Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don’t want you to miss.
How to Say “I’m a Writer” and Mean It, Bethany Marcel (@bethmarcel), Literary Hub
If there is one thing that may be universal to all writers, it’s probably imposter syndrome. For so many, the imaginary boxes must be checked off before we are willing to say we’ve arrived.
“I’m a writer. For years, I couldn’t say it. I wondered when I would. How many publications would it take? What finish line would I cross?”
Bethany Marcel offers her advice. Writers don’t owe an explanation to anyone.
“You don’t have to tell anyone you’re a writer. You really don’t. I know some secret writers. I know some editors with novels in their nightstands. Secret writers. You don’t have to say what you’re currently working on. You don’t have to be able to eloquently talk about your work in public. Most of the world probably won’t understand anyway”
Her final piece of advice is one we most likely hear frequently. The belief in oneself is half the battle.
“Before you can say you’re a writer and mean it, first you must believe you’re a writer. The hardest part about being a writer is owning it. I know I’m a writer now. But I didn’t always know it. When I was growing up in a small town, I’d flip to the back of every book I read, searching for the author bio. Harvard, it would say. New York, it would say.”
We’ve all experienced imposter syndrome. What you must remember is you’re not alone and you’ll know when you’ve arrived.
5 Steps to Overcoming Fear of Writing About the Deeply Personal In Your Memoir, Jane Binns (@BrokenWhole_JB), Writer’s Digest
Writing memoir is an art form. For many, there’s a story they’re holding on to due to fear. The fear of what others think is paralyzing. It stops us from telling the story. But, there is a way forward. Jane Binns discusses five steps to overcoming fear in writing your memoir.
“Do you have a story burning inside, begging to be written, but are afraid of what others will think? I lived through months of self-doubt and the rapid-fire succession of questions beginning with ‘What if’ in the process of writing my memoir, Broken Whole. By committing to your writing and paying close attention to when your fears feel overwhelming, you can practice ways of moving through them.”
She encourages writers to take a step back. It’s fine to acknowledge and honor the fear, but keep it separate.
“One of the first helpful things I discovered was to write out my fears in a separate document or journal. I designated a time period of fifteen to thirty minutes and if I needed more, I took it. I wrote out what was preying on my mind the most and didn’t hold back anything that felt like an obstacle. Then, I took a break, came back, and began the writing of my story.”
When it comes to writing memoir digging in and telling the story is what counts. Don’t explain or rationalize because the beauty is in the authenticity.
“When you are drafting your story for the first time, write everything out. Write as though you are writing to a close friend, one who would never judge or shun you. Write how you felt, who was there, what you said or did, what you wished you said or did, what others said or did. Don’t sugar-coat it or analyze or rationalize why someone reacted as they did. This comes off as apologizing for their behavior. Be straight and direct in your writing of the events and your feelings. Worry about shaping and nuance later. Early on, strive for authenticity. I found that in the midst of those initial ideas were the kernels of what I wanted to carry forward.”
Commit to the craft, always show up, and figure out what works for you.
“Writing at a certain time every day is great if you can do this. Knowing when your creative energy is highest and carving out anywhere between thirty minutes and two hours to write free of other obligations and responsibilities will go a long way toward committing to your writing.”
Whenever we examine something emotional, we need a support system. Finding a “tribe” that can empathize makes us feel like we’re not alone.
“A writer’s group can be a great support for providing a nurturing place as a counterpoint to your fears when they arise. Finding one or two people within your group who have gone through the trials and jubilation of crafting their personal stories onto the page can be reassuring. It is calming to know you are not the only person who has gone through this.”
The process of writing a memoir can be emotional and exhausting. Self-care is crucial.
“Birthing your story is not easy. It was challenging to live through, but conveying it to others for them to understand and empathize with is entirely different. It requires attention not only to the craft of writing, but to your whole being. The mind, body, and emotional balance require care.
It’s difficult to take a microscope to events that are deeply personal. Writers must remember they must commit to craft, honor the process, and tell the story.
Your No. 1 Secret Weapon: Writing Communities, Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman), janefriedman.com
Writing is a lonely process. We create and write in our own corners of the world. Jane Friedman reminds us we should still build a community around us.
“I’ve always found people who make movies to be awe-inspiring—in order to evoke a world and a story on screen, they need to work together with dozens of other professionals, from front-end people like actors and directors, to back-end people like sound editors. For introverted writers like me, this seems challenging and complex, and I’m grateful that during the creative process I’m the one in charge as I sit alone in front of my computer.
And yet, you really can’t do this writing thing alone.”
She acknowledges this can be more difficult for some because making connections is not always their strong point. Friedman admits social media allows the writer to dip their foot in the pool and socialize from an acceptable distance.
“You may be the lucky writer who excels at making connections and has no problem asking for favors or pitching your work. But lots of writers struggle with being articulate and gracious in person—after all, most of us are in this field because writing is how we best wrestle with the perplexing ideas that obsess us. Social media allows us to interact at arm’s length and to respond in our own time, using our writing skills; it’s not challenging in the same way that in-real-life communities can be.”
Friedman talks about various communities she is a part of that has helped her over the years.
“This is by far the most obvious one; these groups help you stay accountable and sustain you through the hard times. They can provide you with valuable feedback and help you avoid veering off track in terms of plot or character development on a long project. They can be casual or well-organized.”
“A more organized (and costly) approach than a critique group, MFAs … are mostly about prioritizing time to write and being guided by a professional.’
“Spending extended time with other creatives can help you figure out the values you want to embody professionally. By meeting some appallingly snobby, self-involved authors, I discovered the kind of writer I wanted to become: rigorous, generous and open. This principle has since guided all of my interactions. I also learned to accept my doubts and stop hiding behind being busy. This led to many small moments that had long-lasting impact…”
“It’s inspiring. These experiences enrich my imagination and keep me connected with the real world in ways that affect my writing. Sign up for the local arts newsletter, keep an eye out for visiting writers, attend book launches, go to museums—support other creative efforts.”
“Many of these writerly pursuits are labors of love—tutoring, teaching in retirement communities/prisons/hospitals, volunteering at festivals, running literary magazines, writing for free—all with the goal of contributing positively to the literary community.”
“This is my top recommendation: attend writers festivals and conferences. Meet your favorite authors, watch how emerging writers engage, pitch your book to strangers, learn to navigate the hordes.”
The life of a writer is only as lonely as we make it. In the 21st century, there is ample opportunity to connect with others. Being a part of a writing community can make all the difference.
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we’d love to hear your input!