Saturday, 10 May 2014

A Change of Identity

An email arrived on my phone yesterday afternoon while I was in work which triggered a cataclysmic (hate adverbs but love that word!) wave of nausea and fear.

No, it wasn't a reminder of my credit card bill (yikes!) or my motor tax renewal (sigh) or a job offer for a social work team leader post (not right now please!). All three of these emails provoke a certain level of anxiety within me, but this other email yielded much higher levels of stress. Cue heart palpitations, palm sweating and flushed cheeks. What was this email then, I hear you ask? Okay then, deep breath.

It was a reminder that I've signed up to attend Listowel Writers Week.

Pause.

*Just waiting for my heart rate to return below 100bpm*

Okay, perhaps you may think I'm ever so slightly overreacting. And yes, some people (mainly family members) have informed me that I have a tendency to be a little dramatic at times (to which my response has always been to burst into tears, slam doors and wail that no one ever understands me). But, I have to be honest, the thought of attending an official Writers Festival as a writer is a really scary thought.

I have to admit something. I don't really consider myself a writer. I don't. Wow, I can't believe I actually typed that. It's taken my 5 minutes to write the last three paragraphs but 20 minutes to write that one line. What does that say about me? Actually, forget I asked that. We could be here all night with that can of worms.

Anyway, I think my reluctance and inability to class myself as a writer per se, augments my absolute fear in identifying as one officially at literary festivals. For example, if I go to a social work conference or training seminar, I don't feel anxiety or stress because I can identify myself as a social worker. I've trained 4 years as a social worker, worked for 5 years professionally, practise it every day and pay €100 per year to be officially registered as a social worker in Ireland. I know that I'm a social worker. It's safe, it's secure, it's me.

On the other hand, what have I done to allow myself to identify as a writer? Nothing. Nada. Have I published anything? No. Have I finished anything? No. Have I written a book? No. I've talked about writing it and I am writing it but I haven't actually written it yet, unlike the thousands (millions?) of other people who have written, finished and published their books.

This is the problem, I don't see myself as a writer. I consider myself an aspiring writer, an amateur writer, a dreamer. If someone asks me what I do, I answer in a heartbeat "I'm a social worker". But it's not what I want to do. I want to be a writer. So how do I get rid of the "aspiring", "amateur" tags? I suppose the answer is one that's been building in me for quite a while; I move into the role of being a writer. I have to embrace it. I have to own it. I have to do so internally by accepting in my mind that I am writer and of course I have to write my book, which I am doing. But I also have to step into the role externally, by  attending literary courses and writers groups, mingling with other writers and identifying myself as a writer. And I'll be honest, that absolutely terrifies me!

You know the phrase "feel the fear and do it anyway"?. I've always hated it because of its blasé nature but I know that it makes sense on some level.

It was good timing that not long after I received said email yesterday, I had a good chat with my line manager about the concepts of change and fear and identity. We spoke about the wonderful Nelson Mandela quote "Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it" and the possibility of finding something incredible from a situation that causes so much fear. And that got me looking at my Listowel Writers Week email in a whole new light.

My line manager also said something else to me that has stayed with me for the last 24 hours. As I spoke of my fear and the fact that I am my greatest enemy when it comes to my writing, he asked me a question.

"Sinead, what if you have an incredible talent?"

When I found myself with my mouth gaping open, unable to answer, he added. "Why not you?"

And that's stayed with me, as I drove home yesterday evening, as I went for dinner with the other half, as I lay in bed last night, as I swept the floor today, called down to see my parents and as I wrote this blog.

Why not me?

So I might not be the next Steinbeck or Rowling or Tolkein, but who's to say that? Who's to say that I'm not just as good as the other writers that I'm so intimidated by at the Writers Week? It's not about ego, or arrogance, it's about belief. And I believe that self belief is so important in writing. I have to believe in myself to finish this book. I have to believe in myself to identify as a writer. I have to (sigh, I'll say it) feel the fear and do it anyway.

So when I go to Listowel Writers Week, my inaugural festival as a writer, I will embrace my new role. I will leave the social worker back at my desk in Dublin. I will be courageous and talk to other writers, ask questions, attend groups and book launches. I will write. I will see myself differently.

And to end on another inspirational Mandela quote: "There is no passion to be found in playing small - settling for a life that is less than the one that you are capable of living".

If that doesn't provoke a sense of fear, I don't know what will.

Roll on the 29th of May in Listowel!