Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

How I Overcame Self-Doubt and Declared Myself a Writer

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Editor’s Note:  This is a guest post by Beverly Army Williams.  It’s part of my monthly series Stories of Transformation.

A piece of art, a collaboration between visual artist Linda Jean Fisher and me, is held in the Pfizer Corporation’s collection. In the late 1990s, I handed a stack of poems to Linda Jean. She created graphite drawings and used the erase function of an electric typewriter to type my poems. This  lifted the graphite from the drawings, and the words stood out from the drawings in white. Her purpose was two-fold: she wanted to acquaint herself with my work, and she wanted to encourage me to call myself a writer.

I was a writer, but I was wary of claiming that title.

Having completed, at long last, my bachelor’s degree, I had my first non-clerical job: I was the assistant to my college’s director of public relations. I spent my days writing press releases, articles for internal newsletters, copy for advertorials.

After ten years as a bank teller, telemarketer, and accounts receivable clerk, I should have been thrilled by this job. I still hated the question “what do you do” when I met new people; my job lacked pizzazz.  I told myself this corporate writing did not count. Nor did my stories or poems count; they weren’t published after all.

A Story of Self-Resistance and Doubt

My story is not unusual. It’s a story of resistance. It’s a story of self-doubt, which manifested in unsavory ways:

  • Defensiveness
  • Busying myself with activities that added little to my life
  • Reticence to share my work
  • Uncertainty about my writing’s worth

When she erased my words from her drawings, Linda Jean did something powerful: she allowed me to see my words, to value them, to claim them. Using my poetry in her artwork elevated the words for me and enabled me to take them as seriously as she had done.

The Transformation:  I Declare Myself a Writer

The transformation took several years of deliberate work, play, and focus. Here’s what I did:

  • Instead of squirming when asked what I did, I taught myself to say, “I am a writer who supplements her income working in public relations.”
  • I posted a little sign on my work computer that said “Paid Practice.” Any writing, after all, improved all of my writing.
  • I sought feedback for my poems and learned to revise them with sound and imagery in mind.
  • I read (and completed) Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and through morning pages, I journaled my way into a novel. I believed whole-heartedly that I was the only person who could tell that story.
  • I enrolled in writing workshops and eventually in the University of New Mexico’s MFA program.

Self-doubt enters my mind still. Instead of wallowing in it as I once did, though, I recognize it and write my way through it. I summon my courage and allow the bad writing to happen; I know at some point a word or sentence or paragraph will sparkle and matter.

Just before I moved from New York to New Mexico, a colleague—the graphic artist for our publications—gave me a beautiful bookmark. On the back she wrote “If you wish to be a writer, write.” –Epictetus.

And so I write and declare myself a writer.

Beverly Army Williams writes in the woods of Connecticut. She teaches writing at a small public university in Massachusetts and is a writing consultant. Visit her blog and follow her on Twitter.

Thank you for reading!  If you’re new, please consider subscribing subscribe for free updates by email. With love, Sandra

 

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20 Comments

  1. You write beautifully, Beverley. There’s something that holds many of us back from declaring what it is that is truly heartfelt – perhaps it has something to do with the fear of failure, or perhaps in professions like writing, we grow up convinced that they are not ‘proper’ jobs – and yet, we must and should always follow our hearts calling for they lead us to exactly where we should be.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Thank you for reading it and responding so kindly. I especially like that you said we “must follow our hearts calling for they lead us exactly where we should be”: so, so true!

  2. Oh Beverly, you know how much I love you and this post just adds to my admiration–its lovely. I love the image of you at your work computer with the sign saying “paid practice.” Wonderful!

    • Thank you, Charlotte! the adoration is mutual!

      The paid practice sign was life changing. I learned to be grateful for a job writing–no matter what writing was at hand, I knew the time in the chair helped me to develop my skills.

  3. Hi Beverly, I am deeply touched by your story. Congrats on learning to embrace your inner writer! I’ve been blogging for 2 years and working as a copywriter for a website company, but have a hard time calling myself a writer. But I never yearned to be a writer, it just seems to have unfolded and now I wonder if I have the passion to keep it going. Following my heart is still a mystery at 55. Thanks, Brad

    • Thank you for your comment, Brad. Funny how these identities (yours as a writer, for example) find us rather than our finding them!

  4. This is an incredible post! It took me a long time to claim my title as a write as well, but once I did, things began to happen. Though I still had (still do sometimes) times of self-doubt, I garnered enough confidence to write my first novel and grow my blog. How WE see ourselves matters so much more than how others view us.

  5. Yes! Same with the words artist, designer, photographer, etc. Why do those words hold such power?! I also love The Artist’s Way, that’s a great resource. So interesting how you credit that collaboration as the turning point for you. Good stuff Beverly and Sandra.

    • Thanks, Crystal. It is sooo interesting to consider why the “what” we long to be (and most likely are) is often the hardest word to claim!

  6. Hi Beverly
    I like your honest confessions. Writers have to struggle not only with the circumstances but with themselves too…I know how self doubt keeps creeping despite our best assurances and efforts! You know John Keats was recognised to be a great poet after his death. So was the case with the famous urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib who lived in penury all his life.
    I always feel inspired when I read about them.
    Thanks for sharing your story and special thanks to Sandra too, for introducing us to you.

    • Isn’t it incredible to consider the number of artists we adore who got little or no recognition in their lifetimes? Thanks so much for your comment!

  7. Jean Sampson

    What a wonderful and encouraging post! I am going to visit your blog, Beverly!
    I am a poet working now as a visual artist/teacher. Right now, I am painting, drawing and teaching much more than I am writing and I sort of feel that I am missing an arm! I am at least going to write some haiku so that the poetry part of my brain does not shoulder its knapsack and go out looking for some other person who will take better care of it, read it some poems each day and invite the poetry muse over for tea and cookies sometime. 🙂

    • How can the muse resist tea and cookies?! Thanks so much for your lovely comment, and I hope you enjoy PoMo Golightly!

  8. Gorgeous post. I absolutely love this, my writer friend.

  9. Hi Beverly; What a great story of transformation. I noticed a similar change in myself when i finally owned being an amusement equipment reseller. however, it happened after doing an exercise on job titles where I gifted out that what I really do is help find new homes for amusement concessions and confections equipment. But you are right when you work for yourself in an unusual field the hardest part of your day is when someone asks you what you do. I grew up in a family of carnival owners. I was always proud of this and told people what my family did or what i did. but my brothers struggled with it. My youngest used to tell people he was a chauffeur. thanks for sharing. I’m sure you have helped a lot of people and it never hurts me to be reminded of how important it is to be proud of what you do. Take care, max

    • Max, your family history sounds fascinating! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment.

  10. Thanks Beverly and Sandra for this. Much of it hits home. I recognize the resistance in myself, not necessarily to classifying myself as a writer, but with other old beliefs that linger about who we are. I suspect your thoughts resonate with many of us out here. 🙂

    • You’re very welcome, Elle. I love Beverly’s wisdom and the way she took charge and went step by step to empower herself as a writer. I agree, I think there’s a lot of crossover in this article to all realms of self-doubt.

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