For Writers Who Don’t Feel Like Writers

How do you define yourself? Do you define yourself by what you like, what you do, or what you accomplish? Maybe you define yourself by something else entirely.

When it comes to writing, I define myself as a writer with a lowercase “w” instead of an uppercase one. offers the following definitions of “writer”:

1 a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.
2 a clerk, scribe, or the like.
3 a person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing: an expert letter writer.
4 (in a piece of writing) the author (used as a circumlocution for “I,” “me,” “my,” etc.):The writer wishes to state….
5 a person who writes or is able to write: a writer in script.

For me, a “Writer” (capital W) is defined by 1, 2, and 4, while a “writer” (lowercase w) is defined by 3 and 5. I hold the distinction in my head, but separating the two only serves the purpose of diminishing what I do. I could say I’m not an active writer, but I actively write here. If someone asks, I don’t say “I’m a writer” because it doesn’t feel authentic. Instead, I say “I write.” Writing is something that I do quite often, but I’m not an author with a collection of published pieces, and I’m certainly no expert letter writer, so I often don’t feel like a writer.

What is it that makes you feel like a writer? For me, it’s writing consistently, writing good things, and completing projects. Getting published makes me feel like a “real writer,” but, generally, I feel like a writer when I’m being consistent. Not being able to get my thoughts onto paper, not finishing stories, not submitting stories, not having a writing routine… those things make me feel like less of a writer.

So what do we do about it?

First, we have to find our groove! Think back to when you last felt like a writer, or when you felt most like a writer. What did that look like? Think about what it looked like physically, but also what state of mind you were in, what habits you were practicing, what your schedule was like. What were you doing then that is different now? Now, think about what you need in order to regain that positive writing space.

Second, take it slow and be gentle with yourself. Things may have changed drastically since you were last in a place where you were writing consistently. You may never be able to get back to the same place, but what can you adapt and shift going forward to get you into the right writing space? Don’t punish yourself for slipping, stalling, delaying, avoiding… whatever it is that has prevented you from writing like you want to be writing. Give yourself grace for not being able to do everything. None of us can do everything.

Lastly, be intentional about setting time aside to write. It can be five minutes at the end of your work day, jotting down notes in your phone, it can be a quick journaling session before bed, it can be an hour in the mornings before breakfast… whatever you have the time to do; whatever you think you can maintain. It doesn’t even have to be every day when you first start. Go slow. It takes time to build good habits, especially ones that require us to stop and focus on one thing at a time.

I am putting some of these things into practice myself. Last week I wrote two (very) short stories using some writing prompts. One was really, very bad, and the other was… a little less bad. I’ve been out of practice, but even when I was writing regularly, they stories weren’t all good. As the stories get better, I intend to share some of them here.

In the meantime, let me know how you intend to further develop your writing practice.

Happy Writing!

Not Writing Becomes the Reward of Not Writing

…behavior that gets rewarded tends to get repeated. If you stop writing then you’re kind of rewarding yourself with not writing.

-Octavia E. Butler

I was half-listening to an old Octavia Butler interview on YouTube when she said the above quote. I had to pause what I was doing and rewind the video to hear what she was saying more intentionally. It hit me that, in a way, I have been kind of rewarding myself with not writing for a long time now.

I’ve been delaying making the final edits to my book because I don’t yet know which self-publishing route to go. I’m at the point of going the cheapest, quickest route just to get it done and over with. It’s not fun anymore. Other than working on the book, and that one (published) short story that I’m still geeked about, I haven’t done much writing over the past year. Now, it seems, not writing has sort of become a habit.

Thankfully, I haven’t given it all up yet (I’m still here at least). I keep talking about forming new writing habits and indulging in online writing courses, but I have yet to do any of that. I’m not quite sure where I’m blocked, or what internal (or external) thing is keeping me from diggin in.

I remember when I started writing my first novel (yet to be completed). Granted, I wasn’t working at the time, but I was writing for at least two hours every day. I’d built up the habit because I was enjoying the story. Once the story I thought I was telling got jumbled and lost, I stopped enjoying it, and stopped writing that book. The thing is, I know I have more stories to tell. I even have notes for essays that I want to include in a second collection after I finally publish this first one I’m working on.

To put it simply, I’ve rewarded myself with not writing for so long that I’m not sure how to get it back. Another thing Butler said in that interview was, “If you’re a writer you can’t stop writing.” And I feel that. On one hand, she’s saying if you’re a writer you can’t help but to write, you have to write or it’ll drive you nuts; on the other hand, she’s saying if you’re a writer you can’t stop writing or else you’ll lose your skill… craft… self. One is a personality thing, and the other is instruction. I feel it both ways.

I keep coming back to these two blogs, I journal, I make lists (and more lists), and I take notes because I can’t not write. But it feels sort of washed in comparison to the loudly colored short stories I enjoy creating. I know that once I get back into the groove of writing again (because I will) I can’t allow myself to stop writing because I won’t want to feel this kind of emptiness again. I don’t want not writing to be my reward. I want my writing to become a habit that gets rewarded by better and better stories so that the writing doesn’t stop.

I’m curious…what are you rewarding yourself with? How do you build back up the habit of writing when you’ve been removed from it for a while? I’m going to start be looking for a writing challenge right now!

Until next time…

Happy Writing!

…You Would Cry Too If It Happened To You

16. Write abut a confrontation at a birthday party.

I’m sitting in my closet with the door closed, knees to my chest. Well, not quite. I’m a bit chubby and have a growing set of boobs, so my knees don’t actually reach my chest, but you get the point. The tears on my face are dry now, no doubt staining my face. Why do tears stain your face? Salt I guess. Answering my own questions. It’s dark in here. Warm. Comfortable. Safe. The safest. This closet has always been my refuge. I used to hide in here when another kid said something mean to me, or when I’d had a bad day at school or when I missed my old friends, or when I had a bad dream. I keep a special teddy in here, my little soldier. My uncle gave him to me, said soldiers protect everybody and my little soldier would protect me. I think he has done a pretty good job so far. Middle School isn’t as fun as I thought it would be, so I spend more time in here than I did in Elementary. People at school would laugh at me if they could see this. That makes me sad too, that I even still need this safety closet. Aren’t I supposed to be a big girl now? Usually I come in here to hide from the outside things, the scary things. But today the scary things are the inside things. The things that are supposed to make me feel safe and loved and respected. And today of all the days. I can hear them still, yelling at each other. My grandpa brought his new girlfriend to my birthday party. I don’t even know why old people still want girlfriends and boyfriends, but I met her before and she was nice so it didn’t bother me. Grandma felt differently, even though she brought her new husband. She used the word “disrespectful” a lot. She also used other words I’m not supposed to repeat, but it was kind of funny. At first. Mom tried to calm everybody down, but Grandma called her a “hussy” and Nana didn’t like that so she stood up and started yelling too. Dad tried to get between them, but Pops told him not to “get between pecking hens” which made the yelling go up a pitch higher. Even I know not to call women hens, chicks, heifers, or any other kind of farm animal, and I haven’t even gotten to high school yet. Nonetheless…. I learned that word from my dad and I think it’s fun to say. Nonetheless. Nonetheless. Nonetheless…. Nonetheless, Pops made it all worse. Grandma and Nana started yelling at him, and then I guess Grandpa’s girlfriend breathed wrong because then Grandma turned on her. I just sat there with my fork in my hand watching the entire world unravel. Then it happened. Grandma picked up my cake…. My cake was beautiful. It was two small tiers, the bottom one dark dark purple, and the top dark dark red. Covered in glitter. On top it had three little rows of library book shelves, and on one side it had a little chair with a little girl sitting in it reading a book. That little girl was supposed to be me. She was wearing my favorite yellow polka dot dress, and no shoes. You couldn’t see any expression on her face really because she was so tiny, but I knew it was me because that’s what I asked for. I didn’t want any gifts from my parents. Just some new fantasy books—didn’t even care which ones—Chinese takeout, and that cake. That perfect, beautiful cake. That perfect, beautiful cake that my Grandma ruined along with all my hopes and dreams. You know how people say something dramatic or romantic happened in slow motion? I always thought that was garbage. Until I saw my Grandmother pick up my cake. It really was like slow motion the way everyone’s heads moved in her direction, that weirdly baritone “Nooooooooooooo!” that came out of Nana’s mouth, my mom covering her face, grandpa reaching his arm across his girlfriend’s chest, and all my tiny little library books being smashed into his arm and her dress with so much force that it tipped her chair and sent her on a free-fall towards the floor that seemed to take minutes rather than seconds. As soon as she hit the floor everything went back to normal speed. And you’d think everybody would go quiet and most would rush to help her up, but nope. The yelling got even louder as girlfriend joined in, and nobody, and I mean NO BODY even looked in my direction. I ran straight to my room and into my safe space and let the tears that started with “why the hell did you bring her here David” continue to fall down my face until the water stores were empty. My little soldier absorbed most of them. I can still hear them fussing. Not yelling anymore. And not as many voices. Nana. Mom. Then I hear my name. Somebody asking where I am, referring to me as “that poor child”. I hear my mom groan about my cake, and that brings a fresh new stream of tears. I really wanted that cake. And I didn’t even get to cut it. Or taste it. I don’t even know if mom got a picture of it between setting the table and trying to keep Grandma and Grandpa apart. I’ll remember it, though. I’ll see it in my dreams. My grandparents will remember it too, I’ll make sure of that…when I decide to start talking to them again. Maybe by the time I graduate from college, they’ll both be mature enough to not ruin my special day. I’m sure Nana will be the first to find me. Dad and Pops are probably outside pretending to take out the trash, and I’m sure mom is still cleaning my tiny polka dot dress off the floor. Nana is like my spirit animal. She always knows were I’m hiding. I mean, I’m always hiding in here, so if you know once then you know, but my parents tend to look everywhere else first. Nana—and here she comes—doesn’t just find me, she sits with me in my little closet and waits for me to talk to her, and doesn’t make me turn on the light.