“You’re an artist, too, right?”
I hesitated to answer. “I mean, I’m learning watercolor…” That’s it. That’s as much of my multi-year effort learning watercolor painting that I could own. I’ve been learning watercolor for years.
Why couldn’t I own that, accept that title of artist with pride?
I have a tendency to discredit myself if I’m in the learning phase. But aren’t we always in the learning phase? If we’re growing and striving to do better, we’re still learning. I wouldn’t dissuade my kid or my friend from owning their efforts if they were learning a new skill.
Why can’t I treat myself with the same grace?
Maybe it’s because my paintings still don’t turn out on paper like they do in my head. Possibly it’s due to my own internal struggle with not monetizing every hobby or interest I have, a holdover from lean years when I was staying home with the kids and struggling with not bringing an income home too. (This isn’t a critique of stay-at-home moms. All moms are superheroes, and their superpowers vary. My kryptonite was feeling like I didn’t ‘earn’ time to myself, to do things I loved simply because I loved them, especially if they cost money. This was a me-issue and one I hope doesn’t affect anyone else! If it does, you’re worthy of spending time and money on yourself and your interests! You care for others constantly — you deserve to care for yourself, too. If you’re sitting in that space now, remember: you’re more than what you do for others, you’re more than just your gift).
Maybe I just don’t see myself as worthy of that title, even though I don’t disparage others for using it.
Maybe I’m just not good enough.
But I’m working on it, and not just in regards to my watercolor hobby.
I’ve been a writer since I was in elementary school. It started with epically terrible Titanic fan fiction, though we didn’t have that word for it then (thank goodness this was before people posted on fanfic sites — thankfully my wannabe Titanic love story is forever relegated to the notebook I wrote it in!). I never fully stopped writing, even as I shifted my focus from fiction to nonfiction. Then in 2020, I had a spark of an idea for a story that wouldn’t let go. I sat down and made time for myself, during those days when everyone needed us all the time, and I got that story out. Turns out it was a full-length book. I researched publishing, learning how the industry protocols had changed since my undergrad writing program days. I set about querying literary agents, and happened to learn about a low-residency graduate school program in my specific area of writing during my querying journey.
I ultimately applied to that school, rationalizing the time, energy, and cost commitment with a promise to myself that it would allow me to teach at the collegiate level (because again, how do we do what’s fulfilling for us, especially when there’s a cost for our family?!). I’m on track to graduate in January and have completed several manuscripts while in the program. I’ve learned more than I could have imagined, grown in ways I never could’ve expected, and modeled for my kids that we can work toward our dreams at any age.
And yet, when I was asked what I do, that classic small talk question, I’d say, “I’m a writer,” or, “I’m in grad school.” Even as I was under contract to be a contributor to a short story anthology (publishing in 2025!), I still didn’t call myself an author.
Have I authored manuscripts? Yep. But my internal threshold for answering that question with the words, “I’m an author” hinged on, once again, that monetization aspect. Am I writing things that I’m getting paid for? …Yes. Have I written complete manuscripts that could one day be books? Also yes. Do I have a book sitting on an editor’s desk/email inbox somewhere, waiting to hear back? Also yes. Am I an author? Well…
Now that I’m agented and doing final prep on my manuscript before going on submission, I finally have the confidence to answer that question in a way that feels honest and true to me.
Proof of growth: when someone recently asked me, “Are you an author?” I said, “Yes!”
This journey has taught me that I shouldn’t gatekeep myself. My efforts count. My effort matters. Of course I’m not going to go around calling myself a rocket scientist, because that isn’t true. But next time someone asks me if I’m an artist, or an author, I can honestly answer.