BY ALECIA LYNN EBERHARDT-SMITH
Editor's Note: A version of this appeared on our old site.
Although I went to school for writing, ran a literary magazine at my college, and graduated with a BFA and a collection of short stories under my belt, I have always been hesitant to call myself a "writer." If I ever did mention that I write, it was along with many qualifications…"I’m an executive assistant, but also I like to write, in my spare time," or, "I have a writing degree, I don’t know if I’d call myself a writer…" et cetera.
My worry sprouted from the fact that there were very few times in my life that I was actually paid for my writing despite doing it almost constantly. My biggest fear was to introduce myself to someone new, have them ask what I do (the ultimate NYC question!), and respond "I’m a writer," only to get called out—
"Oh, you make a living that way?"
No, I make a living managing the front desk at a fertility clinic.
"Oh, where have you been published?"
Nowhere that’s going to impress you by name alone (yet!).
So even though I never stopped writing—through college, while I was finishing my thesis; after school, when I kept up a blog about moving to NYC; and even later, after I was disillusioned with New York, when I was working on personal essay projects—I avoided that self-identifying phrase. I was afraid of allowing myself to be vulnerable in that way; it was better to keep that part of me hidden than to risk eye rolling and judgment.
The dissonance between "what I’m paid to do" and "what I love to do" causes this type of anxiety and internal conflict for many creatives. When I first started dating my now-fiancé, we had many, many conversations revolving around the "identity" of ourselves as artists. He works primarily with photography (digital and film), video, and graphic/web design, and was struggling with the idea of calling himself a "photographer" or an "artist." He was actually the first person to introduce me as "his girlfriend, the writer," which initially made me so uncomfortable. I’m not a real writer! I’d insist, to which he’d respond, "Why not? Stop underselling yourself."
And, of course, he was right. The only person telling me that I wasn’t a writer was myself—and the way I used qualifications to soften my statements was a lot like the way students and young people call themselves "aspiring ____." If you’re already doing whatever it is you want to be doing—writing, photography, fashion design, whatever—then you’re no longer aspiring. The difference between aspiring and practicing is simply the practice.
Somewhere in the midst of my identity struggle, I quit my NYC desk job, moved to the Catskills, and started spending a lot more of my time in creative pursuits. I started writing for Luna Luna, editing for an online magazine, and being much more active in the writer-ly sphere in general. My first Luna Luna article, "Stop Saying ‘I Have a Boyfriend’," made waves and was reposted on xoJane and spread across social media. Then, an article I wrote, "I Am Not My Job: Why I Left New York City," was reposted on Huffington Post and got a ton of feedback here on Luna Luna and via social media.
It was weird—suddenly, people I didn’t know were e-mailing me and tweeting at me about my role as a writer. Although the article was about being a young creative, there was still a block in my mind against identifying myself that way. However, the thousands of people that read the piece had no idea about my personal hang-ups. To them, I was a writer because I had written something and now they were reading it...simple as that. Despite all of my previous fears, no one questioned my identity or asked me to prove myself or show "credentials."
My husband jokingly told me that I was "one of them" now, a real creative. (I was told there would be a Sopranos-esque bloodletting ritual to cement my group membership, but I’ve yet to undergo it.)
Following the success of my article about New York City, I got some amazing new opportunities, including paid (!) writing gigs, as well as a ton of support from the lovely denizens of the Internet. I also got some new problems to deal with—another writer accused me of plagiarizing her piece on AlJazeera.com. It was completely untrue (while the articles had similar focuses and used some of the same quotations, my piece was originally posted to Medium before hers was published), but it reminded me that there are risks associated with broadcasting my opinions and thoughts. Ironically enough, it was this experience—someone questioning my creativity and originality—that really prompted me to embrace identifying myself as a writer, as a "creative," almost as if in self-defense.
On New Year’s Eve, the day after my piece was published on HuffPo and the day I found out Tom and I were going to be working on a (paid) magazine article together, we attended a party thrown by a new friend, who was the only person there that we knew. I was preparing myself for a lot of getting-to-know-you conversation, and I was both excited and hesitant to introduce myself as a writer. I felt the old fear creeping up—What if they question me? What if they judge me?
Standing around the kitchen, drinking whiskey from red Solo cups, the party guests made small talk and introduced themselves.
"What do you do?"
I’m… I’m a writer.
And not a single person questioned me.
Alecia is a logophile and a library bandit wanted in several states. In addition to feminist rants, she also writes essays, short stories, bad poetry, recipes and very detailed to-do lists. She currently resides in Woodstock with one husband, one Dachshund and one pleasantly plump cat. Find her tweeting @alecialynn. See her portfolio at eberhardtsmith.com.