I asked the Cerulean Project members why they sometimes feel like imposters, like they don’t deserve the title of “writer.”
I know these folks are brilliant, thoughtful, and sensitive, but I was blown away by their responses. The heavy burden they carry, simply by plying their craft, reminded me of the incredible durability writers have. Not because I don’t get it — I’m a writer, too, and have often felt that way — but because the drive to counteract that monstrous weight is so strong and resilient.
Yet this overwhelming feeling of being a phony remains. Why?
If someone says they scrapbook, we don’t ask to see the evidence. If someone says they travel, we don’t demand to see their itineraries.
But there’s a judgmental attitude that pervades certain arts and sports that involves ego and insecurity. Some on the outside must prove that it’s really “no big deal” because they could do your craft if they really wanted to. And some on the inside who doubt themselves must make sure others around them feel the same.
And of course, there’s the success of anything “worthwhile” being defined by its inherent profitability. It’s not a worthy endeavor if it’s not making cash, which is why hobbies are often thwarted in the face of having children and being and adult. You can do that when you’re too old to contribute anything else to the world, right? :sigh:
In some ways, I feel like writing, the experience of being an artist of any kind, is in large part a journey of self-growth, of not allowing others to define us by their definitions. Of creating a thick layer that can ignore (at least in part) the very thing that cripples many: what others think.
But we don’t talk about this imposter syndrome. We know it’s there — this pervasive fear that we’re not really what we claim. Many say they are uncomfortable even calling themselves a writer. And that makes me sad. Because while I do think on some level I have to play guitar with some regularity in order to say that I “play guitar,” I don’t attach a number of times a week or a level of accomplishment to that description. If I semi-regularly strum cords, I can say I play, right? And truth told, you don’t get to define that for me. That’s based on my own judgment and determination.
Yet we hold writing, a very emotional craft, to a much higher standard — really, we attach a “job” mentality to it. I must show up every day, I must write this amount, and I must show a profit soon—rather than treating it like a craft. We treat our critics as bosses we must live up to, rather than search out mentors to learn from and ignore those who don’t understand and/or *do* the craft.
If you write, you’re a writer. If you want to write, and you’ve done some measure of it in the past, then you’re a writer. If you want to write and never have, you want to be a writer. And when you start actually sorting out that story, guess what? You are.