Editor’s Note: See Jane Write now publishes personal essays by writers who identify as women, non-binary folks, and our allies. Learn more here.
By Sherilyn Anderson
I’ve dreamed and often fantasized about being a writer for more than half of my 55 years. Life-threatening uterine cancer pushed me to pursue writing seriously because falling back on my previous profession, a high school English teacher, to support myself is no longer an option. I believe that sometimes God puts us in situations where we don’t have a choice but to make moves in life that we don’t dare to do on our own.
I started working with a writing coach and I started journaling to help build a writing routine. Because of journaling, I’m writing more and I’m getting faster. Even though I’m developing a groove and routine, it still feels like a piece is missing from my writing puzzle. When I couldn’t determine what it was, I asked my writing coach when will I feel comfortable calling myself a writer. She told me that I am a writer because I write, but she couldn’t answer that question for me. I am grateful she didn’t have an answer because it provided an opportunity for me to slay a sneaky dragon.
I turned to my journal to work this out. Writing revealed some interesting revelations, but the main one is I didn’t want an answer to that particular question after all. Imposter syndrome got around my defenses because it disguised itself as a harmless innocent-sounding question. Had it come after me straight up as my inner mean girl, she and I could have squared up, ending with her eventually being found somewhere faced down in a ditch because I fight dirty.
Normally, when I realize she has shown up, I look at myself in the mirror and break out them killer Bible verses and affirmations like “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And “I am an overcomer. I gets my shit done.” But as you can see, verses and affirmations don’t answer “When will I feel like a writer?” That question is so broad and vague that there isn’t a simple logical answer to it. I was being set up and sabotaged! Had it not been for journaling, my inner mean girl could have convinced me to put my pen down because she knows about my tendency to use logic and reasoning to direct my decisions.
The question I should have asked was “When will I feel like a professional writer?” Now, my writing coach still wouldn’t have been able to answer that question for me because what we each view as professionalism is a self-developed definition. For me, a professional, in any field, is prepared and consistently competent. They are subject matter experts. They are go-to people who oftentimes provide a service or something so valuable that others are willing to pay for it.
Journaling helped me to figure out the steps I should take to apply my definition of professionalism to being a professional writer. I need to do more than write. I must write well and often. In other words, I have to write something somehow somewhere every single solitary day to improve my craft and do it well. There just aren’t a whole lot of shortcuts around this step. Even networking, praying, and nepotism will open a door only so far because they can’t compensate for writing that sucks.
I have to overcome procrastination and fear. Watching TikTok videos and MSNBC can’t be more important than my writing. I can indulge a teeny little bit while I’m writing or after I write. I can use them to help me generate story ideas, but they cannot substitute for, or keep me from, writing. Who has ever made improvements by practicing inconsistently? I have to be vigilant about the messy mind games imposter syndrome tries to play so that I don’t doubt my ability to write or worse yet doubt that anyone will be interested in what I have to say.
I need my writing to be of service and not a bunch of purposeless words on a screen or page. I want it to educate and inform, open people up to different viewpoints, and spark conversation. I’d like for it to bring people together creating tribes and kinships–helping people see they are not the only ones thinking and feeling the way they do.
I have to get used to putting myself out there and pitching ideas until it becomes second nature because pitching is how professional writers establish themselves. I’m a very sensitive soul which makes pitching difficult sometimes because rejection feels hella icky. The thought of it makes me sad and anxious, but I’ll come up with some affirmations to assassinate that fear too because not all rejection is about me or the quality of my writing, so I shouldn’t look at it as a personal attack. Also, if I avoid pitching, I may not work and I’m too old for that starving artist’s life.
Sloppy handwritten journaling penetrated a blind spot to show me that imposter syndrome was trying to punch holes in my confidence which would have eventually killed my dream. Writing also revealed that my inner critic can appear in ways other than a mean girl, so I’ve got to be on the lookout. These are important points, but the biggest takeaway from that journal entry is I now have a solid plan to follow that puts me on track to achieving this shiny new career. This time I’m moving past thinking about, talking about, and aspiring to be a writer. I’m pulling up my big girl panties and doing it.
Sherilyn Anderson is a former high school English teacher whose life was completely disrupted by cancer in 2022. She is striving to build a new abundant life that uses words as the foundation.
Congrats on your article Sherilyn!
I happy you found the tools and support you needed to be a published, professional writer.
I’m not there yet, but your article gives me encouragement.