I wish someone would have told me how much being a writer messes with your work identity.
When I was a writers’ assistant, I never thought of myself as a writer. I took pride being an excellent notetaker, script proofreader, keeper of details. My identity was clear. Trustworthy, organized assistant. Bit of a neat freak.
Even though I was in the writers’ room and I had made it known that I wanted to be a writer myself one day, I never believed it. Focusing on being a great assistant protected me from failing as a writer. I didn’t even have a sample script if people wanted to hire me.
Through sheer will and more than a few mentors nudging me, I finally wrote something that people responded to. I conquered my fear. Sort of. I was a writer. Maybe.
Four years after my first staffing gig, it is still a weird thing to wrap my head around. “I’m a writer.” Saying those words out loud when people ask me what I do always feels a bit off.
I’ve accepted this new identity but I still catch my brain reverting to a “you’re not a writer mode.” Usually this happens between jobs.
As an assistant, it was easy to confirm my worker identity. I showed up, did my part, and came home. Punch in and punch out. But when I left the assistant ranks, I struggled with how I should think about myself. My worker identity, my writer identity, they are tied to that paycheck. That accountability from people who are not me. When you’re a writer, the only one expecting things from you is you.
Writing is speculative work. It requires a leap of faith that someone, somewhere, will want to read what you have written and then hopefully, maybe, please-won’t-you-please, pay for it. Or hire you to write something else. Sometime. Someday. There’s massive uncertainty with being a writer. You only have control over your work, your attitude, and your identity.
Even with representation, WGA membership, three staffing gigs and a movie polish under my belt, when I’m out of work I still feel like it could all be swept away. Like if the only one thinking of me as a writer is me, then does that even mean anything?
Its tempting in these in-between times to think about getting out, getting a “real” job. Something with stable money and a future. Having kids compounds that times infinity. I suspect these thoughts will always linger as long as my next paycheck is in doubt. But really this is just me reverting to that prior way of thinking. With a paycheck comes legitimacy, sure. But legitimacy also comes with the work. With the writing.
People think of me as a writer now, myself included. Sometimes. Mostly. The trick is thinking of myself as writer in these drought times. Because during the drought times the only thing that defines you as writer is your writing.
Yes, I am unemployed. Yes, I will need to find a part-time job after my unemployment runs out. Yes, I might still find a “real” job to keep things afloat. But I’ll still write. That’s what writers do.