Who Are You?

“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.”
~Ma Jian

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?


8 thoughts on “Who Are You?

  1. Writing should definitely be about leaving something that you’re proud of on a page rather than getting it published and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with learning things from your characters. My sense of self definitely comes from my writing and knowing that I am capable of writing whatever I choose to write. There is a sense of freedom for me when I’m writing and I am not as scared of what people with think of things I write about as I am if I were to just say those things. Thanks for sharing this post, Shari :)

    • Ooh, that’s such a good point about writing things versus saying them. I am the exact same way. It’s always been easier to express myself that way than orally. Sometimes it’s nice to have time to think things through before putting them on the page, you know? Of course it’s possible to do something similar before speaking, but I definitely think the written word lends itself to even more reflection.

  2. Great post Shari, one of my favorites from you! You have had such a positive attitude about the publishing deal. Others may have given up but you keep on trucking and you have so much to be proud of! Although I am not a writer in the same sense you are, I do feel that my blog writing and song lyrics have helped me to discover my true self. There is just something about putting your thoughts into words that really helps me figure out my emotions.

    • Aww, thank you! :) Also: I couldn’t agree more. There’s something cathartic about seeing your thoughts in front of you like that … it helps you to realize emotions you didn’t even know were there at the outset. I feel that a hundred percent in my novel writing and I see it every bit as equally in your blog posts and lovely song lyrics!

  3. I love that you have such a strong sense of self, despite both the doubters and the natural self-doubt that comes from creating. And, yes, I know exactly what you mean about your characters leading the way and teaching you something. I’ve had the same reaction from non-writers, but it’s truly a joyful feeling, isn’t it? Sometimes I think it really is my characters, but in truth I know it’s my subconscious rising up to tell me something. Either way, it’s usually what I need to hear when I need to hear it. And that is one of the things that makes writing so worthwhile.

    • Yes! Joyful is the perfect way to describe it! I honestly believe that there are certain stories we’re meant to write, and somehow they always come along right when we need them most. I felt that so much with MINE TO LOVE (the one that helped me after losing my Gram) and then again with SANDS OF TIME (which made me fall in love with writing all over again and reminded me of its heart and soul – and mine, too!). Like you said: we hear what we need to at the time we need to, and it’s a beautiful thing.

  4. I love your quotes in the beginning! I think that a great sense of self-worth comes with age and experience, unfortunately. Or maybe not. I forget who said that “Youth is wasted on the young,” but I see why they’d think so. Your personal quote was great, “I have to write for me. It can’t be about publication.” Once a person as a writer gets that part straight, it all falls into place :)

    • Thank you! I always enjoy finding them to go along with the posts. There are so many incredible quotes out there!

      Oh, I definitely agree. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back in time and share some bits of wisdom & experience with our younger selves? Though, on the other hand, I also agree that the innocence and starry-eyed quality of youth is so lovely – and so important. We should all keep a little slice of that inside our hearts! :)

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