Monday, June 13, 2016

"I'm Not a Writer" and Other Words Of the Writer's Life

“I’m not a writer.” How many times have I heard this in the Women’s Writing Circle?

The words are usually accompanied by an apologetic aside just before a woman reads her work. “This is a rough draft . . . it really needs work . . . I'm not a writer . . .” she drifts off.

Then she reads aloud what she has written. More often than not, it is beautiful and resonates with her listeners. They love a certain line, the tenor of what she’s writing, maybe even a lesson learned.

So what makes a writer? Can anyone be a writer or is that a “talent” reserved for a few “special” people?

As Natalie Goldberg writes in Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life, "Naturally, anyone can be a writer, 'It's a free country,' I used to scream when I was in an argument with another kid. But there's someone further along on the path, who gives you the nod, who says yes, who adores literature as much as you and so gives you permission to love this odd thing all the way and to continue with it in the face of everything. Write before you ask anyone, 'Is it okay if I write?'"

Confidence is key.

We all struggle with our voice, our confidence . . . and for good reason. After all, literary critics, primarily men, have been deciding for years what merits “literature” and what is tripe (usually associated with women's chick lit novels and memoirs).

In a recent New York Times opinion piece entitled The Snobs and Me by former Philadelphia Inquirer feature writer Jennifer Weiner, and 'chick lit' novelist, Weiner writes that she “too often gave credence to the naysayers.” She has “trouble hearing the readers who said my books gave them comfort, kept them entertained, made them feel less alone.” 

Maybe among women there is a lack of confidence, an inability, “to step up and say My work matters, and to really, truly believe it,” Weiner writes.

In the Women’s Writing Circle – a small group here in the Philadelphia suburbs – I have been thanked many times for writing my stories. I've been told I'm a good writer and that my books are page turners. Positive feedback and believing your story matters are essential in moving forward with writing.

If you ask yourself, Am I writer? let me offer my thoughts and observations.


Writing is a craft. It means committing to a set time and space to write on a daily basis, even if a brief journal entry.

Develop a willingness to pursue self-discovery and reflection. Explore those who have most influenced your life, your characters, your plot with an open and discerning mind. People are complicated. They are not a series of events on a timeline.

Join a supportive writing group! In the Women's Writing Circle we nurture and share in community our hopes for a better world through writing, and we work on developing our craft. We read aloud to each other. When you know other writers, this reinforces your love and commitment to writing. 
Read other authors. Study technique.

Develop a hard shell about criticism. This isn't about you, it's about your reader.

Accept that editing enhances your work. How wonderful if you can find an editor!

Silence the naysayers that women’s words – your words - don’t matter.

Develop your own style and voice. Never copy another style.
  • Write about that which interests you. I can't emphasize this enough. Ask yourself: Is this book/story something I want to go out into the community to discuss at talks and signings? 
Find joy in honoring your passion. Writing is a creative expression.  Brava!

It takes hard work and commitment, but if writing fulfills the creative life – as I have often heard in the Women’s Writing Circle – write.

In my own case, my books will probably never make the bestseller list, or be featured in airport kiosks, but just today in church a man who read my novel A Portrait of Love and Honor said this to me, “I loved your book.”

Step up to the plate, cast aside the negative mindset.  Move out of the defensive crouch. And tell yourself, "I'm a writer."

Love to hear your comments, your thoughts. Share an experience of the strength it takes to keep writing, or a moment that lent you the confidence to say "I'm a writer."

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