You’re Not An Impostor
I was at a party a few weeks back, and a friend of mine said something so witty, so original that I replied, “watch out, I’m going to steal that for my next story!”
Everyone laughed, joking that their words were no longer safe in my company.
“You bet,” I replied. “It’s all material and it’s all fair game! But I warn you, I may spice it up, rearrange it and add some flourishes here and there.”
“Oh, what,” someone said, “now because you’re a writer, anything goes.
Anything goes, but what if you’re not a writer? Actually, I don’t entertain those kinds of doubts. You’re a writer in my book if you aspire to communicate – preferably with words, preferably with some sort of coherent idea, although ultimately, the urge to communicate alone qualifies you in my book.
But I am not the ultimate authority…you are…
You’re a writer because you say you’re a writer. That’s really all there is to it, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
I’ll let you in on a little secret, sometimes you just have to be whomever you aspire to “be”…it’s a hat trick, a sleight of hand, but a powerful illusion nonetheless. And I guarantee that once you start living in this new skin – this authentic skin – you’ll realize that the only person who needed fooling was you! Act with authority and – for good or ill (politicians are grievous example of using this power for evil) – the credibility will follow.
My friends and I play this little game when it comes to accessories. Just wear it like you mean it. Sunglasses, hats, scarves…maybe an ankle length duster or red cowboy boots – these can all be intimidating adornments, but if you wear them with pride, wear them with intention, no one will question it.
I’m sure there’ve been times in the past when you’ve seen a cool hat or other piece of clothing on someone else and thought, “sure, they look cool…but I’d look ridiculous in that thing!” Maybe those Top Gun aviator glasses have been calling to you since the late 80s, but you’re afraid you’ll look more “Reno 911” than Tom Cruise sleek if you give in. What if you put on that cap and people start teasing you about your beret, asking you how the weather was in France, and maybe even mocking you as they pass by you on the street. By the way, I speak from experience on that last one…painful, painful experience. But you know what, I wear that knit cap anyway. I like it and at this point I just can’t bother anymore wondering whether or not the world approves of my personal style.
It’s the same with identifying yourself as a writer, an artist, or any other creative practitioner. If someone’s an accountant…or a lawyer…or a police officer…there are concrete and quantifiable attributes that these professionals can flash to prove their authority – I’m a lawyer, just look at that diploma on the wall. But few of us will ever have a byline, a published poem, a book on a mantle piece. Writing is different than those other professions because it exists independent of labels or paychecks.
You’re a writer because you say you’re a writer.
Need another example? My cousin and I used to spend every summer vacation loitering around the fringes of Las Vegas casinos. Our mothers, three sisters with a taste for bingo and a passionate love of slot machines, planned family trips to “The Strip” every year – and all of the cousins tagged along for the ride. This was the 70s and early 80s, and the parenting style of that era was less “helicopter surveillance” and more “as long as they’re not actively bleeding, they’re fine” philosophy. This meant we spent a lot of time on those trips exploring the lobbies, pools and elevators of places like Caesar’s Palace and The Flamingo Hilton. But, inevitably, we’d get bored or hungry or lonely and we’d begin to page our parents on the casino floor. The pages would go unanswered – that’s not entirely their fault by the way, our family has fairly straightforward names, but the page always sounded like massacred gobbly-gook – and we’d realize the time had come to brave the casino floor.
Back in those days, they took the “under 21” ban fairly seriously. There were often security guards patrolling the aisles with an eye out for underage gamblers and preteens searching for their wayward guardians. (This was before Vegas rebranded itself as a “family destination.”) From the edges, we’d see other children nabbed, tagged and carted away. We knew it was a risk to venture out amongst those clanging, beeping machines – but it had to be done. I’d always tell my cousin, “If we act like we’re supposed to be there, they’ll leave us alone.” Sometimes it would take a bit of convincing, but once we were committed to the effort, we’d take a deep breath, throw back our shoulders, and head out into that sea of gamblers with determination and confidence – and I never remember our presence being questioned as we weaved in and out of card sharks, change girls and cocktail waitresses.
We were allowed to be there because we acted like we were allowed to be there.
But it’s not easy, and we are all susceptible to doubt – to wondering if we really have a “right to write.”
“All writers suffer from credibility attacks,” warns Julia Cameron, “learning to ignore them is part of surviving as a writer.”
How to you ignore the naysayers – especially when half the time they reside inside your own mind? Focus on the why of writing, instead of the how, what or when. It’s not how you write or what you write or when (or if) it ever gets published. Writing is about the process itself. As we talked about before, writing helps you organize your life, it metabolizes your ideas.
“Writing for the love of writing, the sheer act of writing, is the only antidote for the poison of a credibility attack,” declares Cameron, who goes on to advise constant vigilance: “ the antidote is short-lived and must be re-administered.”
Which brings back to square one: you’re a writer because you write.