A letter I wrote to myself and for any other self-doubting people out there who are still fumbling with what the word ‘writer’ means to them. This can also apply to any kind of creative work: entrepreneurship, design, public speaking. You name it. For any of them, building confidence is so hard but so necessary. Pass it on, y’all.
Yes, you. You know who; you. Your innermost self. Your petty thoughts. Your nighttime brain. That thing you can’t shut off because you won’t shut up inside yourself about this identity of yours. As a writer.
Lately, you’ve been struggling to convince yourself that this is true. You’ve been battling doubt as you see others around you keeping blogs, writing scripts, spilling their guts out on social media, getting published. Their work seems so public, so professional, so curated, so valid, so bold.
Well, let me tell you something. You can be bold, too. In your own way. Your words are valid, too. In their own way. You are a writer, too. You always have been. Even when you aren’t putting words to paper, you are a writer.
Still don’t believe me? Let me speak some truths to you:
A love of reading is the beginning of writing. You have always been a reader and thought for along time that this was not the same thing as being a writer. WRONG. Writing starts with a love of reading. And you fawned over the words you read in your favorite books: The Neverending Story, Peter Pan, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter. Those books were delicious, and you devoured them. And just like any good cook appreciates a good meal by recreating the recipe, you started crafting your own books. You used construction paper for the binding and folded up computer paper for the pages. You decorated the covers reverently with markers and colored pencils. You starting penning chapters, illustrating the opening words in bold calligraphy. Don’t beat yourself up that you didn’t finish writing any of these stories. You were just beginning. How else would a writer start, but by learning to understand what comprises the inner and outer workings of book, a novel, a poem?
All writing matters. Begin with the thought that anything you write counts. For the longest time, you thought ‘writers’ had to be a certain persona. A bespectacled old man scribbling furiously away at some ornately-phrased masterpiece. A white, hipster chick with green hair tapping violently on her laptop keys, her Warby Parkers glinting in the harsh light of a daytime coffeeshop. Nah, bruh. Maybe that’s how some cliched-ass people get their shit done, but that doesn’t have to be you. Theirs is not the only way to write. Your grocery lists could be a blog, man. Your text messages a love poem. All formats matter. Your writing is diverse and represents the landscape of your mind. Save that shit — whenever and wherever; it counts.
Writing can be a slow, unexpectedly blooming process. One of your goals this year was to write more publicly. Who else besides a writer makes a goal like that? Well, little did you realize that you’ve been working toward that goal before you even set it. Four years ago, you started a journal. And that filled up pretty fast. So you wrote another, and another, and another. And when those journal thoughts were ready to come out from their private pages, you started migrating to different mediums. Sometimes, words leap to you and you jot them down on your phone. Other times, you need a bigger canvas and use your computer to mold ideas into bigger experiences, stories.You are learning that sometimes what starts as journal entry can evolve into poem or essay. What begins as a lesson learned turns into the ending of your story. You have learned to start sculpting your thoughts, respecting the material enough to mold it into something more creative, coherent. You have started to create things that are one step closer to being easily reproducible, edited, read. That’s called writing, honey!
Writing is as social as it is private. Everyday, you can find something to write about. It doesn’t have to be an epic piece that rocks hearts or minds (or tries to). It can just be an honest observation from the heart. And when you sit down to write it; just you, yourself, and ya – that’s the private part. The social part is that fact that your writing is so inspired by and connected to other people. One of your most fluent muses stems from your relationships with friends, lovers, strangers. And then there are the authors who, by resonating with you, allow you to embrace your own writing. You read a piece by Samantha Irby and appreciate the brilliance of stream of thought. You gasp at the clarity of one of Roxane Gay’s cultural critiques and respect how strong is the potion of honesty. You fawn over the pages of Nayyirah Waheed and realize that poems don’t have to be whole meals, but can exist as sprinkles of salt.
That’s all the wisdom I’ve got for now. But I’m still learning, too. In case you just scrolled to the bottom and just want the tl;dr, here are the recurring themes of my affirmation to you:
- Believe in your work. It IS valid. Even if the world doesn’t always reflect it to you (*cough cough* black women writer role models) until later.
- You are in the midst of your process. Confidence is a slow-evolving thing. Be patient.
- No, it’s never fucking too late. Don’t let any child prodigy or obnoxiously successful white acquaintance tell you different. Your timing is meant for YOU and that’s OK.
- Set goals. Strive for them. You are worth it. Your thoughts and ideas are worth it. Your writing is worth it.
- All your writing counts. Even your lists. (Who knows, maybe somebody ELSE scavenges music by putting it together on a Google Keep list like you do so you can steal MP3 files of those songs off YouTube and deposit them in your iTunes for later. Cuz Spotify ain’t cheap. So yeah, someone out there might appreciate that you put this behavior in words for them to relate to. Long point, but essentially: every format matters and inspires.
Originally written thanks to Dear Black Women, an affirmation letter-writing movement for Black Women by Black Women.