How I Got Over My Author Complex and Became a “Real” Writer

woman winking with pencil in her mouthBy Janine Sobeck

I have built a career around the creation and telling of stories, but never felt like a writer.

My story? I’m a dramaturg. If you don’t know, that means I help playwrights develop their ideas, characters, and plotlines.

For many years, as I worked with my clients, I would feel a touch of envy and think:

“I wish I were a writer.”

Though I often received praise for my articles, interviews, blurbs and reviews, I shrugged off the notion that I was a legitimate writer.

After all, I didn’t create new worlds in my mind. I didn’t have characters speaking to me, fighting to get out of my brain and onto the page. I simply pulled together real facts and real stories in order to create something interesting.

Building a Side Job

Then, a few years ago, finances were a little tight. To get by, I took a freelance job as a content writer for an SEO company. I figured my dramaturgical experience — in particular, the skill of researching a particular topic and funneling my findings into an informative and engaging article — would translate well into that particular field.

It did.

Month after month, I wrote blog posts about every subject under the sun. I quickly realized I had a knack for creating pieces that people enjoyed reading.

So I started to expand my reach. I pitched a series of feature articles for a local theater website. I sold travel stories about my many trips abroad. I submitted articles for publication in books. I created a website to explore some of my deepest questions.

But I still didn’t call myself a writer. Somehow, somewhere, I had created this block that the only “real” writers were the ones who created works of fiction. I wasn’t writing the next great American novel (or play), so I didn’t feel worthy of the title.

Recognizing the Truth

Then, recently, I was talking to a new acquaintance about all of my many projects. Not too long into the conversation he asked:

“So, are you a writer?”

I started to say no. Before the word could escape my lips, though, I thought about why he came to that conclusion. All my projects past and present. And what tied them all together. That’s when I realized the truth.

“Yes, I am a writer. I’m a nonfiction writer.”

That simple statement altered my reality and my self-perception. No, I wasn’t going to start writing a novel (or a play). No, characters were not going to start telling me their stories. Yet, I’m still a writer. I love using words to craft narratives and convey information. I simply prefer to use true stories instead of fiction.

I still work as a dramaturge, helping people create their imagined worlds. However, I also now find a new sense of value in my nonfiction writing. A value that allows me to proudly say, “Yes, I am a writer.”

When did you finally feel like a writer? Tell us in the comments below.

Janine Sobeck is a freelance writer and dramaturge. She believes in the power of questions, theatre, travel and chocolate. 

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27 comments on “How I Got Over My Author Complex and Became a “Real” Writer
  1. dailytut says:

    Not everyone can write clearly and precisely. I believe writing is an art and only people who practice a lot able to do it well. I am still practicing and i hope one day i will become a good writer 🙂

    btw, nice article you have here 🙂 and your blog is very interesting to read (Y) keep bringing more contents.

    Robin.
    dailytut recently posted…Best iPhone 6 Cases and Covers from Popular BrandsMy Profile

  2. Janine says:

    I love the idea of “crafting your niche” Shanica. Thanks for sharing that.

  3. Shanica says:

    This is a very interesting post. I grew up paraphrasing ‘someday I hope to become a renowned author’ and really hope that with a swish of a magic wand dreams become reality. It was a muse to myself and until lately when I realize well I just can’t get rid of me )) I might as well craft my niche.

  4. Hi Carol
    I like the way you explain things….Being a writer is not easy thing…You need to focus on your topic while writing….Thanks for sharing carol
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  5. Greg Reed says:

    Aaah we writers are a complex lot. But so is life. We just need to get on with it – one word at a time
    Greg Reed recently posted…Writer’s Tools Of Some Famous AuthorsMy Profile

  6. Nur Costa says:

    That is a lovely story. Thanks for sharing 🙂
    Nur Costa recently posted…I want to leave college… what should I do?My Profile

  7. Talal says:

    A writer has the heart. He has the feelings. That’s what pushes him to write for others.

  8. Janine says:

    Mridu, I love that you are active and out there with your work. The important thing is that you are writing. And while I understand the feeling that you need to explain just what type of writer you are (I certainly make the “non-fiction” caveat enough) if titles make you cringe, then I say just embrace “writer”!

  9. Ha! I just posted an editorial to my weekly newsletter about how I finished my novel, started working on my niche website and read on Twitter about someone bagging an agent and immediately started berating myself about how others were doing real work and I was working on a stupid website.

    I’ve been at this 12 years. I can confidently say I’m a writer, but don’t ask me why what kind. Because that’s where my existential crisis comes from!
    Mridu Khullar Relph recently posted…61 Ways to Be Productive When You Work From HomeMy Profile

  10. Nice article Janine,

    Right from 4, I’ve been writing. I actually started out with writing fictions, and now, I’m a copywriter

    So I’d say: ”I used to be a writer” It has been a strong passion, and strong piece of me right from time!

  11. Hi Janine,
    Nice article. I believe writing is a very noble profession and i appreciate all the people who do that.
    The art of taking a persons imagination to places with your words is a very big thing.
    Writing is not a cup of tea for everyone.

  12. Janine says:

    Hi K. Do you mean my personal website? The theme is “as is” though I’ve played around with the way that it is presented in order to suit my own needs. And all my travel articles are currently on the web (or in line to be published). So far… 🙂

  13. k. says:

    hello, Janine great post and site! Would love to know whether the WordPress theme you use is “as is” or whether you have customized? Also, if you wish , could you share any of your travel articles or articles that you have published in books? Thanks! aren

  14. Janine says:

    Thank you Angela for adding your own story – as well as additional thoughts into the mix. I love the idea that we feel like imposters until we reframe our thinking. It makes me wonder where I got the idea that “real” writers were creative writers in the first place. I obviously picked it up somewhere, though other people (like Israel) have a different framework. Why did I have to assume that one type was “better” or “inferior”? While I may have more talent in one area than the other, it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the other type of writing.

    I think the idea of “imposter” and “perfectionism” being linked is very valid. I know I definitely have a problem with that!

  15. Angela Booth says:

    This article on imposter syndrome nails it: “People with impostor feelings have to reframe the way they think about their achievements.”

    Link to the article: http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx

    When I got a book contract for my novels around 30 years ago, I felt like a “real writer.” To my mind, real writers wrote novels, and got them published.

    A few years later, I became a copywriter and stopped writing novels. I no longer thought of myself as a “real” writer. I was a marketer, and that had nothing to do with writing. A decade later, in the 1990s, when my business books were published, I STILL didn’t consider myself a “real writer.”

    Now I’m back to writing fiction, I can finally consider myself what I am. It’s all in the emotions, much more than in the mind. Intellectually, I realize that I’ve always been a writer, no matter what I happened to be writing.

    However, the little kid inside me who always wanted to write believes that real writers write fiction. So yes, it’s all about the way we think about our achievements, but it’s also about the emotional connections we make too.

    I found this sentence from the “Feel like a fraud?” article insightful: “The impostor phenomenon and perfectionism often go hand in hand.”

    Thank you for the article, Janine and Carol — it made me think. 🙂
    Angela Booth recently posted…Simplify Your Writing Process: 24 Hours RemainingMy Profile

  16. Janine says:

    And just think about all the writing skills you are honing and the ideas that are around you. Working for the SEO company taught me so much about the formatting for web writing as well as how to research and write quickly and efficiently (especially about subjects that were, well, less interesting). Not to mention the things that I have learned in order to help the other areas of my life!

  17. Cymantha Governs says:

    I totally get this! I’m on a marketing and communications team. I split my energies between internal communications and marketing pieces. But I constantly wish I was doing “creative writing.” Of course, what I’m doing doesn’t fall under the academic definition, but it is creative and it is writing. It’s good to remember that.

  18. Janine says:

    I absolutely know what you mean when you say that you feel like you more things to do everyday than time – especially with timing. So many of us are hyphenates (in my case it is writer-teacher-dramaturg) that finding the balance between the projects can seem overwhelming. I recently took the time to figure out where my priorities were – and which projects I wanted to focus on and which ones I needed to cut – and found it not only helpful but liberating. Good luck with your own pondering!

    If you find that pot of gold, feel free to share the location with me!

  19. Linda H says:

    Funny, I started writing short fictional stories when I was in elementary grades. They were the foundation on which my SAT scores prompted educators to refer me to a renown writer’s school in Santa Fe, but my parents said no. So I focused on news-writing and then decided I didn’t like newspaper ethics.

    I always considered myself a writer and imagined penning that world famous murder-mystery-romance. Even wrote the entire novel over a snowbound weekend my last winter in the Midwest, but I lost the manuscript before publishing when I moved West.

    My drawback was “what do I do with this writing stuff if I’m not a reporter?” I never really knew.

    Long story short, I worked as a writer for Corporate America on and off for 13 years. After a layoff I went back to full-time freelancing and owning a resume-writing business that frankly, became so successful so fast that I let a lot of it slip through my fingers before I realized what was happening.

    Now there’s so much I want to write and do that I don’t have time. This is a helpful post for me. I’m finally taking time to sit back and evaluate what I want to do and where I want to do it. So my situation is where you were at when the person said, “are you a writer?”

    Yes, I’m a writer. But between feeling a little overwhelmed at times and having more to do than day I sometimes wish that pot o’ gold were in the closet to support me while I ponder what I want to do when I finally focus on writing.
    Linda H recently posted…What Do You Say When an Interviewer Asks — Why Should I Hire You?My Profile

  20. Janine says:

    Congrats Williesha! And don’t be afraid to own it even when your “just” journaling.

  21. Williesha says:

    That’s journo not journey hahah.
    Williesha recently posted…WordPress Blogging (and Panel Moderating!) TipsMy Profile

  22. Williesha says:

    I am really fortunate that I’ve always wanted to write and I studied journalism, so I never had an issue saying I’m a writer. But there was a very long period (about 7 years) where I was just journaling. I wasn’t writing professionally or even doing freelancing. So I did say “I used to be a writer” and “I used to be a journey.” So it’s only in the last couple of years I’ve used that title since that’s about 50% of what I do! Great post!

  23. Janine says:

    Thanks Colin. It’s amazing how simply changing your mindset can affect your whole career. Accepting the title of writer has been like giving myself permission to “own” that work as well as it’s benefits. It makes me feel more “worthy” to pursue freelance writing assignments as well as feel proud of the work that I do.

  24. Janine says:

    That’s fascinating Israel. Since I work mostly with creative/fiction writers – including many who take on some sort of “non-fiction” work to pay the bills until their other work takes off – I haven’t heard of the opposite experience. But it makes sense. There is always a perception that the thing you don’t do is somehow “better” than the thing you do.

  25. I know exactly what you’re coming from Janine, I suffered from the same problem, thinking that being a Writer was somehow different from what I was doing most of the time, writing. Once I got my head around the fact that I spent most of my day writing, just not creative writing, I decided that I had just as much right to call myself one as a, well as a Writer.

    A fairly famous author once told me that fiction writing was much easier than writing about things that actually happened. He said that when he was writing fiction he could make a man walk along the ceiling if you wanted to and, given the appropriate plot line and character development, non of his readers would bat an eyelid. But start talking about something that actually happened and people start to question. Nice blog – very helpful.
    Colin McGuinness recently posted…9 Ways to Avoid Road RageMy Profile

  26. Israel says:

    It’s actually pretty weird, because I had it the other way. Growing up writing fiction, I always thought the serious writers were the ones getting published in the newspapers, thinking that nobody takes a guy who writes about fantasy or sci-fi seriously. After all, do fiction authors contribute to the news? To the translation of foreign scientific papers? To self-development books?

    To culture and literature, sure, but to practical things? It’s why I think of non-fiction as a more serious writing career, and why I’m trying to get into it.

    It’s pretty amazing that there are non-fiction writers who actually think the other way around compared to me. A very eye-opening article! 😀