“Only when you are aware of the uniqueness of everyone’s individual body will you begin to have a sense of your own self-worth.”
I’ve learned a lot from being a writer: how to bring characters to life, how to show instead of tell, how to take fictional people and make them feel real as I travel along on their journeys, how to weave a story arc with a clear sense of beginning, middle, and end. I’ve learned about voice, about plot, about dialogue, about pacing. I’ve learned more than I ever could’ve imagined at the outset, and I am grateful. So grateful.
But it isn’t only about the mechanics. It isn’t only about the techniques. It isn’t only about the craft. In fact, it isn’t only about who I am as a writer. It’s also about who I am as a person.
I think one of the things we all (or, at least, most of us) struggle with is a sense of self-worth. Where does it come from? Inside or outside? Others or ourselves? What we do or who we are? It’s difficult to differentiate sometimes. For me personally, it’s always been a jumble, a package tied up messily with a waterfall of ribbons instead of a neat, tidy bow. When you take a path as untraditional as being a writer, there are always going to be people who pass judgment. And, of course, it’s not just limited to writers. There are so many careers, so many works of heart, that others are quick to look down upon. It’s sad. But we don’t have to let it define us. For awhile, I’d do everything possible to avoid the “What do you do?” question. I didn’t want to justify my choices to inquisitive eyes. Now? Now I am proud to explain what I do, because truly, it’s also a part of who I am.
And what about the process of trying to get published? Anyone who’s been there knows what an emotional roller-coaster it is. I use that phrase a lot on here, but honestly, I can’t think of any better way to describe it. We are always opening ourselves up to the opinions of others: critique partners, agents, editors, readers … the list goes on. When so much of this industry relies on external validation, what happens to the sense of self, the sense of worth, that lives deep inside? I wish I had a good answer for that. It’s something I’m constantly trying to figure out as I throw myself, once again, into the querying process. Because the thing is, yes, the agents’ opinions matter. Of course they do. They matter a lot. But that doesn’t take away from the other people who have read our work. It doesn’t lessen the swell of joy we got from their reactions to our words, to our characters, to our stories. I think it’s important to remember that. We always hear that this industry is subjective. And it is. Sometimes that’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Are there still times when it gets me down? Yes. I’d venture to guess that most writers feel that way. But when it does, I stop and remember something Remi taught me:
“The time away was good, probably even crucial, because it gave me a chance to miss that part of myself. It gave me the distance and clarity to realize that, first and foremost, I have to write for me. It can’t be about publication. It has to be about leaving my heart on the page and knowing, no matter what, I have something to be proud of in the work itself.”
Some people look at me a little funny when I talk about discovering things from my characters, but oh how true that is. Remi’s lesson is one I needed to learn, too. And it’s not only about writing. It’s about everything. There will always be people who let us down, people who, as Mark Twain said, treat us as an option even though we make them a priority. It’s so easy to let them influence our self-worth, to let them get us down – been there, done that – but really, isn’t that more about them than us? Going the extra mile for people is something I’m proud of, even if it’s taken for granted. I don’t want to stop being that person just because it sets me up to get hurt. I guess what I’m saying is … yes, other people impact who we are, but only we can define it. We are all unique. Why not celebrate that?
I’m curious: do you all agree? How do you build a sense of self?