Can I…?

June 20, 2024

Can I call myself a writer? Even when dread, displeasure, and an overwhelming sense of irritation cloud my mind and redirect my limbs? When I think in monologues and speak in metaphors, a never-ending stream of dialogue thudding behind my ears, and yet avoid my computer at all costs? Can I call myself a writer when the majority of content I produce is published under someone else’s name, someone else’s company? What does it say about a person that they latch onto labels like a leech, that they seemingly want something so much…and seemingly do so little to get it? Is it imposter syndrome? Fear? A worry that maybe, even after a careful life of humility, I’m not actually as good as I believe myself to be? Or maybe it’s indicative of something deeper—a resistance to the hard and exhausting and cyclical and constant task of processing life and everything that happens in it. 

I live my life with more questions than answers. Many of which hold little to no bearing on the quality of my existence, and yet, there they are: popping up like fungus gnats in a freshly watered houseplant. Many more I know the answer to: yes, I am a writer…for to call yourself one you must simply write. Yes, I am a writer…despite the internal war I fight every time I sit down to organize the overflowing thoughts. Yes, I am still a writer…when my words are used to gain traffic and garner attention for people and places I don’t know. What’s more interesting to me now is my lifelong incessant need to find a label—one to cling to, one to tell me who I am and who I’m meant to be. One to give me purpose and a sense of direction.

Maybe it’s because there’s too much chaos in my mind to figure out on my own. Maybe I’m worried that if I don’t have a title, a label, a classifier, I don’t know who I am or how to think of myself. Or maybe it’s the self-inflicted pressure that turns into a prophecy, a deep-seated angst that reminds me, You’re nothing without your production. It’s a feeling I recognize as problematic, corporate, and incorrect but struggle to release anyway. It’s a feeling that makes me ask, Why even try? 

I’ve latched onto labels for as long as I can remember. I have this desire to make each label the perfect fit like the white-knuckled grasp of someone falling and reaching and holding for dear life. For most of my life, it was “dancer.” Obsessed with the feeling of movement and music coursing through my body and momentarily quieting my brain, I poured my everything into this passion. Yet no matter how many hours I spent rehearsing and perfecting and performing, I never fully felt like “dancer” was something I could claim, something that fit. As if I knew in the marrow of my bones that I’d never “make it” in a professional setting. I knew I loved it a lot, but also knew that love was just not enough, especially when it comes to performing, artistry, entertainment; you have to have an intrinsically fueled fire, and I did not. 

I’d like to say that I fell into writing on my own—and in most ways, I did—but, my husband was the one who vocalized the vocation. He was the one who posed the question, “So, why don’t you be a writer?,” placing it smack-dab in the middle of my radar. I’d always been good with words but had never actually stopped to consider it as a profession—or, at least, not seriously. Something about it had seemed selfish, like I should spend my life using my skills to help those in need. And yet, I couldn’t shake the flutter in my stomach when I thought of calling myself a writer. The more I thought about my future plans in conjunction with my personality, talents, and qualifications, the more I recognized an increased potential to uplift and assist the world around me through words. Words are connection, connection is power, and power is change.

Like the unfurling of a new leaf, slowly, I toyed around with this “writer” label. It was a new identity to try on like a brightly colored jacket I’d never noticed hanging in the back of my closet. The more confidently I leaned on the idea, the more I began to see the ways in which this jacket complimented my personality, the way it fit perfectly around my frame. I began to reflect on my interests and everything that had drawn my attention over the course of my life. I’d always been most intrigued by creativity and art; by beautiful, soul-sharing expression; and by people and things that were unapologetically different and unique. My entire life I’d lusted after artistry but had been trying to fit in a box—a label—that was the wrong shape, the wrong size.

I still don’t know the answers to 90% of the queries floating and colliding like clumsy flies amongst my thoughts. I still don’t know why time spent alone to tap out my thoughts on a dust-covered keyboard fills me with a mild panic. I still don’t really know what I’m doing or how to label myself in a way that is both accurate and holistic…or why I feel the need to locate and claim a signifier in the first place. But, I do know that I am a writer. And, at least for now, that has to be enough.

Hannah Zwemer received her MA in Professional Creative Nonfiction Writing from the University of Denver in 2021. Since her graduation, she’s been working in the marketing field and using her words to help local businesses establish and grow their online presence and visibility…while trying to make progress on some of her personal projects in her off time. Hannah lives in Orlando, FL with her husband, precious cockapoo, Rory, and a whole lot of plants and half-started craft projects.


Featured image by Hannah Olinger.