I recently read this non-fiction book called The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison, which I really loved. It’s a book of essays about a lot of things, like the author communicating with a prison penpal and trying to understand what his life is like, Leslie’s one-time job as a medical actor and having to elicit empathy from the med students, dating a poet in New Orleans and dealing with the way he described his feelings…
Leslie also talks at length about being a writer. She says the phrase, “while writing this essay,” frequently in the book, and acknowledges that her job is writing.
This bothered me.
I also realized that in Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, it had bothered me when Amy referenced writing a book, or the act of having to write and how hard it was. That bothered me even more.
But why did it bug me? What is so wrong with someone acknowledging that they are a writer when, in fact, I’m reading their book? It’s not some secret. It’s a book. I’m reading it. They wrote it. So why not mention that they’re a writer? It’s part of their life, and I was reading about their life.
I’ve thought about this a lot, and the problem isn’t Leslie or Amy, it’s me. I’ve always been uncomfortable calling myself a writer. So when I see other people do it so effortlessly, it pains me, because I wish I could do that too.
I remember when I first moved to LA, I went to lunch with a successful musician friend —successful in that he gets paying gigs regularly and that’s his sole source of income. Anyway, I was asking his advice on what to do with my life: I wanted to be a writer, but how? And was it even possible? I just wanted to be paid to write full-time. That was my dream. ~The dream~
He told me something so important. He said, “Stop saying you want to be a writer, and say that you are a writer. You are a writer.”
He told me that if I wanted to get jobs — and I did — then I shouldn’t tell people I was “an aspiring writer,” because no one wants to hire an aspiring anything. They want to hire the real thing.
I took his advice, and the more I started cover letters with “I’m a writer,” the more I got paid to write. When people asked what I did for a living, I answered, “I’m a writer,” even if I only had one paying job that month, and even when I was in grad school, working to become a writer and felt so far away from success. “I’m a writer” became part of my conversations. But every time I said it, I felt like an impostor. My friend told me, essentially, to fake it till I made it, and that’s exactly how I still feel a lot of the time: like I’m a fake.
I was so bothered by this recently that I actually Googled “writing impostor” LOL. Like, what the hell was I expecting to find, really?! I’m not sure, but what I did find was this article on The Hairpin, quite literally titled, “Do You Have Impostor Syndrome?” I clicked the shit out of that.
Turns out that the author, Jazmine Hughes, was describing exactly how I felt. She had her work published places, she’s an editor and writer, and yet… is that enough?
I’ve written for BuzzFeed, Funny or Die, Ecorazzi, E!, and Storychord, among other places. My dream of being paid to write is actually happening for me. I am paid to write. So… aren’t I a writer now? Yeah… but I just still feel so much phoniness even typing that. It helped to see that “Impostor Syndrome” is actually a thing. It was comforting to read other people’s experiences with it (including some of my BuzzFeed colleagues’), and know that I’m NOT ALONE. But to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure what it would take for me to say the words “I’m a writer” and feel confident in that.
Maybe I’ll never feel truth in those words, because being a writer has been the thing I’ve wanted my entire life. I’ve built it up so much, that maybe nothing will ever be quite good enough. Regardless, I will always remember my friend’s advice: say you’re a writer. You are a writer. Fake it.
So, hello, my name is Erin La Rosa. I’m a writer. (We’re in this together if you also have these feels.)