How I Got Acquainted With A Real Writer
April 25, 2016 § 18 Comments
By Ann Cinzar
Is it an occupational hazard that as a woman who writes, I have a hard time calling myself a writer?
Ever since I began to write for myself — as opposed to an organization which paid me to do so — I have a hard time saying, “I am a writer.” When someone asks “what do you do?” I stumble over the words, unable to say “I write” without splicing my sentence with “try to/kind of/sort of.” How can someone with a love of words be so maladept at using them? And where did this pervasive case of imposter syndrome come from?
I’ve noticed this affliction with many of my women writer friends. We commiserate about feelings of inadequacy; we toil over work but leave it sitting on laptops; we hesitate to send our work to “big” names because we don’t think we are worthy. In short, we’re reluctant to call ourselves “real writers.”
A few years ago I befriended a “real writer.” He (yes, he) is the real deal: his books win awards, he’s had critical acclaim, he’s been in the New Yorker. He’s smart, young and funny, but he’s still humble and unassuming. One reviewer called him “perhaps the most endearing man in the country.” (I am not talented enough to make this stuff up.)
My first encounter with Real Writer was serendipitous. A few days earlier had been a momentous occasion for me — one of my essays had been published in a national newspaper. After reading my piece, a friend said to me “Do you know Real Writer? Your writing reminds me of his stuff. You should meet him.”
I laughed off my friend’s compliment — clearly, she was just being nice. And, while I knew Real Writer lived in my neighborhood, I also knew the likelihood of ever meeting him was slim.
The next day I went to grab a latte and there was Real Writer, shoulders hunched over his computer, at the coffee shop. My coffee shop! It hardly seemed a coincidence. Perhaps the writing gods had sent me a message? Naturally, I introduced myself.
“Are you Real Writer?” I asked.
“Why yes, I am,” he said, his eyebrows raised in manner suggesting, Ask me anything you’d like. Well, it may not have happened exactly like that, but that’s how it plays in my memory.
Nonetheless, we launched into a conversation, and after some time he asked, “Are you a writer?”
I laughed out loud. Real Writer just asked me if I wrote. It was akin to having Jamie Oliver ask me if I cook. I mean, of course I do, but would I call myself a chef? Is calling yourself a writer any different? Isn’t there some baseline standard, some prerequisite? Moreover, how do I call myself a writer when the real deal is sitting in front of me? Surely he thinks I’m kidding myself — a dilettante, dabbling at the fringes.
The truth is I spend a lot of time at the fringes, thinking and talking about writing. Sometimes it’s on my own, but often it’s with my other women writer friends. We support each other in our insecurities, we discuss the latest VIDA counts, we placate each other in our literary rejections.
Interestingly, when subjected to my self-indulgence or rejection woes, every man in my life tells me a variation of the same thing: Get back to work. My husband, of course, provides the most incisive and least diplomatic response. “Get over it.” He says. “Stop talking about it, and do the work.” This is the voice of experience. My husband doesn’t sit around wallowing in every lost sale or minor setback he encounters in his business. He takes it in, assesses, and moves on. He gets back to work.
I used to think my need to discuss and analyze the writing life was part of my nature — maybe I’m more outgoing than the average writer? Certainly, Real Writer isn’t introducing himself to random people at coffee shops. Then again, maybe that’s why he’s writing best sellers and I’m out chatting with my friends about how hard it is to get anything done, or worrying about our lack of talent, or time, or legitimacy, or self-worth.
Lately I’ve been wondering whether this constant navel gazing is merely an excuse to keep me from writing and submitting. Is it simply a distraction from the work? All this time I spend questioning my work, imagining editors laughing at my submission, stewing about how I’m too late, too old, too untalented…wouldn’t this time be better spent writing?
Real Writer and I see each other regularly, mainly at the same coffee shop. Sometimes I inch closer to him, hoping his talent might seep across the café table and into me through osmosis. I love talking to him about life in general, but on occasion I forget myself and ask him about a writing topic, or tell him about a recent small win. He’s always generous with his wisdom (in the reserved and reluctant manner of a real writer) and even encourages me in my literary pursuits.
One day recently, likely as I was in the midst of some self-indulgent angst, he made an offhand comment. “Just write,” he said.
My first thought, of course, was, Easy for him to say. When you’ve accumulated prizes and praise before the age of 35, the pressure is decidedly off.
But, then I realized I was at it again. That little voice in my head, always over-thinking, over analyzing, and consequently, under delivering. Perhaps the real occupational hazard is that as a woman who writes, I don’t take things literally. When Real Writer tells me “Just write” maybe that is precisely what he means.
Forget about anything else: just write. From now on, that’s what I intend to do. Who knows? Maybe actions will speak louder than words.
Ann Cinzar’s work has appeared in a number of publications, including The Washington Post, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Globe and Mail, and Literary Mama. Her essay “Adult Accompaniment” is forthcoming in the anthology So Glad They Told Me, to be released summer 2016.
Boy, did you just hit the nail on the head. My guess is, you have spoken for a bus-load of us. Thanks for this sisterly nudge and the words that make each one of us feel less weird and lonely, and for the encouragement.
I’m thinking if I do more of the “just write”(and less over-analyze, plan, read about writing, etc etc) it will be easier to answer with less wavering “I’m a writer. I write,” when the next person asks “what do you do?”
Thank you for this post… I guess most of us do that .. overthink and over analyze but you have to constantly tell yourself to “just write”
I’m disappointed in the self-flagellating tone of this piece. Ann starts by talking about how “unworthy” she feels then says “I’m not talented to make this stuff up.” Please. Women need to stop the apologies (for nothing done wrong) and stop the whole self-putting-down attitude. Please.
Yes, it makes me think about what I write
Was thrilled to see you here, Ann. You know I relate to every word. And of course now want to know the name of Real Writer!
Ann, this essay arrived in my inbox like a small gift with my name on it. On vacation, sick as can be in Siem Reap, I checked my email this morning. First a rejection from a literary magazine, and then this. Thank you for putting your thoughts into words. I feel like attempting some sightseeing today. I’ll take notes on what I see … And try, try again to fashion a story that’s worthy.
I guess I am just like you were. I am not sure whether I am a writer. Should I consider myself as a writer? Check here: lilienjerithuo.wordpress.com. I feel the best way to speak out is writing.
Like this very much.
Thank you for writing this! I thought from the title and picture you were going to conclude with the answer to just ‘look in the mirror’.
Love this. Going to share. Thanks!
Great episode. I so appreciated the way you handled the “Real Writer”!
This is something I needed to hear…and need to keep hearing. Thank you!
[…] and family. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Brevity, The Globe and Mail, and elsewhere. Connect with her on Twitter and […]
[…] My essay about struggling with imposter syndrome and meeting my “real writer” friend is at Brevity. Read it here. […]
Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
Can’t do a regular post today—major doctor’s appointment…
This re-blog is more than a worthy offering—it might actually help you or a friend with the challenge of “trying” to write…
[…] BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]
I loved the way you wrote the complex feelings toiling in your heart. For me it’s like I dig deeper and deeper and then I’m lost. Confused how to convey what all I’m feeling in the most honest way.
[…] in a number of publications, including The Washington Post, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Brevity, and The Globe and Mail. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook or read more of her work at […]