Imagining Yourself as a Writer

Almost every semester that I’ve taught writing, I’ve run into a case (or two or three) of student plagiarism. Sure, sometimes these cases result from sheer ignorance (I’m supposed to cite my sources?). Other times I’m not sure what the motive is: laziness, last-minute panic, limited English abilities.

English professor Kelly Ritter, in a fascinating article called “Economics of Authorship,” suggests that sometimes plagiarism has another root cause: students don’t see themselves as writers. Therefore, they see nothing wrong in “purchasing” someone else’s work–for them, it seems much like any other transaction, like hiring someone to roof your house, since you lack the skills to do so.

Now, I’m not suggesting that any of us are plagiarizers! But I do wonder how often we sell ourselves short, believing that we’re not real writers because we don’t have an agent, or a book deal, or we’ve never been paid for the writing we do, or any number of reasons.

Not only does this belief undermine our faith in ourselves, but it potentially cheapens the work that we do.

My first few years as a writing instructor, I required students to write a short essay called “Imagining Yourself as a Writer.” The purpose of the essay was to help students see that they were writers simply by virtue of the fact that they were writing.

I haven’t felt like much of a writer recently. (Having a newborn and limited time to write–much less the brain cells–will do that to you). So this post is as much for me as for anyone reading this.

Those of us who read and write this blog are also writers, because we write.  We may not (yet) be paid for the writing we do, we may not yet have the skills that we hope eventually to have, but that does not make us any less writers.

So, for today, I’m going to imagine myself as the kind of writer I want to be. And then I’m going to fake it until I make it. (Incidentally, this kind of “imposter syndrome” is particularly common among high-achieving women. But that is a blog post for another day . . . )

What do you do when you don’t feel like a “real” writer?  How do you develop confidence in yourself?

4 thoughts on “Imagining Yourself as a Writer

  1. Oh boy was this post ever for me. Too often I believe I'm not as good as I would like to think that I am, and therefore, I really don't have any business in this writer thing. Generally I need to go back and re-read a passage from before, realize that for that sentence or paragraph or page, it really isn't horrible and if I could do that once, I can probably do it twice.

    But I guess, even more than that, I can't imagine not trying to write stories, so even if it isn't where I want it to be, I need to keep at it for my benefit if nothing else.


  2. I didn't know that about Imposter Syndrome. I feel like that all the time as a teacher and academic, even though I know what I'm doing and get mostly good results. I think you should expand on that.

    I never thought about plagiarism being a result of them not believing they are writers. I'll have to keep that in mind. I like to tell students about the lady at UTA who plagiarized her whole dissertation (and off of Wikipedia mostly!)- she ruined her whole career chances over that.


  3. Pingback: Permission to Write—Granted | Thinking Through Our Fingers

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