Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 24, 2011

Real Writers

A brave writer recently emailed me to ask if she thought she should give up. She’d been noticing that others seemed more sure of their visions and voices, and wondered if she might be some sort of fraud to even attempt to keep up. Did I have advice?

I write, teach writing, and write about books now and then, so it’s not altogether surprising someone might think I could tell the difference between a real writer and someone who’s faking it.  But of course I don’t have a clue. I assured her that wondering if your words have any value, or of feeling surrounded by people who seem so much more secure, can hit any of us at any time. The best we can learn is that it’s transient, part of moving into any sort of new and unstable ground or sandpits. Where the most imaginative writing might grow. The rising of these fears is part of the process. And like all such fears, probably best to say hello, then gently show them to the door.

Peter and I recently met James Sturm who oversees the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. Speaking of incoming students, he dipped his hand into a carton – he orders the paperbacks that way – of Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. This slender book is required reading for those studying words and pictures at this school. Other colleges might pick up on this idea, as the book is one you can read over and over, and find new wisdom about the creative process. Or maybe places that teach art or writing should offer courses in Insecurity 101 or Advanced Anxiety. Meanwhile, muddling through doubts is what happens in the corridors with classmates, in hallways at writer’s conferences, or over cups of coffee and computers with friends.

Many of us cry at critiques that feel harsh, or rejections that seem unfair. It’s good to find consolation among others who’ve been there or are there. And good to check in and decide how much crying is too much, and is there a way to change its course. How do you separate criticism of your work from criticism of your self? If anybody knows the trick, please share! All I know is that time can do some healing. So I advise muttering, endangering no life forms, and getting a good night’s sleep. And reminding people that none of us are alone.



  1. Oh, this resonates with how I’m feeling right now. Lots of muttering. And a recognition that this is hard, and that maybe I need to push forward more slowly and give myself time for more thinking. Thanks for the reminder!

    And I LOVE the new blog. The windowseat is perfect!

  2. Hi, Becky — following you into wordpress. Glad you like the look, though there’s still some housekeeping to do on my part. Peter had some fun with taking photographs and helping set up.

    Sorry about the muttering in your world. It’s kind of sad to tell students, sorry, that part never stops. But maybe also good to be prepared. We are lucky to have others to mutter to when needed!

  3. Even though I read this post on LJ, I wanted to stop in just to enjoy the view! Beautiful!

    • Thanks, Lorraine. Peter keeps finding new views for the windowseat! Camera almost always at the ready, though last night there was an amazing sunset over the river that will make posterity just in our eyes.

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