I recently read a fantastic article by Charlotte Doyle that closely examined the creative process of five writers. When interviewing these writers, Doyle noticed that each writer had made the active decision to be a writer before they started writing.
I’ve previously spoken about the importance of claiming the title as a writer, but I found this comment especially insightful because whether you’re a hobbyist or a full-timer, writers tend to make writing part of their identity.
One of the most common questions a writer will be asked in an interview, besides where do you get your ideas, is ‘when did you know you wanted to be a writer?’
Now, we all have a tendency to mythologise our paths, and this would be doubly so when you are asked time and again to provide a descriptive anecdote to this specific question, but the thing about writing and being a writer, to me, is that you don’t just make this decision once. For many of us, we chose to be a writer again and again, and what it means to be a writer is an evolving process.
Many claim that they knew they wanted to be a writer since they were a kid, but of course, that’s not the case for everyone. I thought I wanted to be a fine artist, and then later a pharmacist (weirdo), and then a journalist, before discovering my love of fiction writing.
And even once I did realise I wanted to be a fiction writer, I had no real idea what that meant or how to make that happen. Okay, I realised that being a fiction writer meant that I had to write fiction, but I didn’t know what kind of writer I was (genre? literary?) or what my routine would be, let alone how to write an opening chapter, or–yipes!–publish something. And then there was the whole trap of can I call myself a writer if I haven’t published anything.
The thing about being an artist is that there is no road map. Everybody’s career model is different, even if they do contain some of the same parts. You could follow the same path of a writer you love and not experience the same success.
The ‘how’ behind another writer’s success is not always that useful to us, and why some writers make it and others don’t is the reason creative careers continue to be shrouded in mystery.
Even when you do choose to be a writer, you will frequently question that decision.
You may reach the stage where you proudly introduce yourself as a writer, but there will be times when you don’t feel like a writer because maybe you’re in promotion mode, focussing on building your platform, or other aspects of your life have simply taken over.
Because sometimes life happens around writing (e.g. tight deadlines) and sometimes writing happens around life. Like right now, I’m writing this blog on my laptop in the kitchen while I cook this for dinner. What can I say? It was a day.
Anyway, the point is, I don’t think we chose to be a writer just once. I think we make this decision again and again and we’re all constantly recommitting to this part of our identity in ways that are big and small, conscious and unconscious.
Every time you sit down to work on your book, you are both consciously and unconsciously deciding to be a writer. Every time you get a rejection letter and decide to submit your work to another publisher, you are consciously deciding to be a writer. Every time your inner critic tells you this book sucks and you keep writing anyway, you are choosing to be a writer.
There is so much power in choice and there is nothing as powerful as a mind made up.
And maybe that is, in fact, the secret to writing. You need to choose to be a writer and then choose that path again and again.
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