On My Life As A Writing Impostor

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.

Having a reading of a musical I’m developing with @lydjaaah and @jhotogo today. (Squeeee!!)

A photo posted by Erin La Rosa (@sideofginger) on

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.)

My Writing Routine Is Everything

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I got into the habit of writing every morning when I had a job where my hours were 9 a.m. – 11 p.m. I’d get home from work, completely exhausted, and realize that I didn’t have anything to show for it. I was telling people that I was a “writer,” but not actually getting any writing done.

So I decided to try waking up before work and writing for me. I figured that if I could get up at 6 a.m., then I’d have two hours to write before I’d need to get ready for work. Easy enough, right? That first morning when my alarm was set for 6, I hit snooze for about an hour. Then I woke up, got a paragraph done, and went to work. If I’m being honest, it took me about a month before I actually woke up at 6 without hitting snooze. But eventually, my body got used to the early wakeup call, and if I slept in, I started to miss that time when I could’ve been writing.

It’s been about three years since I had that terrible job, but the writing routine has stuck. I wake up at 6, I make coffee immediately. I wash my face. I sit at my couch with my computer, and I work for two hours. Some mornings I get four to five pages out, others I only get a page. Either way, getting any personal writing done makes me feel better.

Since starting this routine, I’ve discovered that a lot of famous writers were firm believers in viewing writing as something that had to be done everyday. I’m not a famous writer, but it makes me feel extra motivated to read that routines kept them in check too.

E.B. White said that,

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

I think there’s a lot of truth to that quote. I hear people regularly say that they want to write, but “haven’t found the time,” or “need to wait until things slow down.” It’s been my experience that life never really slows down, and when it does, that’s never the time when I’m actually writing. The only time I do write for me is in the mornings.

That being said, I don’t think morning routines are for everyone. My boyfriend, for example, is not a morning person. He’s a writer as well, and a successful one, but he just works much better in the afternoons and at night. Simone de Beauvoir was similar — aka not a morning person — but she still had a routine:

“I’m always in a hurry to get going, though in general I dislike starting the day. I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get under way and work until one. Then I see my friends and after that, at five o’clock, I go back to work and continue until nine.”

If you’re thinking of starting a writing routine, some things to consider include…

  • What do you want to write? Pick a project, or an idea you have, and try to make that part of the goal for your routine. (i.e. “OK, I want to write every day at 5 p.m. for an hour until this screenplay is finished.)
  • What time of day are you most productive? If you’re most productive during the time when you have a day job, that’s totally OK. Just try and think about when you’ll be able to keep momentum up, and focus on that time.
  • What do you need to motivate yourself? I am a very reward-based person. If I get up at 6, I’m rewarded with coffee. So maybe for you, if you write for an hour, you get a glass of wine.
  • Where do you work best? Personally, I love my couch. It’s nice to lay down on, and when I’m on it I feel ready to write. Some people work better in loud coffee shops though. So, figure out which space will be most conducive to your creativity, and

Do you have a writing routine? What’s your secret? (Mainly so that I can try it out!)