It’s a strange thing to consider yourself a vessel for stories; it might not be so strange when, in school, you’ve been called a hard worker, a bit of a loner, but one who always meets deadlines and goes above expectations. (Is this a humblebrag?) Anyhow, this tends to conjure up severe anxiety over not meeting the consistently high expectations. There’s the whole trope about the slacker who’s a genius but keeps expectations low because when they do apply themselves, they’re met with awe and praise, whereas the “smart kid,” adhering to the expectations of what smartness means in each society—get all A’s? Get accepted into college?
Well, what else would you do? Fail, whatever failing is? And what do you do when you do “fail”?
But back to writing, this whole spiel ties back into a mindset where one is not valued for their personality, but rather what they produce. Call this American materialism and capitalism at work, sure, that’s a related conversation for another day. Regardless, there can come a time when one sees themselves for their negative capability. Negative capability is a term coined by the poet John Keats, and this involves the artist’s capacity to inhabit confusing and bizarre places. This leads to the ability to transcend boundaries and go into scary, unknown rooms of thought to better one’s writing. It’s similar to, though not the same as, John Keats’s idea of the “chameleon poet” who inhabits any identity through concentrated empathy. Essentially, the artist becomes a vessel for art. Whether this is good or bad is up for debate, but these are intriguing concepts.
I’ve found that I’m often liked best for what I write. This isn’t a bad thing; there are much worse things than people wanting to read your work. However, perhaps it’s due to depression and anxiety, but I’ve still felt an emptiness. Maybe it’s impatience. A work cannot help people if it’s unpublished and cannot find an audience at its current stage beside the (completely awesome) beta readers. At the same time, I’ve wondered if my essential goal is to reach others through writing, then is it so terrible to be liked best for what you create rather than who you are? And what if those aren’t separate at all?
On one hand, yes, it hurts to feel as if there’s little else to offer besides the act of creation. On the other hand, there’s this strange kind of liberation. If I write well and am liked best for that, why should I be so self-conscious about what others think of my personality? (Answer: Generalized anxiety, that’s why!) However, writing is almost always personal, even in formal circumstances; there’s always something at stake, something to lose if the writing isn’t executed well, so what does this mean for someone who associates so closely with their own work? I don’t have a solution to this line of thought.
How do you tie writing to your identity? (This isn’t a rhetorical question.)
Emily Deibler is a dedicated writer, artist, and nerd who explores trauma, grief, abuse, and neurodivergence in her writing. She is currently working on a novel, Dove Keeper, that explores all of these themes. As well as that, she conducts research on reflective writing as a coping strategy and how Devil-centric texts deal with gender identity and sexual orientation. She has worked as a freelance writer and a contributor for The Artifice. She loves taking photos, helping others with their social media or creative writing, eating chocolate, and petting cats. You can find her at EmilyDeibler.com, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Patreon.