The title of this post alone says everything that I need to say. The problem is, for a writer like myself, at least, that’s an easier principal to type out than believe in.
An article from last year appearing in Psychology Today’s website shows how often humans tend to equate self-worth (and the related concept of self-esteem) with accomplishments.
Not only did I use to fall into this trap of accomplishments=worthiness, I related it directly to my creative writing.
If I didn’t write X amount of words in a day, I would go to sleep feeling ashamed of myself and thinking that I should just give up as a writer if I couldn’t even put words down on a page. The same would go if I didn’t reach my daily reading goal, which I always tried to set to be challenging without considering how realistic it would be for me to read so many pages on busy days.
It was as if I deliberately wanted myself to “fail” in these areas so I could feel like a failure when I didn’t reach them.
While I still sometimes have those tendencies to relate mere word count and pages read to a feeling of worthiness, these issues for me have also sprung up into more overarching areas for me as a writer, and they might for you, too.
Will I get published by 25?
Will I get ever get published?
What will I do if I never get published?
Worried thoughts like these made me think that the only way to feel worthy of being a writer was to achieve an accomplishment like that. Essentially, every day that I felt that I was no closer to reaching that accomplishment, the more I felt that I was a failure as a writer, and, by extension on some of my worse days, as a person.
Part of me convinced myself that the only time I would ever feel good about myself as a writer would be accomplishing something with it.
Now, it’s easy for me to say in hindsight, “Oh, it’s a clear fallacy here of equating success with self-worth” and call it good.
But I suspect that there’s something deeper going on. If you’re a writer, you know how intertwined writing (and words in general, since there’s a great deal of reading that goes along with it) is with personal identity. Twitter bios tend to be easy ways for people to express their identities, and mine starts out with “Literary fiction reader + writer.”
Is it a bad thing that writing plays such a huge role in who I consider myself?
No, but I’ve since realized that I need to be careful about it.
It would just feel weird for me to somehow think of myself as anything but a writer. Even if you asked me four or five years ago when I was just starting to get serious with my fiction writing, I would’ve said that writing made part of who I am.
That isn’t the same as saying that writing is all that I am.
Also—and this may be the case for other writers—my writing isn’t defining me so much as writing is a way for me to express myself. (If it was the other way around, my self-worth would definitely be far more unstable.) Recognizing that flow of identity to expression might help you stop thinking in terms of accomplishment = self-worth. Because getting your inner self onto pages is one thing, while tying what happens to those pages (trash bin, file cabinet, printing presses) to your inner self is what caused me so many ups and downs.
So, if you’re being down on yourself just because you hit 499 words instead 500 (I have seriously done this in the past), or read 55 pages instead of 60, or read that rejection email in your inbox about that short story you submitted—please don’t be.
At the least, these setbacks can motivate you or make you rethink your goals. But they shouldn’t affect how you think of yourself, because you’re so much, much more than your achievements.