what i’ve learned from calling myself a WRITER this year

This month, I’m clumsily attempting another go at NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. The goal is 50,000 new words in November. But in just seven days, I’ve already become quite privy to the fact that it’s not easy to write over 1,600 words in a day – and it’s even more difficult to sit down and try. And that’s the true challenge: trying.

But with that also comes believing. Believing in myself, believing in my ability, and believing that – even if I fall short in the end – a little progress is still way better than nothing. Because I am a writer. And writers gotta write, yo.

In other news, Rockvale Writers’ Colony is about to hit the first anniversary of our very first writing retreat. Last December not only marked the first time I’d helped teach a retreat – but was also the first time I’d attended one! And it was one of the first times I’d ever truly shared my writing in person with other writers.

I remember being so nervous – truth be told, I still am, today – and in that nervousness, I realized it felt necessary to downplay myself: to apologize for imperfection, to introduce my work by saying it’s “not very good,” and making it seem like a scary endeavor when, in fact, I was supposed to be setting an example of confidence.

But after I shared my work, I felt proud. I’d done it! Until I was met with a lecture – not on my words, but on my presentation.

Because one of the most important facets of being the Assistant Director of a Writers’ Colony is leading by example – believing that you’re a writer and owning that affirmation, whether you think you’ve “earned it” or not.

I’ve felt different about myself since I was told (and began teaching) the importance of affirming ourselves as writers. In fact, I’ve felt kind of wild. I’ve felt like an artist, a struggling creative, and a soul seeker, eventually settling on some tiny wisdoms which I would like to pass along if you, too, are feeling unsure about giving yourself this title:

You have to claim it – you have to call yourself a writer.

Even if you don’t work in the “writing industry” – if you’re a writer, you have to claim it, no matter what. For yourself. You have to tell others, without excuse or humility, that you are a writer. You have to give what you do a name – make it an innate piece of who you are – not just something that you do on occasion.

Once you do that, you’ll feel justified in attempting NaNoWriMo. You’ll find yourself among comrades at writing events. And you’ll find yourself paying more attention to your habits, your rituals, and your commitment towards being a successful writer.

Just like getting out of bed in the morning, all you have to do is start.

The other day, I found myself with “nothing” to do. I looked at the calendar and realized it was November 1st, the kickoff day for NaNoWriMo. I hadn’t planned on participating this year, but I’m already about 5,000 words into a story I’m pretty excited about. So I figured – why not? And before I knew it, I’d kicked off the month with over 3,000 new words. Of course, not every day is like this, but sometimes if you just say “Yes,” you’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish.

You’ll feel a lot of pressure to be a certain way. Don’t let it get to you.

Since working at a writers’ colony, I’ve met so many amazing and inspiring writers. I’ve read a lot about writing, learned about submissions, and even taken the risk to get rejected. But some days I feel like I’m doing it all wrong – like I’m not smart enough, educated enough, or deep enough to be doing this. Maybe I’m simple – or maybe (gasp!) I’m just basic. But then I hear feedback from some of you and I realize that what I’m creating has value, simply because it’s uniquely mine. Whatever you’re creating has value, too, so don’t forget that. And don’t you dare let it take you down.

Be willing to share. Be humble, but not too humble. Don’t discount yourself.

If you went to see a new artist in concert, and they opened their set with, “So this is new and I don’t feel like it’s ready and it could be better but I hope you like it,” you wouldn’t feel very confident in that song, would you? In fact, you’d probably hear it through a more critical filter, searching for improvements.

The same goes for your writing. Even if you think it’s shit, sell it with confidence. Share it, get feedback, and know that there’s always time to make it better later.

You don’t have to be published, but submitting is important. Rejection is important.

Being a published writer is just another part of the game. But you don’t have to be published to be good, just like you don’t have to be good to be published. We all start somewhere – and then, when we’re ready to share it, submitting to journals is a solid place to start. Just know that you will get rejected, and make peace with it before it even happens. It hurts, but it’s not a reflection on your worth, trust me.

There is no wrong way to be a writer.

Whether you blog, translate, research, theorize, fictionalize, or document – if you write, you’re a writer. And chances are you’ve chosen a format that works best for you – even if it’s one you had to create yourself.

Sometimes you have to try something new.

When I first started writing, I realized I was always trying to tell the same story. I was telling it because I still didn’t feel like I’d done it “right”. Lately, I’ve been playing with different ways of telling that story – and now I’m branching into fiction, which has given me the freedom to play with the details in a limitless fashion. Plus, the fresh perspective challenges me and makes my writing better than it was when it was the way I did it before.

Whatever you’re passionate about, there’s an audience there. It will be hard to find them. Keep pushing forward.

If I wanted to make money at this, there are things I could do. I could follow a formula, make all the right connections, hire a web designer, and take photos with an iPhone 11 (that’s the good one, right?). But that’s not what I’m about. It just doesn’t work for me. I enjoy ranting and raving about my passions, and finding new ways to share them. But my passions are very multi-faceted, which means my audience often is, too. Whatever it is you want to write about – sharks, chemistry, fashion, politics – there’s someone out there who will enjoy it. Just know that if you don’t write it, they’ll never find you.