Crafting an Effective Author Identity
By Daniel Parsons
“Your identity emerges out of your habits. You are not born with preset beliefs.”
That is a line from James Clear’s New York Times bestselling book Atomic Habits, which provides an interesting argument in favour of the idea that we all have control over our identities. That we don’t have to live with what are perceived as inherent personality traits. That what we are isn’t pre-defined; it’s a result of what we do.
Clear argues that starting a healthy or productive habit is straightforward but many people fail because they don’t change their identity to make its long-term success possible. Indeed, according to the book, “research has shown that once a person believes in a particular aspect of their identity, they are more likely to act in alignment with that belief.”
Examples given in the book include healthy eaters, motivated CEOs and competitive athletes. However, the notion is just as true for writers. Those who form a healthy identity that is in alignment with their goal of becoming an accomplished writer are often those who make it and maintain their dream for the rest of their career. Interesting, right? That’s why, in today’s blog post, we will outline just a few mantras you can tell yourself to shape an identity you want to adopt, lock in your productive habits and achieve your writing dream.
“I AM CREATIVE”
Starting with an affirmation like “I am a writer” can be detrimental to your psyche because it ties your identity and sense of self-worth to a particular job, which can send you into a crisis if you suddenly find yourself unable to work. Just look at athletes and soldiers who do this to see the process in action. Instead, a better approach would be to tie your identity to a trait you want rather than a position: something like, “I am creative.” That way you protect your mind from life changes that are out of your control.
Creativity is a good place to start because many new writers feel they lack the imagination needed to write a book after years of typing bland documents for a day job. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. When you start writing creatively, the style might feel alien but that’s only because you’re not used to it. You don’t have the years of practice you might have had writing those bland documents. What you will have, though, is years of experience consuming the type of content you enjoy.
You probably know many of the components that make a good sci-fi novel, literary novella or thriller series because you’ve read them and instinctively know what works. Don’t wait to feel creative. Just tell yourself that you are creative and write. The likelihood is that you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised by what you are able to create.
“I CAN LEARN ANYTHING”
Even if you already have a growth mindset it’s possible to slip up in a moment of frustration or when surrounded by negative people who cause you to doubt yourself. Yes, people have limits. Some are born with a supercomputer for a brain while others struggle with basic algebra. But identifying yourself as someone who believes that they can learn anything vastly improves your attitude towards new challenges and your chances of mastering a new skill. This is vital for us writers who need to learn a broad range of skills from Amazon ads to public speaking.
According to Carol S. Dweck’s landmark book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, your attitude towards any subject has a more profound impact on your success than your natural ability. More importantly, it suggests that you can adopt a growth mindset at will. All you need to do is make it a core belief that is tied to how you view yourself.
“I AM AN ACHIEVER”
Many new writers complain that they “started too late.” They missed the Kindle goldrush in 2012. They missed the emergence of hungry genres like military sci-fi. And they missed the first wave of online marketing courses for authors. Now, faced with more competition, they don’t fully commit to their dream because they think it’s impossible to achieve the same level of success demonstrated by the trailblazers.
However, these people are misguided. If they identified as someone who achieves, that self-identification would push them hard enough to realise that the gold rush never really ends. As old opportunities disappear, new ones replace them. Yes, it might get trickier as the industry matures, but break-out stars continue to appear. Social media has plenty of examples of six-figure authors who started publishing in the last year. Tools, algorithm and practices change but those who act like achievers are far more likely to become achievers. Some pioneering indie authors definitely got lucky but their careers were short lived. Those who have stayed at the top do so because they lead a lifestyle that doesn’t let them slip, which is congruent with their achiever’s identity.
“I AM PRODUCTIVE”
Productive people are different from busy people. They don’t try to fill their day with work or idolise hard work for hard work’s sake. They value results. While busy people fill their day with as many activities as possible, productive people ask themselves if what they’re doing is in alignment with their goals. They’re happy to work hard but prioritise working smart so that the effort they exert reaps better rewards. In doing so, they are able to free up more time that they can spend scaling their business or enriching their personal life.
If you want to make a bigger impact and nurture a healthy mindset as an author, then identifying as a productive person can help. It will help you to recognise what you really want and stop wasting time on things that don’t matter. Building a platform of 100,000 Twitter followers would be nice, but is it worth losing two hours a day to maintain? Likewise, writing 12 books a year and making $50,000 might sound amazing but would you be happier writing in a hungrier genre that can 10X your income for half the workload? How you choose to identify impacts your perspective, choices and habits. Strike the right balance and you will optimise the scale and longevity of your author career.
“I DESERVE MY SUCCESS”
Asserting your expertise and not belittling your own achievements can have an extremely positive effect on the way you view your worth as a person, plus the way you behave. Yes, humility is important but believing in yourself can fast-track your early success and keep it growing as your career matures.
In the early days of your career, not only will having confidence in your writing ability stop you quitting but it will also give you the conviction you need to sell your work effectively without a strong sales track record. Think about it: the momentum of scoring a big client doesn’t make a salesperson more likely to strike again with their next customer who has never heard of their product. Each time they sell, they are forced to rely on their abilities from scratch. And you need to be the same way if you want to persuade podcast listeners that your book is incredible or write a strong Facebook ad that convincingly outlines the merits of your books.
Likewise, you need to keep up this confidence even when you’re established. You might think it’ll be easier then but that’s not the case for everyone, because many experienced writers suffer from imposter syndrome and worry that they got lucky with their first few books. Self-doubt is a monster that grows inside even the most successful people. It’s human nature so you need to acknowledge that it forms a part of your writer identity. However, to stay successful you also have to believe in your process and not let that doubt cripple you. If you wrote a bestseller and worked out how to market it once, the chances indicate that you’re smart enough to do it again. Because you are a person who deserves your success.
As you can probably tell by now, your identity as a writer encapsulates so much more than just your brand and genre. It’s an integral part of you that can be shaped and improved to suit whatever type of person you want to become. Oscar Wilde once said, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” And that’s true in this case as it is in many others. However, as the artist here, you have the power to ask yourself what sort of art you want to create. What sort of life you want to live.
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