It’s guest post time again. This week’s guest poster is the wonderful Nicole Arnold who discusses developing a Writer identity. Enjoy!
If life is a puzzle and experiences are pieces in varying sizes that help us understand the big picture that is our lives, then this year, I found a corner piece. The piece is the understanding that I am a writer. A Writer.
This is the story of how it happened.
I often find it hard to see the moment when something complex originates (usually I end up back at birth), but in this case, I am sure the story begins with goal setting.
I know, goal setting isn’t very romantic or exciting. Yet, goal setting sits at the centre of watershed moments in my life. In high school, I shifted from slacker to achiever once I made it my goal to go to McGill University.
In my thirties, I left a successful career, motivated by a fiery goal to pursue graduate work in Psychology. Last January, on an icy morning, from the safety of my neighbourhood Starbucks and bolstered by the great feelings I had writing my November 2016 travel blog posts, I wrote down (well, I typed up) the goal of increasing my identity as a writer in 2017.
When I read The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho taught me that the Universe is conspiring to give me what I want. I just need to know what I want and recognize the opportunities. Pretty flaky, right?
Except, it works.
The week after my goal-setting exercise, I came face-to-face with my writing coach for 2017. When Julia Cameron looked at me intently from the back cover of The Artist’s Way. I picked up the book from a bookstore display, remembering both a friend and a former colleague who had spoken of the value of writing Morning Pages.
The commitment to follow a time consuming 12-week program was daunting. I am a coach building my own business as well as a mother of three school-age children. I also pursue meaningful time with my husband, dog, family, friends and myself. I wasn’t suffering from an excess of time.
I put the book back on the display thinking that maybe I could do the course when my business had grown some more.
Then, I remembered my goal and the lesson of The Alchemist. I thought about Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and resolved to prioritize writing and schedule the time.
It changed my life.
One of the first exercises of the book was to generate a list of insecure writer thoughts. My greatest hits included:
“I don’t finish my work.”
“I’m not as good as the authors who I read.”
“I don’t have interesting stories to tell.”
“I’m not good at making up stories.”
“I don’t want it enough.”
The next step of the exercise was to write the opposite of the fear, like, “I’m as good a writer as the authors I read.” and write it out repeatedly. Every day.
I did it. I initially had identified those thoughts as blocking my writing, but it turns out they were doing more than that. They were blocking me from thinking about myself as a Writer.
Writing the opposite thoughts to my fears gave me a weapon to wield when the insecure thoughts reared their insecure heads. When I knocked the thoughts down I found all sorts of evidence of my identity as a Writer.
I thought this affirmation exercise would feel weird (mostly because the very term ‘affirmation’ sounds weird to me), but it actually felt good. Really good. I saw the impact the first time I encountered one of those thoughts.
I was working on a blog post and I got stuck. I automatically thought to myself, “I never finish my work.” But then a thought rose up in my head and said firmly, “I finish my work.”
Suddenly, I remembered all of the blog posts I had finished. I thought of what Elizabeth Gilbert says in Creativity about the importance of simply writing. I remembered that developing as a writer is about practice and volume.
Then, I wasn’t stuck any more. Instead of framing myself as someone who struggles to write, I had framed myself as a Writer who is practicing writing.
I’ve written 24 blog posts this year. That’s more than I have written in my entire life.
This past summer, I entered my first flash fiction short story contest. I received my prompts at midnight on a Friday and had until midnight on Sunday to send in a 1,000-word story. As I sat down on Saturday morning to begin writing, I thought, “What am I doing? I’m not good at making up stories.”
Then I thought, “I’m good at making up stories.” and I remembered how I tell stories all the time. It’s how I coach. It’s how I talk to my kids. It’s how I communicate. Then I dove into my story and had such a good time writing, the time flew by. I started seeing myself as someone who has fun writing, who finds it exhilarating.
Today, I finished my third short story in the same contest (the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest). This weekend marks the Second Round. To my surprise and incredible pleasure, my first two stories placed in the top five of my group, so I advanced in the contest.
Seeing myself as a Writer, inspires me to write. After all, Writers write. This understanding of who I am and what I do made it not only okay, but desirable to set aside all of today for writing.
In fact, this knowledge of who I am and what I do makes it logical for me to set aside time every day for writing and other time for reading. Writers write and read. It’s what we do.
Thinking of myself as a Writer, inspires me to commit to writing projects. Like signing up for a guest blog post. I’ve never done this before. I keep on worrying that I’m doing it ‘wrong’ – but when the thought that “I don’t have interesting stories to tell.” bubbles up in my thoughts, another thought rises up in response asserting, “I have interesting stories to tell.”
Hopefully, that’s true and you’re still reading.
This has been an amazing year. I have developed from seeing myself as someone who writes and is sometimes good at writing to a Writer.
I commit to writing projects. I dream writing dreams. I believe I have something to offer to those who are Writers and those who are writers aspiring to be Writers.
Wherever you are, I encourage you to think about what writing goals you have for 2018 and then air your writing insecurities about it so you can counter them with writing securities.
I’ll look forward to reading your writing.
Nicole is currently working on a non-fiction book linking Jewish practice to mindfulness and a novel which takes a modern approach to the Persephone/Demeter/Hades myth.
Connect with Nicole:
Thanks to Nicole for sharing her experience. I have to say I have the book The Artists Way, was going to start it then we ended up moving so it’s sadly in storage.
I have been told it’s a life-changer. After reading Nicole’s great article, I can’t wait to get to reading through that book and doing the exercises.
As always if you have any questions for Nicole or comments, please leave them below. Don’t forget to check out her social media links and connect with her.
I’ll be back on Friday with a new post.