Last week I wrote the following in an email to my dad:
“In many ways writing is its own reward, but at the same time it's still work, and on top of that it's work without many tangible benefits so far. I can see that I've made progress over time and that I'm closer to publication than I was five years ago, but I also recognize that publication isn't the jackpot. I've learned a lot about what writing is and what it isn't, and generally I accept every facet of the writing lifestyle. But there are times when I reevaluate and I ask myself whether I really want to keep living with the uncertainty and keep adding layers to that thick skin I'm supposed to have. Then I'll hear people say 'real writers write because they just can't stop' or 'real writers write every day' and I think, 'well gee, am I not a real writer?' So at times I feel like I'm carrying around this dirty little secret...”
Writers have a lot of insecurities. Those of us who have never finished a book wonder if we'll ever be able to. Those of us who have never queried an agent wonder if we'll ever get a positive response. Those of us with an agent wonder if we'll ever have a publisher. Those of us publishing a book wonder if any readers will ever like it. Those of us writing a second book for publication wonder if it will ever live up to (or make up for) the first. And so on.
We have wild imaginations. We're really good at making up things to worry about. The last thing we need to do is give ourselves yet another reason to be insecure. And yet we do. We're so so good at making ourselves feel like frauds.
But we don't want anyone else to know! Everybody else has the writing process so put-together. Right? Only I'm becoming more and more convinced that none of us really are that put-together. The only reason we look like we are is because we're deathly afraid of admitting otherwise.
So let me tell you a few dirty little secrets.
Sometimes I don't write every day. I write regularly, and I have a schedule, but I don't create new words every day. Will you hate me if I tell you I don't think it's healthy? I need rest... don't you? But don't let me tell you what makes you a writer! If you write every day, I respect that, and I respect you. (And I'm secretly a little jealous of you, too.) But I won't let anyone knock down the career I'm trying to build just because I don't operate like I'm “supposed to.”
And here's a dirtier secret: sometimes I don't even like writing. I don't want to do it. I look at the empty page and then I look at all the other things I could be doing and I think, “Hey, nobody's actually making me write.” I think about how the words don't want to come, and how I will never be a perfect writer, and how I'm never going to please certain people with what I write. I think about how much uncertainty is involved, and how no matter the thickness of my skin some critiques still sting, and how this is a choice that I'm making. Sometimes I flirt with the idea that I could still choose something else.
And isn't that terrifying? Have you felt that way before? Have you thought about the fact that you've spent so much time on this thing that you both love and hate, to the point that you wonder whether it's becoming your whole identity?
Some people say writers write because they can't stop, but I think sometimes that I could stop. I could walk away. I choose not to... but I could. And I'm not going to let anyone tell me I'm not a real writer because of that.
I'll tell you why I choose to keep writing. It isn't because of the romance of writing. That used to be why—back when I read a quote from Madeleine L'Engle about how the story chooses the writer and doesn't let her go until she puts every beautiful word onto the page. And I thought, “Yes! Please let me be chosen.” The idea seemed so glamorous.
But not any more, because now I know that the romance of writing doesn't always last through all the editing... or even through the first draft. Now I write because I believe that writing is still the most complete form of story-telling. And I love stories. If I'm going to devote myself to one work, despite whether I “want” to do it all the time, this is the work I choose. There's nothing else I'd rather do.
But just because this is my reason for being a writer, that doesn't mean it has to be yours. Maybe you really do love writing itself. Maybe you love the words so much that you can't live without them. Or maybe you have another reason altogether. Whatever it is, don't let anyone take it away from you. Don't let anyone make you think you're a fraud.