it’s time to claim your title
I know a secret about you.
You want to share your secret and at the same time you’ll never tell. What would people say? How would they think about you after they learn the truth?
Well guess what? I carry the same burden, and since you can’t talk about it openly I will.
You’re a writer. There, I said it.
Are you already blushing and stuttering, denying what you know is true? Maybe feeling a bit angry at being exposed? Then read on, because you need to fix this immediately.
But Are You Though?
If you can’t stop thinking about it, don’t stop working for it.
Most writers realise their calling when still young, though some come to it later. Hobbies and interests come and go but those of childhood have a tendency to remain, even if they’re driven underground by adult responsibilities.
Some avid readers remain just that, while others start making up their own stories. You might not have written a word for years, yet the idea nags at you. You keep a journal or scribble bits of poetry when you feel sad. You read novels and think you could do as well if not better.
These moments can be the beginning of a writing career if you go from thought to action. Dreaming gets you nowhere, you must act. Talking about it, thinking about it, or planning it isn’t enough.
To be a writer, you must write. And you must finish your stuff.
Stephen King said that if you’ve paid a bill with money earned from writing, then you can call yourself a writer. That’s true for a professional, but we all have different goals and money is only one of them.
A writer has an itch, a compulsion, a need to express themselves in words. That’s you, and you want to know how to own it.
Not in Public
Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.
So you want to call yourself a writer, but something is holding you back. Perhaps you remember being dismissed or ridiculed by someone whose opinion mattered — a parent, teacher or friend. They told you writing poetry was banal and writing romance was pathetic wish-fulfilment.
They told you your words were no good, and by extension, you were no good. The resulting shame caused you to bury writing where nobody could find it and use it against you.
Things are different now. You’re grown, and nobody can tell you what to do. These wounds run deep but you can heal them without therapy.
- Recall what was said and who said it
- Write it down
- Write a letter to that person telling them they were wrong
- Burn or tear up the letter
Anyone can write, just as anyone can cook. But not everyone can do it well. Maybe you think you’re not good enough because you’re not Neil Gaiman or Stephen Covey yet.
You must practise. Write a thousand words, then ten thousand more. Make writing a central part of your life so that it becomes familiar. Lose your fear of the thing you love and get good.
No Words to Say
Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
Imagine this scene. You’re at a social gathering and someone you know asks, “So I hear that you write, what are you working on?” They smile encouragingly. What do you do?
- Flight — you get away as soon as possible without answering
- Fight — you deny it or make some self-deprecating remark
- Freeze — you’re terrified and unable to speak
You’re a writer and words are your tools. It’s time to use them.
You need two stories; one for you and one for your work.
What Would Super Me Do?
Beginning. Middle. End. Facts. Details. Condense. Plot. Tell it.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Picture yourself as a confident writer. If that’s too difficult, create an alter ego (why do you think authors use pen names? Just for anonymity?) A superhero writer who looks like you but acts like she was born to do this.
Now ask yourself WWSMD? What would Super Me do?
She’d face her questioner and smile. Then she’d say something like, “That’s so kind of you to ask. I’m working on some short stories/ editing my novel/ working on my blog.”
When the follow-up questions come, she’s ready with the address of her blog and an elevator pitch for her book. She isn’t ashamed of who she is. But she isn’t her work either; it’s part of her life, not her whole being.
So use your skills and write those stories. Write the description of you as you are now, making the best of your position. A single sentence should do. Then write the next part, where you answer deeper questions. Be vague; say it’s at an early stage, or in editing, or that you plan to find an agent in the future.
If someone is asking personal questions like how much money you’ve made, don’t get angry or embarrassed. Find words that you can say with a smile, then change the subject.
“When I make my first million, I’ll let you know!”
Writing an elevator pitch is a great exercise for any novelist and forces you to condense your story into its essentials. Try it, and you’ll find it easier to write queries, blurbs, and synopses.
Do not put yourself down by saying that your writing isn’t serious, or that you’re no good. Nobody wants to hear that. Don’t apologise. Avoid any opinion, just stick to the objective facts.
I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.
Fear is at the heart of our troubles.
We don’t tell the truth about our work and ourselves because we fear an imaginary outcome. As writers, we’re blessed and cursed with well-developed imaginations, full of monsters and disaster.
It’s never as bad as you think it will be. Practise in low-risk settings first. Try out your routine on a trusted friend, in the same way Chris Rock tests his routine in small clubs before going on tour. Tweak and adjust until you feel happy with it.
As you get more confident, expand your arena. Last year my online writing group produced an anthology of short stories. Each writer was tasked with getting people to be part of the street team who would be early reviewers. Did I want to approach people and ask for something? Hell no.
After I calmed down, I wrote a short Facebook post that started with, “As some of you may know, I am a writer.” Writing it down was much less scary than speaking it out loud. Two surprising things happened.
First, lots of people agreed to be part of the launch, not always the ones I expected.
And second, I introduced myself to my social network as a writer, and the sky did not fall. In fact, it became much easier to say it in person.
Claiming your title as a writer is simple.
- Write stuff — and finish it
- Release old programming that doesn’t work for you anymore
- Write the story of the new you
- Practice makes perfect
Soon you won’t need an alter ego because you will become Super Me, proud writer and not afraid to say it.
Go on, you can do it. Start today.