What Makes Me A Writer
by Kiana Minkie
There are days where I doubt if I’m qualified to do what I love. If I ask myself what makes me a writer, I’m forced to mediate a mental debate between my inner artist and inner critic. When self-doubt is at its worst, a giant existential hole appears and threatens to suck any creative idea I’ve had in weeks down into the abyss. Getting used to people asking what I do, and replying unapologetically “Oh, I’m a writer” definitely took some time. But if I get asked what makes a writer, I still find myself asking: What makes anyone anything? Certainly, it feels easy to adopt the principles of capitalism into our sense of identity, and deduce that we are what we do, what we spend our time on and make the most of; our output and efficiency. But to dive right into a sense of being as my identity, rather than define it by everything I’m doing, feels like a giant leap into an esoteric unknown. Can the Headspace App or 10 minutes a day of non-secular meditation technique negate the driving need to be recognised for my professional and personal achievements from my community, or be rewarded for my work? How can I navigate being a woman artist, my fear of failure, and the dreams I feel guilty for neglecting, as I pick up a second unfulfilling job? How can the person who adores me still love me when I’m not doing any of things I was doing when he fell in love with me, anymore? What is the point of being creative if I am always too tired to make anything? Am I even a real writer if I also do many things other than writing? So many questions!
A need for a space with familiarity and reflection lead me to the Women Writers Berlin Lab. I had just moved to a foreign country and my identity was still adjusting to new surroundings. I needed women in my life. I needed people who loved what I loved. I needed to feel understood for working my life out on a page. I needed acknowledgement that writing is an artform. I needed to be surrounded by people who are brave enough (sometimes barely) to call themselves writers.
I turned up and expected to feel intimidated by others experiences or publications. I was so surprised that everyone was so welcoming, and everyone had a unique relationship to writing. It’s not very often you attend a group where you sense people will lift you up and support you no matter your experience or confidence level with writing. Surprisingly though, there was a lot of “Oh, you know, I write stuff.”
“I write a lot, but I’m not like, a writer or anything”
“I really, really, really like to write. But I don’t do it a lot.”
“I’ve written a novel, but it’s not published yet. I’m not a serious author.”
Nearly no one said“I’m a writer” during the session. Why?
You are whatever makes you feel most alive.
Here’s what I suspect. We do this thing. We’re a bunch of people who love doing that thing. Some secretly, some very publicly. And we like the way it makes us feel but there is a secret standard we hold ourselves to before we’d allow ourselves to be called writers. For some, it’s measured by recognition, by payment, by how often or how well we do it. But I call bullshit on all of it. Why don’t we confidently call ourselves writers even when we show up to a group designed for writers?
I often wonder the implications of being a woman writer. Are my feelings of shame really attached to the art itself (the link between writers and not making money for example)? Or is it linked to the woman part of it, the fact writing makes me feel good, and the world still feels especially threatened by feelings from anyone who identifies as a woman. Do I fear to put vulnerable writing into the world because I don’t want to be labelled crazy? Do I fear the stereotypes that are attached to writers in history? After some thoughts about greater self-respect for my passion and self-proclaimed titles, I came to some conclusions.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter if you paint one great painting a year, or a dozen paintings you’d never show anyone, or you’ve won an award for being the most prolific artist of the year. You are not what you do. You are perhaps not even the thing that remains (philosophically speaking) when you remove your identity from doing. In the game of life, you can label yourself as anything that you like. If you don’t believe me, do a quick job search and consider how many job titles today did not exist 20 years ago. It’s official proof we’re making up the names of new roles as we’re going along (Anyone reading a Zero Impact Analyst, Virtual Branding Manager or a Vibe Director?). I find the narrow prerequisite of ‘Would anyone hire me/pay me for this?’ very limiting when deciding if what I contribute to the world has value. No one is going to rock up with a gold star and a cheque in the shape of a scroll and knight you with a feather quill of your writing ancestors and hereby all hail you as ‘The Writer’. Here’s the thing.
You are whatever makes you feel most alive.
Work 40 hours a week in a non-boast-worthy job but spend Sunday mornings with your notebook and pen journaling and feel the most...well, feelings? Guess what? You might be a writer. You don’t even have to feel great. Sometimes when I’m looking for my identity on shaky days, let alone my inner writer, the expectation to feel great means I miss what makes me feel alive. You just need to feel aliveness anywhere on its spectrum. (Which is surprisingly hard to do in this world apparently; which is why I suspect people still enjoy one night stands, cling to alarmingly high rocks in harnesses, accept chilli eating competitions, skinny dip, and any other way of chasing intensity).
The thing about surrendering to calling yourself whatever the hell you want in life is that it turns out to be the ultimate journey of self-acceptance. I feel like everyone in life is in the same boat to find it for themselves, we all just take different routes to get there. My love is taking the same journey as me but through music. My aunt does it with numbers in her accounting job. She loves it. A friend delivers babies. We’re all still asking the same questions of ourselves some days. (Am I qualified for this? Do these people around me know how flawed I am? Is there ever a point where I ‘make it’? Who even let me catch babies?) But as I’ve found, self-acceptance isn’t a found it and keep it forever kind of deal. It’s shaky. Some days it won’t be there. Some days you won’t feel like a writer, or you won’t write, or it feels like a chore or the self-doubt is paralysing, or you need to focus on other things, or you meet someone intimidatingly good at what you’re still cultivating in your craft. Permission isn’t a one-time deal people, oh no. It’s a choice we make over and over again. Especially because a true sense of aliveness can’t be quantified or measured in a way we can compare it to others. That’s what Instagram mimics, not your creativity.
I’d love my writing to change peoples lives. Anyone’s life. Just one would make it all worthwhile. But too often I forget that it can start with me. That my writing can change one life. Mine. It's already begun. I just had to be brave enough to call myself a writer so I could fully step into the role.
So if you love writing. Or you don’t, but you’re reading this knowing something else you do makes you feel alive, but you wouldn’t-dare-call-yourself-that-because-who-would-believe you; give yourself permission, even just for today. And when you do, come and join an evening of the WWBL so we can celebrate you, as human, woman, and writer.