What Does It Take to Start to Call Yourself a Writer?

Do whatever it takes, and start believing in yourself.

Photo licensed from Canva — João Jesus

Sometimes courage manifests in the most ordinary ways — a sentence you say, a step you take, a decision you make. Sometimes it looks tiny from the outside — so insignificant, that no one else considers it to be brave. But maybe for you, it is. It could be overcoming your fears and doing something that you have been postponing forever. It could be telling others about something that you have kept a secret. It could be standing up for yourself in a situation where others don’t even know that you were holding back.

A few weeks ago, I did the unimaginable. I told the world about my writing. See, it might seem really insignificant for you. But for me… it was my world, it was my secret, it was my confession. I typed a post about it on facebook, on my birthday, attached an article, hit send and then, only then I gasped and I started to shake. Silly? Maybe. It was an enormous step for me. I allowed my friends and acquaintances and colleagues inside my head. I opened up for the possibility of getting hurt, ridiculed, shamed. I was scared and I did it anyway. That’s what courage is about.

As long as I remember, I have always wanted to be a writer. I dictated my first poems to my mum when I was four — words mesmerised me well before I could read or write. Then I learnt to read and write and that’s what I did — a lot. I read a lot and wrote a lot and when I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about writing. And I was dreaming about it.

I kept a diary, I wrote poems, short stories, dreamt up books and characters. It was part of my life, it was keeping me sane, it was there when I was alone. But I was never a writer. Sure, I wrote hundreds of poems, but no one read them. I wrote short stories and started books, but never finished them. I had a blog but never thought that anyone would care to read it.

And writing slowly faded from my life. I went to university, I started to work, I started a family, and all the beautiful images of me being a writer faded into oblivion. It was just never compatible enough with all the busyness of life. After all, I had money to make, kids to raise, dishes to do. Whenever my inner writer tried to emerge from the darkness where I buried her, I shut her up, saying it’s not going to happen. You can’t write — now go back to your presentations and impress someone with what you know. So I did. And I did pretty well for myself. It was reasonable. I was good at my job, I was making good money, I even liked doing it.

I started to write again, years later, when writing became my lifeline after a traumatic relationship. Desperately looking for means to deal with my demons, my anxiety, and depression — I found solace in the words on the page. It was a coping mechanism. It was taking my mind off the actual events, made me forget how the world I knew was fucked up, how it was exploding around me. It helped me open the wounds, it helped me heal.

But I never called it writing. I never believed I could be a Writer (with a capital W).

I didn’t even think that saying “aspiring writer” would have been correct. It was just toning down the word, but for me, the word aspiring was just like the word almost, in the sentence “I almost won the lottery.”

Not too many things happen overnight, but this one for me did. And I am still in awe, trying to wrap my head around it. After all these years of not allowing myself to do so, I started to write, I began to publish my articles. I started to write about my feelings, my experiences, my advice to others — that I had thought previously that would be of no interest to anyone. I started to get readers, I started to get fans, I started to get encouragement daily.

And my feeling about writing started to change. Becoming part of a community of writers, I felt I arrived somewhere, I began to feel that like-minded spirits and thinkers are making me feel whole, making me feel more myself, making me feel at home.

To be a writer, all I have to do is write.

To belong where I want to belong, all I have to do is write.

So I write.

What does it take to start to be a writer?

Is there a specific point in time and space where the world just stops and you look around in awe and you tell yourself, “I have just become a writer.”?

I started to write 5 months ago — with a frequency that is convincing enough for my perfectionist mentality. I write every day. Every single day, come rain or shine. There hasn’t been a turning point for me — it is happening gradually, it is happening every day, and every minute and every second of every day. It doesn’t happen overnight. I cannot say that today I am a writer, as opposed to yesterday when I wasn’t yet.

I am fighting daily with my imposter syndrome, I am pushing back my writer’s block by pushing myself forward. Every day when I feel small, I make myself believe that I am a living, breathing organism, capable to spill words on a page.

I am setting up conditions for myself… I tell myself, if I had already a published book, I would be a writer. I tell myself, if I published with an established publication, I would be a writer. I am setting impossibly stupid conditions — as they don’t mean anything.

I am questioning myself: What am I, if not even a writer?

I am not sure. But I force myself to think backwards. I know one thing for sure: if I stopped writing, I would have even a harder time to call myself a writer, possibly to a point, where I won’t be able to even entertain the thought. The overthinker in me helps sometimes to solve my burning issues.

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. “ — Arthur Conan Doyle

So if I’m not a writer when I don’t write, that leaves me with one conclusion according to deductive logic:

If I write that makes me a writer.

To stay in the right mindset, I am doing everything it takes to convince myself that I am a writer.

So how do I keep myself in this writer mindset?

Just write

It sounds so very obvious, right? Writers write. And more importantly, writers write all the time.

Writing isn’t limited to the typing or the scribbling of words. It starts way before that and ends long after that. It starts with the mindset, where you notice everything around you, where the world becomes your playground and your stage, and everything in your past, present and future, every little thing your mind can make up becomes a source of inspiration, a story to tell. It continues with writing. Writing shit. Writing really terrible stuff. Writing for the bin more than anything else. It consists of hitting the delete button way more than even coming close to consider the publish button or the print button. It means to be your own biggest fan and your own biggest critique at the same time, fighting a bloody battle inside your mind, where chapters and paragraphs get sacrificed for the greater good during the editing phase.

So just write. Deal with it. Get it together, and don’t mind the time that seems wasted — because there is wasted time, there are droughts, there are periods where you really would be better off with Netflix and/or chill. Get over it. Keep at it. It will pass.

Be aware and humble

You need to be aware and you need to be humble. Aware of your own skills, aware of the permanent need for improvement, aware of time and space around you. You need to be humble to be able to grow, to be able to create real value — both for yourself and for anyone who will ever read you. To be able to do it properly you need writing skills, you need to bare your soul, you need to make yourself vulnerable, you need to open yourself up for criticism, you need the willingness to learn and improve. And write. A lot.

Build up the confidence

You need to be confident about the possibility that writing is your skill, it is your life, it is your job, your vocation. You need to believe that we are able. You need to believe that while talent is important, it is not the only thing that brings success. Persistence, consistency, and discipline weigh in the equation as well. This is a comforting thought, as talent is subjective, being at the right time and right place and finding your audience can be subjective, but working hard is objective. It’s either you do it or you don’t. And if you do, there will always be a payoff.

Work on your patience

It would be lovely to have it all at once. I know. But know it, that getting everything without working for it is far less satisfying than something you need to give sweat and blood for.

But it’s true, patience is necessary. First of all with the process, as the writing and editing process doesn’t have a shortcut, you need to go all the way, sometimes a struggle, other times going with the flow. Patience is also necessary with finding, defining, and polishing our voice, and finding that audience that appreciates it. As you will not be loved by everyone, especially if you start to get good at what you do. Mediocrity flies under the radar, but if you stand out, you will get haters. Be a bigger person. Because you are.

Don’t compare yourself to anyone else — you have no idea what path they have been down to get to where they are today. You don’t know what life experiences broke them, lifted them and shaped them. Just because it looks easy from the outside, you have no idea about what’s going on below the surface. And you shouldn’t, because you shouldn’t care.

All you need to care about is your own journey, at your own pace.

Use your past successes to move toward the desired future

Look back on your past achievements for encouragement, make every one of them count. Take note of your victories and celebrate them. Someone made a comment that made your heart soar, someone called you a writer when you didn’t even think of it, you reached a milestone that you had never thought would be possible. Note them, mark them, cherish them.

Don’t let your imposter syndrome make you believe that what you have done before is not sustainable. Don’t let it discourage you when you see yourself succeed.

Trust the process.

Make use of the past to improve your present and allow yourself to paint yourself a future that you really really really want. Will it manifest by itself? Hell no. But at least you know what you are working for.

Dream big and set realistic goals, that are just out of reach. Goals that are challenging you today a tiny bit more than yesterday.

Learn from the best

The best thing about being digitally connected is that we have access to so much information online that makes it very easy to learn from the best. If you just search Medium for how to write well, what to watch out for, or even if you just follow writers, you will come across invaluable advice — tons of it. I found that writers are thrilled to write about writing, helping others in the process. If you want to improve your writing, there is no better time than our time — it’s all a click away, helpful articles, tutorials, e-books, online courses, downloadables — you name it. You can learn from the best — to become the best.

And learn from the worst

Let’s face it. No matter how supportive the writers’ community and how much we love each other, not all writers are created equal. Just look around and see, there is a whole universe of writers with articles, essays and books out there — with very poor quality. They are here to teach you.

The first thing to learn from them, no matter how bad they are, they write.

Second, they call themselves writers, spilling out hundreds of articles and publishing thousands of pages of books. Maybe of terrible quality, but still. They write and they publish, they do exactly what you fear to do, for lack of confidence or faith. If they can do it, so can you, right?

Third, use them as a contrast. Contrast that shows you the exact way where you don’t want to go, what you don’t want to become. Every bad novel and every bad article offer a huge possibility to learn — to point you in a direction where you want to go, away from what you want to avoid by all means.

You already have everything in you to start and everything to help you along your own journey.

All you need to do is just to embrace it: you are a writer.

And write.

Written by

Check out my book on Amazon: www.amazon.com/dp/B088GJFM1B. Newsletter: zita.substack.com Email me: zitafontaine (at) gmail

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