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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Identity Crisis: Am I Really a WRITER?

I was just reading a blog post about writer’s personality traits at http://victoriamixon.com/2010/07/13/6-personality-types-who-will-succeed-as-writers/
(thank you to Julie Musil for compiling some great articles at http://childrenspublishing.blogspot.com/2010/07/best-articles-this-week-for-writers_23.html) and it struck me that I don’t really consider myself a writer at this point. I’m a psychologist, not a writer, right?

I only started writing fiction about three years ago, on a lark, and it feels startling that I have a published novel out there. (I also feel very fortunate!) Less than two weeks ago Omnific Publishing released With Good Behavior--that reality is still sinking in. Every weekend I find myself becoming a little more immersed into writing. It’s been a blast learning about this craft as well as meeting dedicated authors and voracious readers.

Then Monday hits and I’ll pull myself away from the writing world to sit down with my psychotherapy clients. Some days it’s a rather jarring transition. Suddenly the “characters” in my world are behaving in unpredictable, initially puzzling ways (though once I get to know clients better, their choices make perfect sense). The interpersonal connection of therapy is deep and intense (on a good day) whereas writing can be a very solitary activity.

There is some overlap between therapy and fiction writing, though. Therapy is all about story-telling after all. Both therapy and writing require introspection and emotional sensitivity, as well as a fascination with people—their strengths, their quirks, their relationships. Therapy necessitates perseverance and optimism, which have served me well when staring at a blank Word document.

I’m curious about my future directions for career and identity, and I’m sure it will be an interesting ride. Certainly I’m not the only one who has a “day job”, writing on the side. How does writing fit into your identity? How has your writing career evolved?

9 comments:

madelonroosendaal said...

Hey Jen!

Interesting subject... when do you consider yourself a writer? I think something will trigger that, someday, and that trigger is different for everybody. For example: I've played drums for almost 3 years now, but I never call myself 'a drummer'. Maybe because I don't feel good enough to be able to call myself that, or maybe it's because I don't play in a band, but who knows really. Anyway, this is off-topic.

I think something unexpected will lead you to consider yourself a writer at some point in the future. Please let me know when that happens, and what triggered it, I'm terribly curious :)

Great website btw - love the banner at the top!

And again: congrats on the book release, I'm psyched for you!

xx Kirsten (Holland)

Jennifer Lane said...

Hey Kirsten,
Thanks for your comment! Interesting idea about a particular event or experience inspiring individuals to take in/accept a new part of their identity. I agree with you that perceived competence as well as some sort of external validation (being in a band or getting published, for example) both play a role.

I should have made Kirsten Holland be a drummer! That would offer some fun conflict for Sophie sharing her small apartment. :D

Creative B designed this site and they did a wonderful job. Thanks, Jen

KarenG said...

I know what you mean. It's hard to call oneself a "writer." then an "author." I have no problem with it now but it took awhile. You're not just a writer now, you are an author. You have a published book out which some people are eagerly waiting to show up in their mailboxes so they can read it.

Jennifer Lane said...

Ha ha! Now who could that be?

Hmm, so writer is different from author? (Perhaps that can be another blog post). I almost have a harder time calling myself a writer than an author, because I associate the word "writer" with more pretension and eloquence, I guess.

Thanks for your comment, Karen!

niksnie said...

Some very interesting musings!

I too see a subtle difference between a ‘writer’ and an ‘author’. Since I’ve known you, I’ve always considered you to be a writer – I mean, you churn out brilliant chapters almost every weekend! Now that you have a book published, I consider you to be an author. I can imagine how this sudden transition could take a while to sink in! (Your day to day life and surroundings are most likely much the same, yet far away and out of sight, some publisher is printing out copies of your novel -- changing everything!)

This is how I see the difference between your characters and your unpredictable, puzzling clients: You first meet your clients and see their current behavior / decisions, then delve with them into their history, slowly figuring out what makes them tick (hence their choices making more sense over time). When you form your characters, on the other hand, you create them as the sum of their history and then present them to us readers as they appear today. To you, the writer/author, their present behavior comes as no surprise (why, they’re the sum of their parts!) Us readers, however, discover bits and pieces of the characters’ history and motivations as the story unravels. To us, they’re like your puzzling clients who we need to get to know before they can be fully understood!

I can see how the publication of With Good Behavior is drawing you into another world of ‘authors’, including the foreign concept of marketing. With the sequel, Bad Behavior, around the corner, I also wonder where this roller coaster ride will take you! You’ve invested many years into becoming and practicing as a psychologist -- it must be a huge part of who you are / how you define yourself. Whatever directions you choose to take as an author in the future, I know that all those years of study and intense interaction with people will form the backbone of whatever you put in print.

Jennifer Lane said...

Thank you for your awesomeness, niksnie. *hugs*

Fascinating riff about the difference between my characters and clients--how I see them and how you see them. Maybe I'm subconsciously trying to turn my reader into a therapist! You meet the characters, and at first their actions might be confusing, but then you peel away the layers (like Shrek the onion) and get to see what makes them tick. Maybe that's why I like to use flashbacks so much, too--it's like a therapy client talking about her past week or her childhood, tying together her past to her present actions.

It's similar to what Grant said to Jerry in WGB, trying to explain why he'd helped Sophie: sometimes we need others to help us see our potential before we can see it in ourselves. You've seen me as a writer long before I've seen that, and your encouragement has been phenomenal.

I'm also reminded of the catch phrase that I loved from Avatar: "I see you." I see you as a very smart, kind, funny woman and I'm so grateful I met you through PB. *gets verklempt* Love ya, Nixie! xx

Cilou6 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cilou6 said...

Jen,


Why couldn’t you just be both? Why would you have to choose?

I think you use your psychologist’s skills to create and write your amazing characters and their stories, and I’m sure you use your writer’s skills to help your client tell their stories and put them in perspective.
But I hear you. There will be a time you’ll stop defining yourself as a psychologist and begin to say you’re a writer, but it won’t be a one night change. For instance I can’t remember precisely when I stopped calling me “a girl” and began saying “I’m a woman”.

I would define you as my friend. A friend who writes wonderful stories and whose book I’m waiting to be shipped ! (my book is over the ocean, my book is over the sea).

As WM would quote, "Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined". I bet it’ll depend who you’ll be talking to, but if you tell anyone you’re a writer, or an author, it won’t be a lie!

;)

Cécile

Jennifer Lane said...

Hi Cécile! I totally agree with you that I can be both--I'm just not ready to respond "I'm a psychologist AND author" when asked what I do for a living. But I think I will get there.

Cool idea about using skills from one aspect of your identity to help you with another aspect. As a psychologist, I try to help individuals uncover their strengths, and apply those strengths to multiple areas of their lives, so I think you're right on.

"I am woman, hear me ROAR!" :D

Great use of the Wentworth Miller quote! I'd certainly define you as a FRIEND as well. A very lively, inquisitive, supportive friend! Merci. :)

 


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