You Are Not Your Work

You and your work are two separate things.

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A writer writes. Their work is (usually) their property. Sometimes it can feel like they’re so deeply connected with their characters that their work seems more than just a figurative child — more like an organ they could live without, but would rather not.

This is a great thing, when actively writing something. You need to feel connected, fully invested enough that you can gauge the potential reactions of readers by how you feel as you’re writing.

After the fact — when it’s time to share that work — there’s a need for separation.

It does not always happen.

These are the writers who become overly defensive of their work, who lash out at anyone who criticizes or disagrees with them.

These are the writers who threaten to quit when things do not go the way they want.

Rejection is one of the biggest examples of this.

A writer’s work gets rejected, so they themselves feel rejected. This is normal in a temporary sense. But there are writers who hold onto every rejection as if they’re defining characteristics of themselves.

You cannot live like this.

You have to let it go.

You’re not the one getting rejected. Your writing is.

You are not a failure. Your work fell short.

You are not a bad writer. You wrote something that did not perform or resonate well with its intended audience.

I know it can feel that way. You love this thing you wrote. So much so that it’s almost a part of you. When part of you gets shot down, maybe, to you, it feels like your whole existence is on trial.

It’s time to learn to separate yourself from your work.

It is not an extension of you. It is something you created, packaged up, and at least attempted to release into the world. The second you put a finishing stamp on it and sealed it up, it ceased to be your beloved child or pet. It became a product, which you tried, literally or figuratively, to sell.

Just because someone chooses not to buy does not mean you’re a bad person, or a worthless writer. It just means someone chose not to buy your product.

To put your full worth into whether or not your writing “succeeds” does nothing but set you up for ultimate failure.

To put things bluntly … get over it.

Even better — move forward despite it.

Write something else. Pitch to someone else. Go in a different direction.

Never say things like, “I’ll finally be happy when this company publishes my book,” because it might never happen. Your work is important, but it is not your whole life. It does not define who you are, and should never define how you feel about yourself.

Rejection, delayed success — it’s all part of the game.

Don’t be a sore loser.

Play the game, embrace every losing round, and keep coming back for more. You won’t regret it.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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7 thoughts on “You Are Not Your Work

  1. You made some good points but I have to say that my profession as an author is integral within my identity. I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t a poet.

    1. Oh, I definitely agree with you there. I wrote this awhile ago about the same idea: https://megdowell.com/2017/01/21/why-youre-not-you-when-youre-not-writing/

      However, I do think there’s a big difference between knowing your identity as a writer and basing your whole self-worth on whether or not you always succeed. I also would not be myself without writing, but I don’t immediately think I’m a failure when I write something that bombs. That separation still matters.

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