February 2, 2012

What Makes You Feel Legitimate?

Sign: Authorized Personnel Only

Last week, we had a great discussion in the comments about whether we call ourselves writers or authors.  In general, we agreed that while we don’t judge others by what they call themselves, we each have our reasons for what we call ourselves.  Many echoed the idea that we want to feel legitimate before we’ll be comfortable using a certain title.

Legitimacy.  That’s an important concept for writers.

We don’t have a normal boss or company that we work for, so we struggle to create an internal sense of legitimacy about our work.  We often feel like we’re faking it, hoping no one uncovers our secret.  Maybe we’re deluding ourselves by thinking we have talent and/or skill.  Maybe we really don’t have a clue.

Some of us want to pursue traditional publishing just so we have that external voice confirming that this writing gig is real.  Some will feel validated by getting an agent, or by selling so many copies of our books, or by obtaining a cover blurb from an author we admire.

There’s no limit to the things that can make us feel legitimate.  And sometimes, the realization of “Holy cow, this is real!” comes from unexpected sources: a request for a manuscript, a beta reader who loves our work, a comment on our blog from a “real” author.

Yesterday, Rachel Graves and I got the news that our workshop proposal has been accepted for the Romance Writers of America (RWA) National Conference.  *excuse me while I breathe into a paper bag for a second*  Um, wow, crap, holy cow, I wasn’t expecting that.

No, really.  I wasn’t expecting that.

This isn’t some little local gathering for writers.  This is the RWA National Conference.  One of the biggest writing conferences in the world.  Over 2100 attendees.  They receive hundreds upon hundreds of proposals, and they invite only around 100 of those to speak at the conference.

This might not be a big deal for a published author, but for me, this heaps a whole lot of legitimacy onto my publishing goals.  As Rachel reacted when I explained to her what this signified, “Wait, don’t they know who we are?”

Meaning, don’t they know who we aren’t?

I’m not published yet, and while Rachel has a three-book contract with Tor, she’s “pre-published” because her debut doesn’t come out until the end of the year.  Who are we to get up in front of hundreds of people and claim to know enough to teach them about something?

But then I stopped and thought about it.  Our workshop is DEVELOP A FREE AUTHOR WEBSITE IN 60 MINUTES (OR LESS!).  And you know what?  I do know how to speak about that.

I created this website/blog from scratch, completely customizing every aspect of the site, and I taught myself some css and php programming to get WordPress to do what I wanted.  Rachel knows even more about the technical stuff, the whole alphabet soup of programming languages.  Between us, we can create a basic website with our eyes closed.

Why did it take an external acknowledgement of my knowledge and abilities for me to take it seriously?  *sigh*  Because I’m human.

Sometimes we dismiss just how much we know.  Or we think the knowledge is so basic everyone must know it.  Or we fail to give ourselves credit for knowing it at all.

So sometimes we need that external recognition to show us what’s right in front of us.  We know stuff.  We really do.  Our knowledge, skills, and talents mean something.

Most importantly, we need to recognize one basic truth about ourselves.  We are legitimate as long as we take our work seriously and keep learning new things.

What makes you feel legitimate?  Are you able to recognize your own skills and talents, or do you need external reminders and validation?  Are you going to the RWA 2012 National Conference (RWA12)?  (Will we get to meet up? *smile*)

And a major shout out to Rachel, who did most of the work on the proposal because I was under deadline for the Golden Heart contest!  *fist bump, high five, confetti, and hugs*

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Jami, you’re adorable. To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt “No one can make you feel illegitimate without your consent.” We’re real authors when we believe in our work and treat it with the respect real work deserves.

A.T. Russell

I think legitimacy is born when we internally accept our ambition. Personally, when I wrote my first book, that last period allowed me to breathe again. Good or bad, I had done it.

Melinda Collins

Hi Jami!

First let me say: CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! *throws confetti* That is such awesome news! I won’t be at RWA2012 but I do wish I could be there for this workshop! 🙂

I felt legitimate the moment I finished that first solo manuscript (as opposed to the 3 I did in high school with a friend). It was like, “I did it! I’m a legitimate author because I can sit down and write an entire novel!” Now, this is personally with my writing. In the professional world (the day job), I do know I have talent and am one of the best at what I do (recognition helps that along). 😉

Congratulations again, Jami & Rachel!

PS: I am sooo taking Rachel’s comment up there, framing it and putting it on my desk.

Angela Quarles

Congratulations Jami! I am busily saving up my money to go to RWA12, so I’ll see ya there!

This ties in beautifully with the writer/author post because I think I felt legitimate as a writer when I finished my first full length novel. When I was able to do it again, it helped confirm it for me. Since I’m one of those that commented that I haven’t been able to call myself an author, I think I’m yet to feel legitimized there and I think that’s why I’m pursuing the traditional route– I need that external validation to say, yep you’re legit.

Julie Glover

That’s wonderful! Congratulations. What a great experience for you and Rachel. Surely, you’ll help a lot of people, making some excellent contacts, and have FUN!

Jen J. Danna

Congratulations! You’ll do a great job on that workshop. You totally know your stuff and just think how wonderful it will be to be able to pass that knowledge on to help newer writers or those just starting their blog process. Kudos!

Kait Nolan

I felt pretty darn legitimate the moment I started making enough money from my writing that the IRS decided they needed a cut. 😀

Haley Whitehall

Congratulations, Jami! That is awesome! You will have to tell us all how the conference goes. I believe we are all legitimate if we take our work seriously. And, I know publication is in your future 😉

Roxanne Skelly
Roxanne Skelly

As long as you’re too legit to quit, it’s all good…(Hammertime.)

And yikes, free websites in 60 minutes. You’re killin’ my business model for my little venture I’m startin’ (websites and marketing for authors, artists and the like.)

It’s good though. Writers need ta write, they don’t need to spend their time coding in HTML, photoshopping art, coming up with advertising materials and the like. Any way we can help folk be legit is good for the world. ‘Grats on the panel, and network your heart out.

Callene Rapp

Congratulations, Jami! That is very exciting. Your website is very cool, I’m totally impressed you made it yourself. I thank god every day for WordPress themes and templates cuz I am not that clever! LOL!

Kathrine Roid

Oh my flying llama. I had to read the phrase “our workshop proposal has been accepted for the Romance Writers of America (RWA) National Conference” twice before it made logical sense in my head, and then I thought, “Talk about legitamacy!” before reading another word. C. O. N. G. R. A. T. U. L. A. T. I. O. N. S. (You know how some sentences need to be emphasized my periods after ever word? Some words need to be emphasized not only by cap locks, but by periods after every letter.) I’m another unpublished, unagented writer who runs a creative writing advice blog. I doubt there are many out there with the audacity to do that! But I knew things – after all, I’d spent hours upon hours of reading about writing. I knew things my writer friends didn’t and got asked questions. I also knew I was the Google Queen Who Could Find Any Obscure and Useful Webpage… Given Enough Time and could use obscure and useful scources to write articles on writing subjects that were poorly covered online. Sometimes I wondered what on earth I was thinking, giving advice to the poor, unsuspecting, websurfing writers. But in the end, blogging about writing is fun, I know I have genuinely helped many people, and I doubt I have ever permanatly damaged someone’s writing skill. But beyond a blog that is above clarinet and beneath wandering around the house daydreaming and tripping over the cat on my priorities list, there…  — Read More »

Gene Lempp

Congratulations Jami, that is beyond awesome! Be sure they record your session so those of us who don’t go or aren’t romance writers can get to see the two of you in action. I’m sure you’ll be fantastic.

As far as legitimacy, here is mine. I sit at this desk every day and write. I carry my writing materials with me everywhere I go. I am writing in one way or another, on keyboard, by hand, in my head nearly every moment of my eighteen to twenty hour day. I watch movies, read books, pay attention to ad messages as a writer, looking for tips, tricks, structure, cadence and more.

I am a writer. Nothing else, nor anyone else can give me or anyone legitimacy. We can only give it to ourselves.

Peace, friend *smile*

Suzanne Johnson

Congratulations, Jami and Rachel! Wish I could be there for nationals this year, but don’t think it’s gonna happen–and I really need your workshop! Legitimacy…I never had a problem with “writer”–I’ve been writing as a journalist forever. But “author” is still hard for me, although it doesn’t feel as foreign as it did a year or so ago, so maybe I’m getting there.

Lisa Gail Green

Congrats!!! But I already knew you were awesome!!

Laurie London

OMG I’m so thrilled for you, Jami and Rachel! And it sounds like an excellent workshop topic.

Legitimacy is something I’ve struggled w/ too. For the longest time, I couldn’t even label myself as a writer. I was just someone who liked writing…if I even admitted that. In my first online writing class, the instructor told us that if you write, you’re a writer. That was a big first step for me.

Michele Shaw

Congratulations! I wish I was going to RWA because I NEED your workshop. Just ask techsurgeons. I’m a techie fail. Best of luck to you both and ENJOY it. What’s funny about legitimacy is that it isn’t always how we feel inside, but how others treat us differently when we accomplish something. As if THEY now perceive us as legitimate. That can really mess with your mind and make you question what you were before. This then sets you up for low confidence and questioning your legitimacy in the future. You can find yourself waiting for someone to shout “You made it!” We have to feel it, know it, and own it. Not letting others dictate our definition of success. It’s hard to do…I know.

Jami's Tech Guy

Don’t worry Michele, since I host both Jami’s and Rachel’s websites, we offered to at least host their “example sites” or some sort of online reference so everyone can share in the knowledge.


Stacy Green

Congrats, ladies! Like Michele, I wish I could be there to take your workshop. My blog is simple, and I’d love to find a way to liven it up without causing reader’s eyes to bleed.

And to echo Michele again, legitimacy for me does rely on the acceptance of others, although I don’t know if that’s the right way to look at it. My best friend is always telling me that I’m an author because I wrote a book, and goes on about how amazing that fact is. And yet, I still want TPTB to tell me I’ve passed the writerly gates before I can accept that.


I read this post and thought I said congrats, but maybe I just thought it! So happy for you on the proposal acceptance!

Roni Loren

Congrats on having your proposal accepted! 😀 The two proposals I was a part of got accepted as well, so I’ll be on two panels (one on debut author hood and one on writing intimacy across genres.) Eek! We can breathe in paper bags together. I’m super excited, but my introverted self is also a little bit panicked, lol. See you in Anaheim!

Juli Page Morgan
Juli Page Morgan

Congratulations Jami & Rachel! That is super news!

As far as legitimacy goes, I accepted it the minute I finished my first book. I’d heard lots of people say, “I’d love to write a book,” but I had actually done it! That’s the day I began referring to myself as an author.


[…] From Jami Gold: What Makes You Feel Legitimate? […]


Congratulations, Jami! I struggle with the whole legitimacy issue. No matter how much time or effort I put into my writing, I always think I need to be putting in more if I’m going to call myself a “real” writer.

August McLaughlin

Congrats on your workshop approval, Jami. Great news!

Though I definitely legitimate when I gain the approval or praise of others, particularly agents, editors, writers…you’re so right about finding and embracing it within ourselves. (There’s a negative flip side to the relying on others for it coin. ;)) Thanks for giving us lots to think about.


[…] Which is probably why I loved Jami Gold’s post: What Makes You Feel Legitimate? […]

Buffy Armstrong

This is great, Jami! I’m sure the workshop will be great.

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