friend, are a writer.