Sometimes the path your’ve chosen determines who you are. That’s why I believe who I am and what I do are inextricably linked.
There’s a big push to separate who we are from what we do. And I get it. I definitely felt that urge when I worked for someone else. And I definitely don’t think a job determines your worth.
I used to hate it when I’d meet new people and I’d tell them that I was tech writer or an instructor. I hated how they wanted to talk more about those jobs like I somehow cared about those things. I hate how most people act like everyone is super passionate about their day job.
(For the record, I hate how people think you have to be super passionate about every aspect of a business you’ve built too. Yeah, I’m passionate about writing. But if you think I’m passionate about search engine optimization and finding LSI terms to add to blog posts for better SERP rankings, you’re dead wrong.)
For what it’s worth, I think most people hate their job. I did for years. And now that I’m lucky enough to have a job I like, I’m very aware of how privileged I am.
But I’m here because I can’t do anything else. At least, I can’t do anything else for very long. And that’s because what I do has fundamentally shaped who I am.
When I Knew What I Was Going to Do
I know what I’m about to share won’t resonate with everyone. And if you’re an adult still trying to figure out what you care about and what you want to do, that’s totally cool. Learning and trying new things is a top-tier joy, and I’m so excited that you get to keep exploring to find things you like.
For me, I knew I was going to be a writer when I was eight years old. I decided then and there, after reading Ramona Quimby, Age 8. You can read more about that in this post on books that made me a writer.
Since then, my life has been about books. My identity has been about writing. Sure, I do more than read and write, but that was the focus. It’s why I always took creative writing as an elective growing up. It’s why I majored in it. It’s why I basically created this super weird job for myself.
So, while I like the idea of separating our identities from what we do, I don’t think it works all around. Because if you’re a creative or an artist, who you are is what you do. That drive to create informs a lot of who you are and how you see the world.
And since I decided when I was fairly young, this has been my identity for a really, really long time.
What Even Is a Writer?
I’m a writer, through and through. I spend long hours inside my head in a way that most people don’t. It’s weird. But it’s who I am.
There are times when I’m existing, simply being a person, and the thought occurs to me that I can add whatever that particular experience is to a book. There are details that I’ve scavenged away and hidden so that I can use them later. There are notebooks collecting dust in cabinets full of these bits and pieces.
I don’t know who I am outside of the writer because everything that I do is shaped by it. I’m a wife and a daughter and a sister and a dog owner and weight lifting enthusiast and decent home cook. But I’m a wife who writes. And you’d be crazy to think that elements of my marriage don’t end up in fiction.
(As someone who writes romance, I feel it’s necessary to say that you should get your mind out of the gutter, because I am not sharing THOSE details, you degenerates.)
There isn’t an interaction or a feeling that I haven’t pocketed to be used later in fiction.
And I know this makes me sound like a sociopath. It makes me sound like I can’t be trusted. But the thing of it is that I’m only sharing a story.
I need the bits and pieces that make us human to make the story real. And if the story feels real, then it’s worth the time you invested to consume it.
If I can make a reader stop for a second and feel real empathy for the character, then I’ve done my job. And to do my job, I’ve gotta use those details.
They say writers live twice–once when they experience a thing, and a second time when they write it.
Maybe I am using details of real life. But only so I get to feel it all over again.
Who I am and What I Do
And now I’m a writer. I write. That’s what I do.
It’s not as glamorous as I’d like. It’s not like I look like I’m part of a J. Crew catalog as I clackity clack on a typewriter. It’s mostly me in yoga pants, hunched over a keyboard, wondering if I need to get my eyes checked because that LASIK I got 10 years ago is fading.
I take those bits and pieces of life I’ve collected in notebooks and sprinkle them in other places. I put them in stories and pepper characters with things I’ve seen. I worry about people I know eventually catching on, like I’ve been picking up their garbage along the way only to air it out in a very public manner.
(Don’t judge. All writers do.)
I spend hours consuming other stories–movies, books, TV shows, gossip from people I know about people I don’t–just so I can collect the information with the combine and store it in the silo that is my brain. For this reason, I haven’t consumed a movie just for fun in years. I don’t know if I can do that anymore. Because I’m always thinking about plotting and pacing and characterization.
Sure, this doesn’t make me special or unique. It makes me a writer. But that’s who I am.