The Difficulty Writers Have with Identity

Beheaded FaceThe essence of creativity is flow. Creative energy is a fluid, dynamic force that lights us on fire, loves to play with illusion, and changes shape in the blink of an eye. To truly tap into deep creativity, we must embrace and welcome transformation.

But this is harder than it sounds for most of us, who are also human and naturally resistant to change.

Our culture doesn’t make it any easier. We tend to latch onto identities—whether ours or someone else’s—and we become agitated when those identities begin to shift. We like to think of ourselves and the people in our family as a certain age, and we panic when we all start getting older. We feel comfortable adopting certain beliefs and when evidence pushes us to change our mind, we feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us.

Every one of us has an idea of who we are on the surface. Who we would vote for, how we would handle a particular situation, what we like to eat, wear, watch, and read.

This is our attempt to assemble and maintain a fixed identity. We do this because it helps us to orient ourselves in the world.

But in the realm of creativity all bets are off. And our attachment to a fixed identity can hinder us from creating our best work.

We see this in the case of super successful writers whose fans complain that their work has gone downhill after years and years of topping the bestseller lists. Because their audience has certain expectations about what type of books they should write (only horror or only spy thrillers) they have a difficult time letting their creativity bubble and splash and flow into whatever new outlet they might need as they change and grow as creative beings.

Writers in particular fall prey to clinging onto a fixed identity because the act of being a writer carries a whole world of emotional baggage with it. It’s not like being a dental hygienist. Writers frequently feel very strongly attached to their writer identity from childhood up. They idolize other writers and dream of fulfilling their own personal writing destiny, of being the writer hero they would want to read and adore.

This is taken one step further when you finally figure out your genre. As a writer, it feels like one of those ah-ha life moments that changes everything. Finally, you know where you belong and you have an inkling of who might want to read your stuff.

So when you come to a place where you’re confronted with a creative fork in the road, it can be scary. What if you’ve written sci-fi for ten years now but you don’t want to write it anymore? What if you’re a hard-nosed nonfiction writer who’s always secretly felt the calling to write poetry? Or what if you’re writing something completely different from anything you’ve ever written before, and you have no idea what it is, or what it might turn out to be?

These kinds of questions mess with our sense of fixed identity. It feels much safer to keep on doing just what we’ve always done, without the risk of changing things up and opening ourselves up to the possibility of disappointment or failure.

But creativity demands more of us. To keep our creative fountain going strong, we have to take risks. We have to keep exploring the unknown landscapes of our own souls. We have to be willing to leave the safe paths we mowed years ago and push through the dark magical forest.

Once upon a time, you couldn’t wait to run away into that forest. As a constantly evolving creative being, it’s your duty throughout life to push yourself to do it again and again.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to check out:

How to Radically Boost Your Creativity and Self-Esteem in Five Minutes

Why You Should Stop Listening to Other Writers

The Dark Side of Being a Writer

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