Am I a Writer or Impostor?

March 29, 2016 § 40 Comments


image1By Diane Lowman,

Can I call myself a writer?  I have a dozen published pieces.  I am constipated with essays that back up in my head and want to come out onto the page.  My stream of consciousness – when it takes a break from thinking about my kids, or what to eat, or how I really want to lose five pounds – churns narrative constantly.  In my head I’m a writer; I’m just reluctant to say it out loud.  Perhaps it’s the distinction between the verb and the noun.  I write.  I am a writer.  The former is unequivocally true.  The latter conjures Hemingway or Shakespeare, and I lack the arrogance to put myself in that stratosphere.

I recall that when I was just a homemaker and mother – by which I mean CEO, COO, and CFO of an empire and its inhabitants – people would glaze over or arch a sympathetic eyebrow when I told them what I did.  Or, in their minds, what I didn’t do.  My BA in Economics, MBA, and PhD in Holistic Nutrition (oh, and black belt in Tae Kwon Do, Reiki Mastership, and Yoga Teacher Certification) afforded me no street cred.  I had no title.

Now that my boys are young men, I am no longer primarily a caregiver, although I will give them care eternally.  When people ask what I do, and I answer, “I teach yoga,” or “I tutor Spanish,” they seem relieved and pleased to have something more concrete and tangible to hang their approval on.  “Oh!  That’s great!”

I feel justified in verbalizing those vocations, perhaps because I go somewhere and get paid to do them.  And although I’m always flattered and genuinely surprised when an editor chooses to publish my work, and even more amazed when people actually read it, I still feel fraudulent saying:  “I’m a writer.” Everyone who takes pen, crayon, or lipstick to paper is a writer.  What form of validation would grant me permission to own the moniker without feeling like a faker?  A handsome paycheck?  A piece in the New Yorker?

According to the American Psychological Association, in the 1970’s, Imes and Clance described those suffering from “impostor phenomenon” as “high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success.” I won’t go down the rabbit hole of denial about whether or not I’m a “high achiever,”  but I unequivocally identify with the “unable” part of the phrase.

I will practice saying, “I am a writer” out loud.  Maybe in front of a mirror, like Al Franken’s SNL character Stewart Smalley:  “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

Maybe the next time we meet, I will shake your hand, and say, “Hi.  My name is Diane, and I am a writer.”
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Diane Lowman is a single mother of two young adult men, living in Norwalk, Connecticut.  In addition to writing about life, she teaches yoga, provides nutritional counseling, and tutors Spanish.  She looks forward to what’s next.

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§ 40 Responses to Am I a Writer or Impostor?

  • Joanne says:

    Timing of your essay is so amazingly “on time” as I just completed a survey in which I had to confront (my impetus to do so) the question of whether I can call myself a writer. I write, and I was definitely a writer (published many times) in my previous professional career. Now that I’m focusing on “new career paths” in art and in creative writing, I’m earning the right to be called “artist”, but the jury is still out on whether I can be called a “writer”. Thank YOU for helping me think through the “I write” vs. the “I am a writer” conflict.

  • JackiSkole says:

    “What form of validation would grant me permission to own the moniker without feeling like a faker? A handsome paycheck?” This strikes home for me. Can one call herself a writer if writing can’t pay the bills? I, too, struggle with this. Thanks for putting a voice to my own thoughts.

  • Thanks for this thought provoking post. I believe, unless we have an agent, contract and published book many of us feel this way. Cow Pasture Chronicles

  • Jan Priddy says:

    In response to both statements above, but primarily Lowman’s essay. It is interesting to me that in my arrogant youth when I was exhibiting in galleries and museums I had no trouble calling myself an artist. When I took a few years to focus on my sons in their youth, an artist friend asked me how it felt “to have given it all up?” That was not a choice I was aware I had made. I was depressed for weeks.

    Now, years later, I have been publishing for years (while still making art), and I have trouble identifying with either the “writer” or the “artist” label despite my MFA. I am retired from teaching full time, but I still teach two college classes. I have volunteered to teach an illustration workshop next month. I remain a teacher because I honor that profession, and as you say, I was paid for that work. Writer and artist remain aspirational identities. It is sad that money operates as a necessary affirmation. But this is America and we value money above many more valuable things.

  • Gosh says:

    Thank you for posted it. I’m a teacher but sometimes love to do backpacking and write some post. When people ask me about what I do yet I sometimes want to say I also a writer or at least sometimes I write but somehow I feel the burden of “do i really write? Or is it write?” but i guess we have to start to value what we like to do not because what other people thought but just because we’r respect ourselves or at least it starts from myself first. Thanks for encouraged me through your post.

  • Katie Riegel says:

    Reblogged this on The Literary Life and commented:
    If you write, you’re a writer. Publication, recognition, and pay are subjective, capricious, and out of your control. What you can control: you write. Lovely and vulnerable piece here.

    • dilo922 says:

      Thank you so much! It is so touching to know we’re not alone in second guessing ourselves… and perhaps we should stop! (Second guessing, not writing!) D

  • Ellyn says:

    It’s official Diane Lowman…you are a writer.

  • I think to become a writer is not about of how many PhD you accomplish. or how high you educational background’ is … for me it’s all about what your heart’s desire. how your heart speaks to you.

  • Dina Honour says:

    I struggle with this mightily. I have a degree in Creative Writing. It’s what I do, how I identify myself (in my head), but like you, there is a never-ending list of criteria that I seem to have to meet in order to feel justified using the moniker. (Mine includes a non-self-published novel). I think it’s a side effect of growing up within a certain generation or two (I’m X, nice to meet you) when you were encouraged to work hard to see results/award and you didn’t ‘toot your own horn’. You didn’t identify with something you hadn’t earned. I also wonder if there is a male/female component to it (again, generational). Girls were raised to be compromising and gracious and complimentary, often to the exclusion of the self. Later generation seem to have little problem with multi-hyphenate identification. I’m both horrified and jealous of it. You write, therefore you are. Right? Write?

  • Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Here is a great essay on something that many authors might feel.

  • I write. I write not for financial reward, fame or any of that. I write because I enjoy writing. The majority of what I write is only ever published on my blog. My reward is people saying they enjoy reading my stuff.
    I don’t call myself a professional writer, an author or a novelist (although I have three draft novels sat on my hard drive), but I feel fully justified in calling myself a writer for the simple reason that it’s what I spend most of my time doing.

  • Very thoughtful – I went through this after leaving a job to focus on writing. It was strange not to have a title that was code or shorthand for who I was. Now I am comfortable saying I am a writer. Thank you for sharing this.

  • tamgirl66 says:

    It would seem to some people that unless you’re on the best seller list or have published a significantly big piece of work then you’re not a writer. When it comes to anything creative as an artist or writer so much focus is on the end result of all the work. That can be the struggle for me. That I am only a good writer based on what I output. Timely article Diane. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Karen says:

    I wonder if part of this issue for some of us anyway, is that we have such reverence for people who spin their magic with words in a way that we so admire and aspire to, whose work resonates with us so strongly, that we see these writers as magical beings, as not like us, so if we begin to be able to do this too, but we are still ‘us’, still regular people who spill our coffee slurping it in the car etc, that it seems we can’t possibly be one of them.

  • I felt that way, also, about being an artist. It took me about 10 years to put “artist” on my passport. Now that I’ve started to write blogs, I expect it will take about 10 years to call myself a writer. Though I suppose artist would cover both

  • You are absolutely a writer! Strong work!:)

  • though m not from art side , but still i can see you can really write ma’am……

  • marymtf says:

    I’ll pass on to you what I’ve learned. Agonise less about whether or not you are a writer and write. Don’t tell civilians or you are a writer, t hey will ask you where you get your ideas, and can you give them feedback on their manuscript. Do you make a living out of it? And where do you get your ideas? Oh, I mentioned that already, did I? Okay then, stop agonising get on with the writing.🙂

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