Why Writing Identity Matters (and 3 Ways to Reclaim Yours!)

One of the most common phrases I hear teaching undergraduate writing courses is “Well, I wouldn’t call myself a writer…”

If you know anything about my story, it took me until I was 20 before I would identify as a writer, even though I have been writing since I was 4 years old. I thought that as soon as I used the term “writer,” someone would come out of the woodwork to discredit me.

Even as I was creating my business cards two weeks ago, I struggled with the wording, feeling like I couldn’t truly call myself a writer with only one tiny publication. What would the “real” authors say when I handed them the card?

In this moment, I realized that I still had doubts about claiming this identity for myself because I was afraid I hadn’t earned it.

In my short time teaching (and success coaching), I have found one thing to be true:

What we believe about our identity directly affects our ability.

I spend a lot of time affirming my students, helping them reframe their belief systems about themselves but I don’t often do that for myself.

So if you’re like me and you struggle with your identity, maybe it’s time for a reset.

Reclaim Your Identity

If you’re writing, you’re a writer. This means journaling, short stories, fanfiction, personal essays, thoughts in your phone notes, snippets of poetry. If you’re active and practicing, you’re a writer. Period.

If you dissect books and movies for plot, character development, dialogue, you’re thinking like a writer.

If you see a lonely pink sock lying on the sidewalk and you immediately think of a backstory for why it’s there, you’re seeing like a writer.

If you people-watch and eavesdrop and create the context and storylines for the conversation in your head, you’re listening like a writer.

And if you’re not doing these things, that’s okay. Slow down. Pay attention. Writing is a practice; sometimes that practice comes naturally, sometimes we need to sit down and be intentional.

Reframing the Belief

If you’re writing and you’re practicing, but you still consider yourself a “bad” writer, it might be time to reframe your beliefs.

I tell my students that I’ve haven’t yet seen a bad writer and they don’t believe me. But it’s true. What I have seen are developing writers in different stages of development. If you resign yourself to simply being “bad,” you won’t improve. But once your mindset changes and you’re committed to development, you will start to grow!

I have watched this happen in real time: students finally stop believing that they are “bad writers” and they stop hating their writing. Their productivity increases and some even begin to enjoy themselves (believe it or not!).

Sometimes to reframe your beliefs, you need to separate how you feel in the moment from the truth.

You’re still a writer, even if writing feels hard or even bad right now.

In those moments, we may need to develop a new “script” for ourselves to get us through the low points.

Developing a New Script

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say “fake it til you make it” at some point in your life. I thought it was garbage advice until just recently when I went through a season of extreme stress.

Over and over in my head, I was repeating, “I can’t do this. There’s no way I can get this all done.”

This stress “script” kept me up at night and brought my anxiety to a boiling point.

I talked to a friend who suggested that I combat these thoughts with the opposite “script.”

“I can do this. It will all get done. One day at a time.”

At first, it felt really stupid and I didn’t believe the words that I was saying. But slowly, as I continued the practice, my outlook shifted. As my outlook shifted, so did my attitude and the stress started melting away.

There is a practice that I walk my students through that is very helpful for developing a new “script” to combat the old one. We write and repeat affirmations about ourselves and our work that we know to be true (even if it doesn’t feel that way right now).

It can be a simple statement like, “I am a creative person,” or an intentional one like “Today I am making time to create.”

If you’re struggling with what to say, Writer’s Relief has a great list here: 10 Affirmations For Creative Writers—And How To Use Them.

You don’t have to use all 10. It could be one or two, but every time you start to doubt yourself, have a few in your arsenal to combat the old “script.” Write them on a sticky note and put them on your desk. Screenshot them and set it as your phone background. Look at them to remind yourself to keep up the good work and to believe that good work is being done.

These strategies aren’t quick fixes. They often require some work on our part to change our habits or lifestyle. There are seasons where I feel more or less confident in my identity, but I’m assured by those further along in their journeys that this is completely normal.

Wherever you’re at, I hope that today you’re encouraged: you are a writer. And when you doubt it, look to your reminders until you start to believe it again.

Published by Hannah Benefield

Writer at hebenefield.com and professor at a university in central Florida.

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