Kim Nelson: How We Define Ourselves

IMG_7352The popularity of Buzzfeed quizzes show us how much we love to define ourselves. Whether it’s determining our house from Harry Potter (textbook Ravenclaw here), kindred Disney princess (Anna but I think I’m more of a Belle), or spirit animal (dog wearing sunglasses), the results are supposed to reveal something to us about who we are. These conclusions are based on silly criteria like our preferred condiment, or whether we prefer going out to clubs over staying home to watching Netflix, but it’s fun to embrace it.

One day when I should have been doing something much more productive with my time, I took a bunch of these quizzes, including one that told me what my profession should be. I was thrilled to get the result of ‘writer.’ Now I was legit! Years of blogging, editing, reading at live events, performing at storytelling showcases–none of these gave me the confidence to introduce myself as a writer at dinner parties because I didn’t make my living off of them. And yet, one silly Buzzfeed quiz made me feel OK declaring myself as a writer to the entire internet with the click of hitting a ‘share on Facebook’ button.

The truth of the matter is that we can choose how we define ourselves, paychecks and Buzzfeed be damned. Looking back, I’ve known I was a writer since childhood when I loved to create stories about a cocker spaniel named Huggies (through third grade, my protagonists were always dogs). This passion has always been inside of me, even at times when I procrastinated or pushed it aside for other pursuits like roller derby, relationships, or reality television. I didn’t get a MFA, a business card, or anything else on paper that makes the title of writer official. Instead, I’ve been busy living my life, experiencing things, developing opinions and a worldview, then writing them down. I write almost every day (tweets count, right?), and I share my work, even if most of my readers are my very supportive friends and family. I love it enough to do it for free (though if you know anyone willing to pay, I’m listening). It makes me happiest, and makes me feel the most like me. I don’t need a Buzzfeed quiz to tell me that.

For people pursing a creative passion, it can be intimidating to define ourselves by our art when we still rely heavily or solely on a day job to support ourselves. We suffer from imposter syndrome, worried that anytime we call ourselves a writer, an artist, an actor, someone will demand a list of credits, a string of gallery names, an IMDB page. We worry that our talent isn’t there, that hard work isn’t enough. If only we could all have the confidence of creative genius Kanye West when it comes to our own art. 

In the past few years, I’ve become more assured in calling myself a writer, at least enough to put it in my Twitter bio (along with “Bloody Mary enthusiast” which might as well be my honorary degree). I’ve put in the time — agonizing hours spent over a laptop trying to slog through whatever goal I’d set for myself that night (“must write 800 words before checking on Neko Atsume cats again”). The support of my fellow members of Drinkers with Writing Problems has made the biggest difference. We do things our own way. We don’t have fancy MFAs from prestigious schools, but we’ve steadily gained over 8,500 subscribers to our blog. We call ourselves rogue ink slingers and barstool bards, we self publish, we talk each other through the self-doubt and applaud each other’s accomplishments. And now, we’re putting on a show.

I’ve done my best to let go of all of the arbitrary rules or definitions, to start listening to my inner dog wearing sunglasses and just go with it. I’m choosing how I define myself.

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2 Comments

  1. Wonderful post, Kim Nelson, writer! I’ve always found it odd that the hours we put in doing the work never quite makes us feel authentic, but as soon as we get some sort of outside, arbitrary confirmation, we feel validated. Not going to lie…having that IMDB page definitely helps 😉

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