Writing is hard. No one is going to disagree with that.
Often, writers don’t even know which aspects of writing they struggle with the most; those unknown unknowns of writing, which by nature are that much more difficult to address.
I’ve come to discover over the years the parts of writing that especially challenge me: starting scenes in the right place; conveying character emotion; not overwriting; not getting hung up on secondary characters and allowing them to sidetrack the narrative.
By far, though, the hardest part of writing that I believe applies to all writers at one time or another— perhaps multiple times, in multiple forms—is taking oneself seriously as a writer.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot while preparing to embark on one of the biggest shows of seriousness a writer can perform….
Querying literary agents.
I overcame my initial phase of not believing in myself years ago, when I was still very much a novice. I was lucky, in the very early days of online writing advice (and the Internet in general!) to have stumbled upon the tip to think of myself as a legitimate writer from the outset.
Despite my inexperience, I made the conscious choice to call myself a writer without any sort of qualifier. I was no longer going to be an “aspiring” writer, “novice” writer, “amateur” writer, “unprofessional” writer, or my personal favourite that I once used—a “semi-professional” writer.
This webpage in question is long gone, but I still have a printout of it, and previously blogged about its contents. Similar advice is still shared on social media to this day, and remains as valuable as it was when I first read it.
(Nowadays I do call myself an “unpublished” writer, but as a description of my status as a writer, not an appraisal of my writing skill.)
But the act of not taking your writing seriously can creep up in many different forms.
A common way is through feeling guilt over pursuing your craft. Many people experience a gnawing sense that they’re wasting their time whenever they sit down to work on a story. That they’re selfishly co-opting time that rightly belongs to something—or someone—else.
This feeling is common among people who have dependents, and seems even more common among women, who face a disproportional societal expectation to manage the needs of others and be available for constant emotional support, even if their own needs and desires are subsumed in the process.
I don’t have dependents at the moment. But another way doubts about myself as a writer show up is in the state of not already having any tangible markers of writing success. No agent, no published works, no contest wins, etc.—where so many writers around me who are younger or else started their journey later than I did already do.
It’s taken me a long time to get good at my craft. Too long, I sometimes feel, especially where for years I’ve completely rearranged my lifestyle to accommodate my writing (e.g. giving up TV on weekdays, staying up later, getting up early to exercise in the morning to free up my lunch hours for writing).
Yet I wouldn’t even be where I am right now, believing myself capable of making the next big step in my writing journey, if I hadn’t learned to take myself seriously during all those years of my growth as a writer.
This moment, with me poised to query for the very first time, simultaneously represents all the legitimacy I’ve already granted myself, as well as a call to keep doing so.
If I’ve done it before, I can do it again—now even bolder, stronger, and for even longer.