As A Marketing Writer, I Struggle To Regard Myself As A “Real” Writer
One (real) writer’s struggle with imposter syndrome
This afternoon, I authored a post that struck a chord with those in a popular expat social group for my city (Secret Jerusalem).
It was — of all things — on the subject of salt and vinegar crisps, which have recently arrived in Israel much to the delight of expats (for my report on that, click here).
News of the arrival of this British (and Irish) staple has drawn fever-pitched excitement among Jerusalem’s English-speaking community.
To such an extent that — in the interest of spreading mirth and levity — I couldn’t resist engaging in a little bit of satire, hurrying off a dispatch dramatizing the arrival of the crisps along with a selection of photos, including the above.
The post “did well” — to the extent that posting about crisps on a Facebook group forum means anything (with trepidation, I venture to suggest that it doesn’t). To my surprise, the last time I checked I saw that more than 200 people had liked it, it had garnered almost 100 comments, and was shared a handful of times. Yes, people really are that excited about a new flavor of crisps here.
Amidst the praise about my storytelling and prose skills (note: I hate receiving compliments), I began to read a peppering of suggestions urging me to consider going into professional writing.
“This man should go into professional writing,” one commenter intoned. “I have no idea what you do in life, but you should write,” added another.
I resisted the instinct to aggressively point out that this is what I have, in fact, been doing for the last 10 or so years of my life (a very conservative estimate, I might add). But equally I couldn’t bring myself to respond “I am a writer, but thank you.”
My best effort response would be something along the lines of “I joined the racket years ago” (note: many writers, like I, have dry senses of humor and love nothing more than referring to journalism/writing as a racket with themselves as the racketeers.)
And that brought me to think about why that might be.
The first time I was confronted with questioning whether I can or should consider myself a writer was when I began attending Friday night dinner affairs held over Shabbat in Jerusalem.
My now wife, having no idea of the sensitivity of the topic to me, would introduce me (then boyfriend) as “a writer.” (I have a perverse habit of being deliberately evasive at such affairs, partially for my own self-amusement ,and tend to describe myself, if asked, as an “online operative” — which also deflects further questioning.) I inevitably qualified this with “sort of.” Or if I didn’t, silently resisted the urge to do so.
But why, you may ask? Isn’t that what you do for a living (well yes it is)? Don’t you have a journalism degree (well yes, I do)?
And without attempting to prod too far into the dark recesses of my subconscious, here’s what’s really underlying all that self-doubt and discomfort.
You see like most writers these days, the stuff I write isn’t the type of material likely to win a Pulitzer Prize any time soon. Unless, that is, they feel like surprising the reading world by awarding it to my latest white paper on the need for parts of the government to upgrade their contract management capabilities.
Nor have any of my screenplays been converted into Hollywood best-selling movies. In fact, I’m sorry to report, I’ve never written any screenplays although I harbor the dream of doing so one day (here’s that dream more specifically: a comical TV series parodying, but shining real light on, the experience of immigrants in Israel).
But surely, if I’m a writer, you can find my writing somewhere, right?
Well yes you can but not in the places where those real writers show off their wares. You know — like libraries and stuff (do they still exist?)
Where can you find this authorship I speak of, I hear you demur?
Well, sorry to disappoint, but you’re looking at it, buddy. I’ve written for everything from monthly magazines to newspapers in my time. But most of my writing, these days, appears on websites. In fact — shock, horror! — most of it doesn’t even appear under my name at all. A large part of my work involves ghostwriting for business executives and companies.
So am I a writer? Or a sort-of writer?
With journalism languishing in a state that can be described as “dismal” or “moribund” most writers these days find themselves employed, like I, writing “content” for companies and other organizations in need of such services (note: I intensely despise the tendency to label all writing as “content” and if you ever hear me describing myself as a “content writer” please know that it is solely for the purposes of SEO or to try make a point understood)
Intuitively I know that most of us aren’t writing movie screenplays or hemming out best-selling novels. But rational comprehension often predates internalizing an issue and owning it. And like many writers, I’m stuck between waypost one and two.
But even if you agree with the above — maybe I’m not a writer after all! — I can corral the wordmasters who author dictionaries to challenge my self-criticism and doubt.
Oxford’s definition of a writer describes the entity, baldly, as “a person who has written a particular text.” Whether that’s a sonata hemmed out on the back of toilet paper or a screenplay it doesn’t say. I’ve written plenty of those. Maybe you have too? Could we all be writers?
Maybe all of us writers are like this. Or perhaps it’s time to modernize the mental images that all of us hold when we think of what a “writer” should be and look like. That definition might need expansion too. Because I can tell you that while the trope that everybody can write continues to enjoy currency, writing professionally is a different matter entirely.
If popular culture is a good surrogate for public consciousness, most of us expect true writers to be Hemingways, Shakespeares, or Joyces — with the personalities to accompany their output.
But that’s very far from an accurate reflection of the writing profession as it exists today.
Your average modern “writer” is as likely to be writing for the local newspaper — online only! — or a company’s news blog as they are to be penning the novels you might pick up at the newsstand on your way through the airport (assuming those still even exist.) They’re more likely to be writing from a coffee shop than a library. They’re unlikely to be toting a pipe while doing so. And, sorry to break it to you, but they probably don’t own a quill.
The images we hold about writing and writers — which probably seep into the consciousness of those of us struggling with accepting the name — could use an update. Because in a digital-first world, with ebook sales outstripping print, such media — and brand journalism — are going to entrench themselves as the norm rather than the exception.
There’s one more belief that I’d like to affirm here.
People like me — writers saddled with imposter syndrome who haven’t figured out a way to exorcise themselves of that feeling — do writers and the writing profession a disservice.
Because we are real writers even if we haven’t gotten around to accepting it ourselves.
Yes, even us corporate shills (I mean content marketers). And even though I may make my living from it, Oxford’s definition doesn’t mention anything about money or compensation.
Writing has evolved. Writers have evolved.
In the name of encouraging and celebrating the evolving face of writing and the media, it’s time for all of us who write to embrace the word that best describes what we do.
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