I used to think I had to prove myself worthy of being seen as a writer. I felt like I had to work my butt off to get respect as a writer. I felt like I wasn’t going to be taken seriously if I didn’t show how much work I was putting into my writing. And yes, for the longest time, I felt like all the work I did meant nothing because to some people I felt like I would never be good enough for them. Now I know that’s not true but it was a long, hard road to get to that realization about myself.
Where did this need to prove myself as a writer come from?
It came from my earliest beginnings as writer. My father began writing when I was about eight years old. He started out writing with pen on yellow legal pads then graduated to an electric typewriter he set up in the bedroom next to mine. I used to fall asleep to the sound of him banging away on that thing which sounds quaint and cute now but in reality it wasn’t. My father could turn anything into an obsession due to his untreated bi-polar depression and writing was probably the biggest obsession I saw him get into (he always said he’d been diagnosed but had refused treatment, something I can’t independently verify but after extensive reading on bi-polar depression… let’s just say my dad checked off all the boxes for it). And that obsession and huge effort into learning something could be so impressive that it it felt like something that towered over me. Back then, I thought it was fascinating watching my dad work and talking with him about it. But there was a dark side to that obsessive behavior or my father’s and it’s taken me many years to come to terms with that.
My dad could be a real asshole about whatever he was pursuing. He wanted unwavering, undying support for whatever he wanted to do, especially from my mother. My mother on the other hand wanted someone who would bring in enough money to pay the bills because her job really didn’t cover everything unless she got extremely creative with juggling money. Because of my dad’s mental health issues, he only stayed with something until he hit a brick wall like a layoff or lost his temper one too many times and quit, or just wrecked his health like he did in later years. He really went after my mother though when he was deep into his writing-phase because he wanted her to be the meek, submissive helpmate like his author-idols had with their wives (such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald). My mom couldn’t go along with that and she didn’t have to in any way, shape, or form. The problem with this was when I started writing: I had to walk a very fine line in order not to alienate myself from either parent.
For my father, I felt like I had to put in a ton of studying and writing in order to earn his respect as a writer like he was. He always talked about how you had to study and work at your craft in order to get good at it. He was right on studying and working at writing but because of my mother, I had to be careful not exhibit the obsessive and obnoxious behavior of my father. I never really talked about my writing with my mother and I was terrified of hurting her over me pursuing my writing. This is why I worked so hard to maintain my responsibilities in doing chores and keeping my writing to myself.
This need to prove myself was entrenched in my mind by the time I reached my twenties and joined my first in-person writers group. I was one of the youngest members and boy did I felt wet behind the ears. A lot of the group members had been writing for over a decade when I met them, some were multi-published and best-selling authors. So to say I was intimidated was putting it mildly. And with that group, I felt like I had to prove myself and show that I was working on my craft and that I was working towards my goals.
The problem with feeling you have to prove yourself to someone else is that you can’t live on that. In the end, you have to believe in yourself more than anyone else. You have to trust yourself and your skills and see them through. As a writer, you’ve got to sit down and write, and rewrite, and keep at it until you feel it come together. It has taken me decades to gain the confidence I have in my writing now. It was a long and hard-fought battle to realize I do have what it takes to be a writer because I did put in an enormous amount of time studying and writing. I know I’m a good writer when I get honest feedback from people telling me how my writing connected with them. Because of all this work, I don’t have to stop and think things through with my writing but instead I just keep at it until I feel it’s right. I trust my feelings most of all.
What made me realize I didn’t to prove myself to anyone as a writer is that I do know what I’m doing, that all my years of studying and writing mean something, and most of all, that I have goals that I can carry out. What stopped me in the past from fulfilling those goals was a fear that if I got anywhere near achieving them, someone would come and destroy me. I had to dismantle that fear piece by piece and destroy those pieces once and for all. I don’t have anything to prove to anyone and success isn’t about winning approval from anyone either. Success is something I will have worked for and something I will allow myself to enjoy and benefit from.