Three years ago I wrote on this site about my journey toward accepting myself as a writer and storyteller. It was a long road. Though I’ve always loved writing, I struggled with considering myself a “writer” because I often felt like a fraud, or like I just wasn’t good enough at my craft, or like I needed to be writing full-time to consider myself a writer.
The further I got from college, though, the easier it became for me to embrace that identity, perhaps because most of the doubts I had about calling myself a writer had surfaced at college. My writing classes were almost all workshop-style. Every few weeks the class would get a new writing assignment, then we’d all submit our pieces to the online classroom, read them on our own, then take a day in class to critique a few at a time. I loved that format of class, and I credit those critiques with helping me become a better writer. But I almost always felt like an amateur entering the ring with seasoned pros in those classes. My classmates were often accomplished writers with strong voices, signature styles, and an impressive resume of published work. They were true artists of the written word, and I never felt like I measured up to them. I always feared scathing reviews of and scoffs at my writing. I never received them. Those fears were always unfounded. But that didn’t stop me from preparing for them whenever my work was up for review. My terrible tendency to compare myself to other writers, and thus hesitate to call myself a writer, started in those classes.
It also seemed to end there. A few months after I finished college, those habits fell away. I felt free to write how I wanted because I didn’t really fear that criticism or feel that competition anymore. I was still self-critical to an extent, of course. I learned how to read my own writing with a careful eye and to apply things I had learned in college: avoiding vagueness, cutting unnecessary details, trading wordiness for concision. But I didn’t let that stop me from embracing my gift for writing, or that title of “writer,” like I did the feedback I feared I’d receive from others.
As I’ve built my blog and continued to write, I’ve come across some wonderful online creative communities, namely through the #CreativeCoffeeHour and #CreateLounge Twitter chats. But just as I’ve begun embracing my identity as a writer, another title has been tossed around in those communities that I’ve been hesitant to accept: “creative.”
I’ve never considered myself creative. I always reserved that descriptor for visual artists, fiction writers and poets, chefs, and designers of every stripe–basically, everybody but me. Those feelings of being a fraud and of not being good enough that I encountered in college writing classes have been coming back as I’ve immersed myself in those Twitter chats and communities. And with that, the expectation of criticism because I don’t fit the mold of many of the people who join those chats. Most of them run online businesses and sell products and services. That’s not me.
Of course, those expectations of criticism haven’t been fulfilled. Instead, I’ve found only encouragement and people who want to see me succeed. I’m almost puzzled by the welcome and positivity I’ve received. Surely my work is deserving of criticism? Surely I have to try to be impressive and prove myself to these people?
I’ve been reflecting on this a lot lately, on my attitude toward the notion of calling myself “creative.” I’m treating it the same way I treated calling myself a “writer” back in college. I treat it like a competition, or some exclusive club that I have to fight my way into. If I do this, of course I’m going to think I’m not good enough and that others are better than me.
But the folks in the #CreativeCoffeeHour and #CreateLounge communities know that this isn’t how creativity works. “Creative” isn’t some coveted title that you have to earn. It’s for anybody and everybody. And, contrary to what many people (including myself) think, creativity isn’t something that some people have and some people don’t. Everybody possesses it in some form. It takes on an infinite number of expressions. As was the case in college with my identity as a writer, if there is any doubt about whether I can call myself a creative person, it’s coming entirely from me, not from anybody else.
Overcoming that self-doubt can be just as tough as overcoming it from the outside. But I’m working on it. It’s been a process. But believing in myself and giving myself permission to embrace my own creative spirit has made me a lot happier than telling myself that I can’t do it.