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✍️ You Don’t Need Permission to Be a Writer
or, How to Jump Off a Cliff and Know You’ll Dive Safely into the Deep End
“You don’t need permission to be a writer.”
Sounds obvious, right?
Several months ago, I wrote “Conferrin’ with the Flowers”, a post about when it’s okay to call yourself a “real” writer. Spoiler alert: the answer is right now. You don’t need permission to be a writer. Yet I was surprised though at how many people seem to be waiting for just that: permission.
Anne Janzer encountered the same phenomenon. She said, “The question (how do you give yourself permission to write a book) came from a friend who was finishing her manuscript. Clearly, she’d found a way – but only after struggling with a sense of not being invited.”
Anne’s friend eventually learned the lesson: you don’t need permission to be a writer.
After doing a bit of research on the subject, I found variations on the same theme.
Connie Jasperson gave herself permission to be a writer when she found a copy of “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy”.
Cathy Day also said that writers need to give themselves permission to write.
So did September Fawkes, among others.
Elizabeth Gilbert (the Eat Pray Love writer) gets cheeky and says that you don’t need anyone’s permission to live a creative life.
Permission comes in other forms, too. Sometimes it’s simply a limitation we’ve put on ourselves: “I can write non-fiction, but I’m shite at poetry.” Some feel they have permission to write, but don’t feel like they have the “right” to submit it somewhere. (That’s something only real writers do…) Others give themselves permission to write with the intent of submitting, then decide it’s not good enough (or they’re not good enough) after all. Still others – or maybe the same writers – baulk at submitting because they don’t want their work to be criticized. Because that means they will be criticized.
But all of this is part of being a writer. And you don’t need permission to be a writer.
Why Do We Feel We Need Permission to Be a Writer Anyway?
So where does this compulsive need for permission come from?
You won’t be surprised, dear reader, to hear that it stems from fear. Or, more precisely, fears. Imposter syndrome. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of not measuring up to other writers.
Dr. Christiane Northrup wrote that this need for permission stems back to childhood. This is a time of life when we truly do need permission for a lot of things we want to do. That compulsive need, she said, can carry on into adulthood.
I’m not 100% sure this is true, but I found it helpful to frame it that way at least – an attempt to understand where the compulsion to ask permission comes from and how to overcome it. If we make an agreement with ourselves that we’re grown-assed adults capable of making our own decisions without input from others, then we can give ourselves permission to write.
One other excellent point that she makes that I think will help in this regard is that we should replace “have to” with “want”. For example, instead of saying, “I have to write today”, say, “I want to write today”. The main benefit is obvious: writing becomes a reward, not a chore.
But there are other not-so-obvious benefits. The term “have to” doesn’t just denote obligation. It also connotes guilt and shame – more writer-related fears. If you feel you “have to write” today because you haven’t written in three weeks, there is bound to be guilt associated with those feelings. The thing is, that can stop us too. The average person is much more likely to avoid a situation if they’re embarrassed by it. Soon three weeks turns into six, six into twelve, and twelve turns into, “Can I really call myself a writer anymore…?” A karmic wheel of guilt and shame and obligation and imposterishness and unfair comparisons and all the other nightmare emotions we feel when all we really want to do is spend a few creative moments, well, creating something.
So let’s do that instead. Let’s add that you also don’t need permission to decide when to write. Forget the guilt and shame and doubt and just create something where and when you’re ready. Here’s how.
Some Ideas on How to Turn That Karmic Writing Wheel Upside Down
…or maybe that should be, turn it to the other side of the coin. Whatever. You know what I’m saying. Set your Karmic wheel so it is helping you creatively rather than hindering you.
For example, that relatively easy switch of “I have to write” to “I want to write” is a great start.
Instead of fretting over the time you don’t have, relish the time you do have and write (with wild abandon, of course).
Before you start writing, chant 6-10 times: I don’t need permission to be a writer. I don’t need permission to be a writer…
If worrying about whether or not you’re a writer is stopping you, then choose (for the moment) to not be a writer. But write anyway. Write and create and be free. No labels or expectations.
Do you feel like an imposter? An imposter of what? Your own work? Bah. You’re sitting at your desk, typing out some words. Your desk. Your words. No imposters here!
Are you ashamed that you haven’t written in a while? Join the club! More proof that you truly are a real writer. I find myself apologizing to people all the time for the words I haven’t written in my novel yet. I should know better – I really, really should – but then there I am, talking about how busy work’s been lately…
If you’re looking for permission to write, really evaluate why you need it. Chances are, that “truism” will fall apart under scrutiny. You don’t need permission to be a writer. And here’s another secret: the only person in the world who can give you that permission anyway is you. So if you feel like, yeah, you do need permission, then give it to yourself.
Key Takeaway: You don’t need permission to be a writer.
Over to You: Do You Struggle with Permission to Be a Writer? Or Did You?
Let us know what you do to combat this insidious barrier to writing. Or, let us what you plan to do.
In the meantime, below is a video from Mary Adkins about giving yourself permission to write (one of many, if you want to look).
Until next time, keep writing with wild abandon!
PS - did we all have a great summer? I am happy to say yes. And on the writing front, I got quite a bit done on my WIP, enjoying whatever time I could carve out to write. (See that positive take? Tamp down that guilt and recognize the accomplishments!)
email me if you get lost.