Why are writers so reluctant to take themselves seriously? This question has been on my mind a lot lately and it looks like I’m not the only one. One article I read this week answers that question of when to put “WRITER” on your business card (something I still struggle with), plus some other questions that really matter. And in this week’s ETHER, we hear Porter Anderson’s take on writing advice, and how much is too much.
For someone who’s built a career on writing about writing, I find it surprisingly hard to call myself a writer. The phrase “serious writer” is even in the DIY MFA tagline and yet just a few weeks ago, when someone at a conference asked if I was a writer, the best answer I could muster was: “of sorts.” Why is it so hard for us writers to take ourselves seriously? Why do we need the endorsement of others to make us feel like we’re “for real.”
You Don’t Need Permission, You Need Commitment
One day in January of 2007 I decided I was a writer. It was that simple, like a switch flipped in my head. One day I was sitting around dreaming of being a writer, and the next day I just did it.
But just because the change was simple didn’t mean it was easy. For three months I wrote nothing but exercises from writing prompts. Much as my fingers itched to type a full-fledged story, I forced myself to go through the exercises one by one, like a music student practicing scales. When I finally felt ready to move beyond the exercises, I held back the reins and made myself to start, finish, polish and submit several short stories before embarking on a bigger project, like a novel. (If you’re curious, here’s an article I wrote on that process of teaching myself to write through prompts.)
The truth is, you don’t need anybody’s permission to be a writer–not even your own. What you need is commitment and often the best kind of commitment is one that involves social accountability. Let’s face it, it’s easy to wiggle out of a commitment when the only person you’re affecting is yourself. But when someone else is counting on you, when there’s someone there to hold you accountable and make sure you stay the course, it’s much harder to back out.
I used to teach a workshop in NYC for writers in my neighborhood. We met in a church basement on Tuesday nights, exchange pages and offer critique and suggestions. The writers were of all levels in terms of skill and experience, but had one trait in common: the committed to being in the class and they were serious about keeping that commitment. Recently, with DIY MFA growing, I’ve had to stop teaching that class, but my students continue meeting on their own, pushing each other to keep writing and stay motivated.
Investment Leads to Commitment
I know what it’s like, that moment when I’m about to invest in my writing by signing up for a class or a conference. My breath catches in my throat and in that moment a thought runs through my head: “Is it worth it?” Is it worth investing all this time, energy and money into this thing that will help my writing? I’ve taken a lot of writing classes and have gone to many conferences in my day, but it still gets me every time. “Is it worth it?”
Trouble is, I’m asking the wrong question. It’s not about whether that class–or conference, or whatever–is worth it. What matters is whether I believe I am worth that investment and that my writing is worth it as well. In all the years that I’ve invested in myself, I have never come to regret it. If anything, those investments have paid themselves back many times over.
More importantly, investing in myself is a leap of faith, faith that I am, indeed, “worth it” and that I’m going to commit myself to my writing, no matter what.
Take That Leap
There are many ways you can invest in yourself and writing. Today I invite you to choose one and do it. It can be something small, like a new notebook or a nice pen. Or you can take a leap of faith and invest in something bigger.
DIY MFA’s upcoming event, Lit Loft, has just opened for registration. This online event is designed to help you write more, write better, write smarter and all from the comfort of your home. You’ll learn from top writing experts and publishing professionals and build skills to push your writing to the next level.
Your Writing is Worth It
I can tell you right now that I believe your writing is worth the investment. I believe that so strongly that I’m willing to make an investment too. This is why I’m paying half of the tuition for the first 100 members of the DIY MFA list who sign up for Lit Loft.