Fill in the blank…
I am a______________________________________________________. (And be nice to yourself about it! This is a post about validation.)
I am a writer. This is an innate truth about myself that I have always known. I love to write. I have always loved to write. As a kid, I wrote stories in booklets my parents printed off our shared, family desktop computer. The first in my recollection was a riveting short story called “Casper’s First Birthday.” Yes, that’s Casper as in “Casper the Friendly Ghost.” Needless to say, it was not an instant best seller.
Today, I have five unfinished novels saved on my own computer. Two are variations of the same story; one is a crime thriller; one is an inspirational novella that I’ve rewritten three times; one is a collection of essays. I have also written half a play and the first act of a musical. I have kept journals for as long as I can remember, and they are littered with bits and pieces of stories, character ideas, and intriguing sub plots. Yet the same thing happens each time I tell someone I’m a writer; they ask, “What do you write?”
I write all the time, but there is nothing glamorous about responding to the question “What do you write?” with the truth. I write a lot of personal musings, unfinished novels, and half-baked ideas. And so, invariably, my I am a______________________, runs up against its alter ego…You are not_____________________.
I am a writer. But you are not a real writer a voice answered in protest. Sometimes the voice of dissent was another’s, someone who needed a tangible accomplishment to connect the likes of a writer with the likes of an author whose name they might recognize in print. Sometimes the voice was my own, questioning whether, without that tangible accomplishment, my writing really amounted to anything that might qualify me as a real writer.
This was hard to look past. I believe that whatever you filled in your blank with was not only a reflection of how you see yourself, but also how you present yourself to the world. How the world responds does feel significant. But recognizing whether your identity comes from the “I am a______________,” statements, or your perception of self is tainted by the “You are not______________” statements is potentially critical to self-awareness. If I believe I am a writer, who is anyone question that truth?
I am a writer because I write. And that should be the end of it. But my books are likely not good enough to ever be published, and my musical, though at times hilarious and with one musical number of brilliance, will never get a read through let alone be a production. Still, I have found joy in writing all of them, and joy in coming back to ideas that run through them. It’s that joy that should have validated my identity as a writer. But at some point, the nagging suspicion that I am a writer, but not one of substance, got the best of me. So I set out to get published.
Trying to get published was an interesting experience. In essence, I was trying to silence the “You are not a writer” doubters, and in the process faced a whole bunch of “You are not being published” rejections. This was not an ego boost, but my desire to keep trying in the face of it reiterated to me the truth I had always believed. I really am a writer; I just want someone else to agree with me.
It turned out the trick to being published was finding the answer to the infamous question: what do you write? My publishing breakthrough was not a moment of clarity in which I realized what all the other published writers were doing that I was not. My publishing breakthrough was realizing that my best format was the narrative essay, and then using it to pour out my raw emotions and experiences into something that I decided to submit to a publisher only as an afterthought. In essence, the validation I was searching for came out of a moment of writing for the joy of it, a moment in which I was a writer for the sake of writing, and not out of the effort of trying to produce something solely for another’s benefit or approval.
And so, on January 17, 2014, my first published piece, “An Open Letter to the Man on Match.com who Emailed me to Fix a Grammar Mistake on My Profile Page”, went live on McSweeney’s. And as a point of interest, on January 18, 2014, I went on a first date with the man who would become my husband, who I also met on Match.com, but who was not the man who emailed me about the grammar mistake on my profile page! Validation, on every level, achieved.
For a year my whirlwind romance played out in the posts of my personal blog and on the pages of my journal, until one afternoon, in a creative flourish similar to the one which produced my open letter, I wrote a second piece, which I thought was the perfect follow-up to my first. But something funny happened. McSweeney’s rejected it. For twenty-four hours I grappled with the fact that the same publishers that had validated my writing had also declined to publish it a second time, and whether or not that mattered. And then I woke up the next morning, reread the piece, realized I still liked it, sent it out somewhere else, and waited to hear. And that’s how, on March 13, 2015, “I’m not ‘Sweating for the Wedding’ I’m just a Bride-to-Be that Exercises,”ended up being published by Thought Catalog.
The experience of being published was a thrill, but not one that I found changed my writing very much. It turned out having people say, “You are a writer,” though self satisfying, was something I had always known. Though I may have doubted that others agreed, having someone else say it didn’t alter the truth of who I was. As a result, I’ve gotten much better at trusting the reality of my “I am a_____________” statements without needing the validation of a “yes, you are a__________.”
And validation, it turns out, is a funny thing. It was McSweeney’s that published my first essay, but then McSweeney’s that rejected my second. Did that second essay invalidate my first? Hardly. In fact, in spring 2016, McSweeney’s purchased the audio rights of my piece to be included in an Audible collection of humorous narratives. Later that same year, they paid another royalty to adapt it for a stand up comedy series they were producing for Seeso. Not only was my writing validated, it was paid for!
I am a writer because I write, a runner because I run. I am a teacher because I teach, and a dreamer because I dream that we should all be able to know and trust ourselves without somebody else telling us that we know and trust ourselves the right way!
But because validation is important, and it’s not unreasonable to want to feel validated, you need to know today that you are a strong, confident, beautiful, appreciated, talented, loved, capable human being. (In the words of The Help, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” ) 🙂 And you are whatever you put in the blank! I am one hundred percent sure of it!