If you’re reading this newsletter I’m guessing you have this problem. Or that you at least relate to it on some level: the cringing, the slight recoil, the feeling of separation and the just-out-of-reachness that surfaces before you utter those words: I am a writer. Even now, when someone asks me what I do I explain eloquently and confidently the studio (my consultancy work with writers), setting up literary agencies (offering writer’s representation), and yet I still stumble over my vernacular to explain that I myself write.
I think I used to write because it brought me joy to craft beautiful sentences which always drew out an unexpected feeling from the reader, but after living a part of my 20s in an unexpected place, the need to write in order to tell others my version of truth about my experience took over and to a certain extent it's a way to process the things I have experienced. The why keeps changing but the desire to put the pen on paper has been there for me since I was 12. I've only recently though started to think of myself as a writer but to say that out loud feels like an abomination
Hi Abigail. Thanks for this. It's that word 'complusion' that rings true for me. I started 'really' writing in order to record and make sense of a significant period in my life, but though this time went on to form one strand of the memoir I have on sub at the moment, my writing has grown in scope and confidence since then. I wrote about finally being able to call myself a writer in my newsletter last week, so this feels timely.
Having a Substack and the support of this growing community (I'll admit) makes it easier to call myself a writer. Funny that, for me, getting an agent, winning competitions and going on sub still weren't reasons enough to get me to change my Instagram bio... That only came when I started publishing on here!
I write because I've always worked in the world of analytics and structural thinking and I wanted to do something different and more obviously creative. I want to explore that side of me and I guess also prove that I can do it. I've completed one (unpublished) novel and I'm on my second which I'm sharing a chapter a week as I write it on Substack. I always hesitate before describing myself as a writer as I don't know if I should. Maybe that's wrong.
I write because when I'm writing my mind is typically empty and from within that emptiness I can experience no end of things. It's almost like creating a safe space to feel high, low and everything in between. Sometimes I write stuff and see that when I'm writing I'm really angry, sad, happy, amused, whatever, but when I'm finished I just feel content and accomplished.
The thing that got me most interested in this post is about the identification as a writer. I've gone on about this a couple of times in the past and I'd be happy to know your thoughts on it. I think this action of identification as an xyz causes no end of problems because it creates a potential pitfall in the future where we decide that we no longer want to do something. Today I'm a writer, tomorrow my hand is cut off (in a world without digital technology) and my entire identity is destroyed - what am I now??
Identity seems to be a really double-edged sword, we seem to need to identify with groups and actions in order to find our communities and whatnot but I feel that it comes with the weight of permanence in a very impermanent world. Maybe this is the paradox of choice playing out at another level too: if I choose to identify as a writer, can I also identify as a builder?
Whatever the case may be, when I am writing I am a writer and that's when and where the identification takes place for me. Would love to hear your thoughts :)
All the best,
I write for escapism, taking myself out of my own world and inserting myself in another, one that is of my own creation. I find it really freeing. I’ve struggled with calling myself a writer and I’ve written stories consistently since I was 15, have had poetry published in anthologies and delivered writing workshops. The barrier for me was that I haven’t had a book published but in the last few years that has started to wane and I don’t mind calling myself a writer at all.
I write for the fun of playing with words and rhythms... I write make sense of things and sometimes to create nonsense for fun.
I fear I am twice-damned, since I am not only the author of some number of works but also the published composer of a respectable amount of classical music. Alas, as both musician and writer, I remain an "unheralded unknown." The financial rewards are modest: not enough to buy a new car, and barely enough to pay for a couple of oil changes! However, the deeper "rewards" -- the joy of creating something from nothing -- are truly enriching, so "yes," I am an author (and also a composer), even if hardly anyone reads my works (or listens to my music).
When I write, I write to pin down mercurial electrical pulses (thoughts?)on paper or now an electrical medium like notes to make them real and see 👀 them through another sense (eyes) instead of believing in my mind's eye 👁 that I get them when I clearly don't.
I also write to iron it out. The jumbled mesh of happenings and memories colliding in a crowded room full of 4 decades of real and make-believe, and getting away with it in vague violence.
Writing ✍️ is soul accounting done with refined claws that can hold a pen or type like a grasshopper on mobile. I like to look at thoughts imprisoned in another medium for eternity. Maybe writing is a fine form of world weaving like a silk worm or spider. It's a product plus a trap where tiny feet of wavering eyes of other humans will get entangled for a brief moment, even clinging like pollen and germinating in the field of fertile imagination spawning multiple possibles or summoning memories that'll feel familiar.
Writing ✍️ is also catharsis for pent-up energy dumped at the doorstep of mind and delegated to benign talents of tiny expressions through fingers when regular failures of other faculties in a body needing more muscle can't find an outlet.
Writing ✍️ is mimicking creation, 13 billion years removed.
I write because I am a Storyteller. I've told stories practically since I learned to talk. I learned in my youth that if I wrote my stories down, I could share them more easily with others. Over time, the idea of, "Hey, I can share my stories!" came to be an exciting ambition to follow.
Not all of my stories are fictional, and I don't share all of my stories. (I don't, for example, share the stories that flow onto my Morning Pages.) I do, however, find myself these days looking for the best way to share my stories with a wider audience.
The thing that struck me as I read this article was the idea that we sometimes hesitate to call ourselves "Writers" because there's an unspoken agreement that we aren't "Real Writers" until we've *published* something, especially through a *big* company. I disagree. I say if you've ever filled out notebooks with stories, or snippets of stories, then you're a Writer in my book. 😊
I want to quote a lot of this article. It resonates a lot. Thank you for your honesty and insight.
I don't think I can quite articulate why I write. But the closest I can say is that it would also edge on that need to remove words from myself, things that are there under the surface and cloying and have to escape. It changes a lot with mood, though. And I haven't been writing for long, so there's a lot I've compressed or simply haven't admitted to myself over the years. And though such topics don't come *to* the page, I think they inform how I write and, subconsciously, why I write.
(I have no idea if that makes any sense! 😅😬)
I've been sitting with this article and question - loved it! Thanks for sharing! I write because the initial content that came out, wouldn't be left unsaid or lay dormant anymore. My mind and body needed to make sense of it all and have it out of my body. The purging came with a real embodied sense that my story and experiences were not in isolation and women's stories need to be told - by women! I write to witness myself and validate those experiences. I write to empower myself and others - to take up space, to use my voice, even when it's scary. I write to reflect on where I was at the time of the experience and treasure the growth that has happened in between. I write because I believe I'm not the only one that can learn, be seen and heard, and grow from the experiences I share. I write because it liberates me.
I remember as a child, writing fairytales. I wrote then to escape. To conjure up a dream world full of all the things I didn't have in the real world. It's wonderful to revisit your why. Right now, I'm pausing my writing to be embodied in my experiences once again, before I re-emerge on the page once more.
I write to explore how childhood wounds have kept me small in all of my relationships. I write to de-mask, to de-armour, and to enjoy the peacefulness that follows inner work. I consider myself a writer because I write. It’s not a label for me; it’s not part of my identity; it’s something I love to do. It doesn’t matter what I write, how often I write, whether I’m published, or whether anyone reads what I write. Others have different benchmarks and that’s OK too!
This is so good, and so helpful. Just helpful to know that I'm not alone in my feelings about calling myself a writer. Which I still haven't been able to do. "I like to write. Had a few essays published," with a weird foot shuffle and downward glance–is about as far as I've got. I feel like it would take getting a book published although not even sure if that would be enough. Being a better writer than I am would help, hard to call yourself a writer when so many much more brilliant people also call themselves that. But who knows, maybe I'll have some kind of break and just start yelling it on the street corner someday. "I AM A WRITER!" ...woah, even that was scary to write. But I write for all of the reasons you describe– to work through stuff, process, make sense of. And in other moods, just to be funny and entertain myself.
I need to read this piece over and over. I’ve never seen myself as a writer - it’s felt “out there” and unreachable. I’ve settled for years writing others words - in PR and copywriting roles. My writing has been to “know what I think” (as Joan Didion) said. I never find the right words to say in the moment... but using my hands to let the words, the thoughts and feelings move feels like ease.
Just the year I had this moment of thinking, “what if I chose to BE a writer”. Without the prefix of copy- or ghost- or content- before it.
Writing for me is my fullest expression of me (someone for whom that does NOT come easily in real life).
Thank you so much for this piece. It’s getting bookmarked!!
I write because is the best way I have to make sense of the world around me. I write because it is writing that allows me to organise thoughts in my head the way one would, perhaps, organise T-shirts in their drawer. I write because when I feel like I have something to say, whether to me, to the world or to whoever else, pen and paper (or these days my apple pen and my iPad screen) will always be there to help me navigate it. I also write because it is a way for me to carry myself to other places that I might want to go to but can’t because they don’t exist.
Thank you for writing this Abigail! I think a lot of us need to hear more often that we are allowed to call ourselves writers even if we don’t fit the brief of what a writer is in a traditional sense (if there ever was one)
Really beautiful provocation - and made me think. What you said about working stuff out of the body resonates with me. I write to understand, and I write to connect - with myself, with the world, with others. Writing and reading are empathy machines. For me, they’re the best way to share emotion and experience.