am a Writer
Writers’ Journal 2004)
I recently visited Calico,
a renovated silver mining town in the high desert of California, to do research for a story I'm writing. I first asked questions as a tourist and received factual, polite answers.
When I added the words, "I am a writer," everything changed. I connected
on an entirely different level, enjoying instant camaraderie.
Preface a question with
those words, and the floodgates open. More information than you can possibly
use is offered. People don't ask for your credentials; they just want to share their knowledge and be a part of a creative venture.
How often, however, do we use
the words, “I am a writer” in general conversation? During one of our writers' critique meetings, I asked that question, and only two, out of a group of twelve
very good writers, held up their hands.
What qualifies a writer to
say, "I am a writer?" A published book, article or poem? Winning first prize in a writing contest? Receiving an A from
your creative writing teacher?
How about—writing? Every day you write e-mails, letters, journal entries; some of you write magazine
articles, poetry, short stories, or a chapter of your novel. Is this writing
published? Maybe, maybe not. Did
you put words to paper? Then you are a writer.
You may still be learning your craft or honing your skills, but you are a writer. If you are unsure of that truth,
why should the recipient of a query letter believe it?
Before we can change a behavior,
we must acknowledge it and understand its origin. I believe this particular behavior
comes from the world around us. Society has guideposts for success. There are names for levels of achievement.
In the creative arts,
the lines are not so clearly drawn. What we create may not even be for sale. Its value may lie in the gratification we receive in the process of creating it, or
the comfort it gives others. Artists are similar to writers in this regard. My talented neighbor says, "I like to paint."
Trust me, she is an artist. The exception is in the acting field. Few actors call themselves "aspiring actors;" they say, with passion, "I am an actor." They understand the importance of believing in themselves and their abilities. Humility is an admirable quality but not when it comes to success. Those who succeed value themselves, and they value their work.
Everything begins in
our minds. Words have power. They
can motivate, inspire and comfort or do emotional harm. I once read that people
will not remember what you said or what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel. Consequently we need to choose our words carefully, especially when we are talking to ourselves. There is a constant internal dialogue that impacts the way we feel about ourselves and our ability to succeed.
One of the members of our critique
group asked, "What is the difference between self-talk and delusion?" I responded
that having your work critiqued by more than one person should answer that question.
A constructive, honest critique is usually a humbling experience.
For the few who delude themselves,
there are far more good writers who don't give themselves enough credit, particularly those who set high standards. They too often fall into the trap of comparing themselves to "great" writers. The inner voice says, "You'll never be as good as you would like to be," and with those words, the joy
of writing is lost.
When you begin your next
writing project, that voice may ask, “Who do you think you are?” The
answer is simple. You are a writer.
That answer can change your
writing life. Try it. Practice it
in the mirror, work it into your conversations, use it as your mantra, and more importantly, believe it. Begin today.
“Repeat after me—I
am a writer!”