My Evolving Identity: Becoming a Writer

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At the end of last year, I decided that I finally wanted to come out to the world as what I knew I’d been since I was in fifth grade: a writer. Since then, I’ve grappled with two main questions:

  1. Should I use a pen name?
  2. How much of myself do I feel comfortable sharing with my readers?

The answers to these questions have evolved since I decided to come out, but to properly explain my most recent answers, I have to start from the beginning of my writing journey.

The first step I decided to take to legitimize my writing identity was to open a Twitter account. But what name would I use? After weeks of introspection, I realized that I would feel more comfortable writing under a pen name, at least to start. It took another week to finally think up the perfect name, and set up my account. (If it took me weeks to establish my Twitter account, imagine how long it’ll take me to publish my first book!) I chose a sepia-toned, free stock image of a typewriter as my profile picture.

I thought to myself, This is the perfect placeholder profile picture until I can get professional photos taken. I love that no one will know what I look like. All they will see are my words on the [web] page. I didn’t really give my “professional image” much thought after that.

Later, I completed a writing class and a short story submission, so I felt ready to take the next step to further validate my identity as a writer: creating an author page on Facebook. It was then that I decided to post one profile photo of myself on both of my author social media accounts.

I was nervous about posting a photo of my actual face on an account where I identify myself as a writer, because I felt like someone would look at my photo and my author account and say, “How could she be so presumptuous as to call herself a writer/author without actually having been published?”

I had to reframe my way of thinking, so I kept telling myself, If you want to be a real writer, you have to do this. You have to post a photo of yourself. You just have to. It’s every writer’s rite of passage.

So, writer photo on social media: Done.

What’s the next rite of passage?

A website.

I’d been procrastinating making a website, because what’s an author’s webpage without their photo, right? I mean, I had a photo of myself up on social media already, couldn’t I just use that one? No. I convinced myself that I needed professionally-taken photos in order to look professional.

Then, as luck would have it, Rachel Thompson (Editor at Room Magazine and Instructor at Lit Mag Love) posted the following on the Lit Writers Facebook page:

“Who here has an author photo? Who wants one, but doesn’t know where to start? If you’ve got one you like, how did you do it? If you need one, what’s holding you back from getting one done?”

I had a photo that I took myself, but I didn’t like it for a book or an author website. And I didn’t know what was holding me back from getting one done by a professional.

What was holding me back?

I gave Rachel a lame answer like, “I have to do so much to prepare. I guess I just have to plan a photo session.”

A few weeks later, Rachel announced that she was going to run a free webinar called, “Love Your Author Photo,” with Vivienne McMaster (Photographer and Instructor at Be Your Own Beloved).

I signed up quick and with enthusiasm.

Last week I attended the webinar, and I thought it was just going to be informative, but I got a whole lot more than I bargained for. Rachel conducted the first half of the seminar. She explained what she was looking for in her own author photo; that strong women writers’ photographs inspired her poses and facial expressions; and how Vivienne shot her author photos. Then, she gave the floor to Vivienne.

Vivienne presented us with what kind of equipment we could use to shoot our photos; what locations would best suit our personalities or writing; poses we could choose; and the importance of having great lighting when taking a photograph.

At some point towards the middle of her presentation, Vivienne said something along the lines of, “If you are going to be a writer, you have to be seen.”

My eyes opened wide, my heartbeat quickened, a lump formed in my throat, and I picked my lower jaw up from the floor.

Why had her statement caused such a visceral reaction?

I employed all of my training in psychology to figure out why.

Let’s see, what do therapists ask a client when they have anxiety about one specific thing? Ah, yes, what causes this anxiety? Where can the causes of most anxieties usually be found?

In childhood?

Yes! My anxiety has to be coming from my childhood.

But from where exactly?

Well, I remember that when I tried talking to my dad when we had company over at the house, he’d always shush me, and tell me, “The adults are talking.”

What did that mean in my little kid brain?

Kids are to be seen, but not heard.

This makes sense because the mental image that I’d fabricated for my writing identity had afforded me the opportunity to be heard without being seen. Now that I’m an adult, I feel like I can finally be heard, and I want to seize every opportunity to be heard.

But why am I still not okay with being seen?

Am I insecure?

You bet ya! (You can read more about my insecurities, and how I used to be extremely shy here.)

Where do most of my insecurities come from?

Puberty! Yes, of course!

Puberty hit me at the tender age of 9. In a short amount of time, I became the tallest girl in my class, I sprouted hair in places where my other friends didn’t even have a two o’clock shadow, I got my period, and I put on a ton of weight. I saw myself as a grotesque, smelly, hairy, bleeding, overweight mess.

Who wanted to look at that?

No one! Not me or anyone else!

My classmates only reinforced my negative self-image when they started to make fun of my weight gain, and then in middle school, made fun of my poor fashion sense.

I have been struggling with poor self-image practically every day, but only now do I realize that it has influenced other aspects of my life.

In graduate school, and later in practicing psychotherapy with clients, the psychoanalytic approach to therapy appealed to me. The patient lays on a couch, and the analyst sits somewhere out of view while the patient free associates and catharts at the ceiling. The analyst’s role is to keep their own psyche out of the therapy room by never sharing personal information, and aiding the patient in resolving their subconscious psychical conflicts through the therapeutic relationship; analysts are never to be seen, but are occasionally heard — this was the perfect setup for me.

When I was working as a psychotherapist, my clients would listen to what I said without truly knowing who was speaking to them. They always knew my credentials — where I studied and how long I had been practicing — but they never really knew who I truly was. In order for me to be an effective therapist, my clients don’t have to know anything about me, but, in order for me to be an effective writer, I have to share all of me — inside and out.

My writing journey has been about healing old emotional wounds and pushing past my insecurities to find my true self — the writer who has been trapped inside me for so long.

Will I ever write under the name given to me by my parents?

Perhaps.

But, for now, the formerly anonymous writer name I’ve given myself is comfortable showing her face, and that’s alright by me.


Special thanks to Rachel Thompson and Vivienne McMaster for allowing me to use their names to write about my breakthrough during their webinar.


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