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How to Reclaim Your Identity as A Writer

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series featuring the lessons the author personally learned from panels while attending the AWP conference. The author  does not take credit for the wonderful ideas shared. They came from the panelists. She hopes to share what she gathered as the most important points. 

How can one claim to be a writer and not be writing?

Elizabeth Peterson is a novelist, editor, and professor. Her work has appeared in Atlas and Alice and Crack the Spine. She was the winner of the Phi Theta Kappa National prize in Creative Writing and has been a finalist for the Loft Mentor Series Competition, and the Montana Prize in Fiction.

Peterson recalls her postgraduate years as a time in her life where she didn’t want to claim her personality as a writer. After living paycheck to paycheck in a soul-crushing job as a medical writer, the diagnosis of an autoimmune disorder forced her to take up teaching to make ends meet.

As life became a never-ending feeling of compromise and sacrifice, her writing time was stripped away by work and fatigue. She felt like a fraud when people asked her how her novel was coming.

Peterson believes, every writer/artist at some point in their lives, goes through the struggles of managing writing time against the demands of everyday life. It chips away at their sense of identity as a writer and makes them feel downright fraudulent.

Having experienced this herself, Peterson learnt that sometimes, the field must lay fallow for a time before it can begin to yield something again.

Even when you don’t practice your art, you are honing your craft; the clarity, the discipline, the concision required in your writing; from the nuts and bolts with her composition students to the deep dives into texts with her literature students, everything had been helping her understand and hone her craft – teaching her what she needed to know to do the writing she is doing now.

All those years that she thought she had lost had actually been preparing her to do the work she is doing now; to write the novel she is writing now.

It wasn’t that she wasn’t a writer. It was that she was a writer who was learning her craft.

So step bravely and unapologetically into your own identity as an artist. Move beyond prescriptivism and away from some cliched idea of what a writer or an artist’s life should look like.

Know that wherever you are in your relationship to your art, you are EXACTLY where you are supposed to be. Whether you are actively creating, or in a regenerative phase, you’re still an artist and standing in your truth against the tide of other’s expectations of what that means.

Shafeeka Hafeez

Shafeeka Hafeez grew up escaping into a world of books where she discovered a love for writing and a fascination with trees. When she’s not taking up a new marketing skill, or typing out a blog post, you can find her Googling the best therapy for abandoned cats.

January 20, 2023

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