KR BlogBlog

Writer Identify Crisis

In an email to my writing friends, I admitted that sometimes I don’t feel like a writer anymore, that I’m slacking off and not doing any actual work. I said this despite the fact that I’m at my writing desk early every morning, where I revise, edit, outline new ideas, and yes, draft new pieces of fiction or nonfiction. Even so, on some level I worry I’m a fraud.

Maybe I feel this way because, for a long time, my primary focus has been my novel. I’ve been revising, cutting, shaping, and writing new words for this manuscript for years now, and the process has been far more complicated and time-consuming than I expected. While I don’t regret pouring this level of effort into my novel, the work isn’t visible to anyone aside from my beta readers and my agent. In the meantime, my story and essay submissions have dwindled to almost nothing.

Several years ago, when I was publishing short fiction fairly regularly, it was easy to believe I was on my way. (As if writing careers have steadily upward-bound trajectories. As if it isn’t like so much else in life that often follows a process of taking one step forward and then a few steps back.) But now my Submittable queue is nearly empty, the majority of my efforts are going into a single manuscript, and I’m well aware there’s no guarantee my hard work will ever be rewarded with a publishing contract.

And so I find myself writing emails to friends about how hard all this is, how impossible it is to write the kind of novel I want, and how in the hell do other authors I admire do it? Yes, I know it’s difficult for everyone, but maybe something is wrong with me or with my process for it to take so long, maybe I’m lacking something significant, maybe I’ll never get there—

I have to cut myself off there. To be a writer is to perpetually combat this kind of self-doubt, anxiety, and angst. I’ll admit that in my weaker moments, it’s sometimes difficult to watch my peers publishing new stories or books while I’m still chipping away at never-ending novel revisions, feeling like I’m falling behind. Logically, I know no universal publishing timeline exists, and that each book and writer is unique, and that I’d rather take my time writing the absolute best book I can than rushing it—but it’s still hard to be patient and to fight that sense of invisibility.

In Rosebud Ben-Oni’s recent post on this very blog, she describes a time in her life when she felt invisible as a writer:

“For a good five or six years, I didn’t really publish anything. I was not visible in writing. I could not be found through writing . . . In fact, you could say there was quite a bit of gone-ness to my writing process in those years,” she writes. “I wasn’t visible. I wasn’t found.”

Her specific sense of invisibility speaks to larger changes and struggles she faced at that period of her life, all of which had an effect on her as a writer. While our circumstances might be different, I can relate to that sense of feeling unseen through the work, and of not having much to show of your writing even as being a writer remains part of your identity to the core.

But here I am regardless, at my writing desk early on a Saturday morning, plugging away. Working on a manuscript whose fate I cannot know. Trying to draft a new piece of flash, or even just this blog post. Fighting against invisibility—or better yet, setting it aside to focus on the work, which is all that matters.

Or, as Rosebud puts it: “My body says again and again: time is brief. I listen. I write.”