why labels are important


Some of my sketches for a song illustration.

Do you ever find it difficult to call yourself a writer, or an artist or whatever the appropriate label for your creative niche is? I know I do, and conversations with fellow creative types has told me I’m not alone.

These days I do call myself a ‘writer’, although – as ridiculous as it sounds – it originally took considerable effort to do so. I remember the day I put ‘writer’ on my personal Facebook page – I felt really nervous and a bit of a fraud but figured I had to do it because if I couldn’t think of myself as a writer then how could I expect anyone else to? I was starting to submit manuscripts to agents so that felt kind of important. Even now the self doubt demon creeps in and tries to tell me I’m not one – not a ‘real’ writer – but obviously I kick it up the bum and wave my blog and manuscripts and pieces of published writing at it till it goes away.

But recently I’ve faced a new self-labelling question. I’ve been studying illustration since the start of this year – I’ve submitted assignments, drawn most days and, in the process, illustrated both my own writing and other people’s. I’ve studied art in the past too – dare I say it, created art in the past (some of it was once even in an exhibition) – so can I, or should I, call myself an artist? No. Surely not. That’s… just… I don’t know, it seems a step too far. And as for calling myself an ‘illustrator’ Hahahaha. No, that’s just ridiculous.

Isn’t it?

But then I had an experience last week that made me look at things a bit differently. I was on the phone to a work colleague (he works for a different company but we’ve worked alongside each other on various projects for years) and he asked if he could run an idea by me. ‘Of course’ I said. He then went on to say that his company (a human relations one) was looking at a new way of presenting some of their ‘models for ways of working’ (kind of patterns of human behaviour and interaction broken down into stages). They’re in a sort of chart form at the moment which he was thinking was a bit dry and that perhaps an illustrative approach might bring them to life more:

“… and I was thinking ‘what illustrators do I know?'” he said, “And then I thought ‘hey, I know Maddy!'”

He knows I’ve been studying illustration and said he’d seen one of my illustrations (the tea limerick one) and loved it. He then went on to outline the project to me… at least I assume that’s what he did but all I really caught was his “So what do you think?” at the end, at which point I had to admit “I’m sorry but you called me an illustrator and I got so excited that anyone would call me an illustrator that I couldn’t really hear anything much you said after that!”

Not exactly cucumber cool of me, but anyway, I did listen the second time round and the project sounds rather interesting. He’s very open about what might work and how things might pan out so I said yes I’d love to do it! I mean, obviously I don’t really know what I’m doing but I’m hanging on to the idea that I know more than I think I know and have skills I don’t know I possess, and can achieve more than I can imagine I could.

I got off the phone with a smile, warm with the knowledge that someone out there in the world, someone who’s not my husband or my best mate or my mum (lovely though they all are) thinks I’m an illustrator.

An actual illustrator.

It’s made me realise we should all seize those illusive creative labels and own them. We should say ‘Yes, I’m a writer/illustrator/photographer/modern cheese artist/whatever’ and then just get on with doing the actual creative work and living up to those titles. Because although it’s about self-belief, it’s also about accountability: after all, if you call yourself a writer, you’d better keep writing.

Speaking of which, this illustrator needs to go illustrate. :)

Writing Bubble

12 thoughts on “why labels are important

  1. Turning Up In Devon

    I think you’re right, if we act and think as a title such as writer/illustrator it sends positive affirmations to our brains and other people will see it too as we progress in that field. Fab to see your work in progress in the pic you put at the top of this post. X #whatimwriting ps was Harry Potter experience amazing??

  2. Niki

    I’m nodding over here. I’m feeling that fraudster feeling on repeat at the moment as I have paused my 20 year career to try and be a writer. No wins as yet but I write every day so I guess that is the day job at the moment. Is that we feel comfortable with a label if we are getting paid for it or monumental recognition?
    Niki recently posted…a question of timeMy Profile

  3. Rachael

    Hey Maddy,

    I know what you mean, it took ages for me to call myself a writer even when started to get paid for it! And bear in mind that many famous authors kept day jobs for years! I think Elizabeth Gilbert had more than 10 years after publishing her first book before earning from it. :)

    On the subject of illustration though, you’re great! I’m looking forward to reading your picture books one day (sooner than you think I imagine!) :) x
    Rachael recently posted…Coach yourself and your family at home with Barefoot coaching cardsMy Profile

  4. Sophie Lovett

    I think part of this (for me anyway) is the fact that for YEARS I was stuck in this socially-constructed bubble where you can only be one ‘thing’. And the thing I was was ‘teacher’. Any other roles I might create for myself would essentially be ‘hobbies’ – something which curtailed my efforts as well as restricting my view of myself. Since I’ve stopped teaching though, and become a mum, I’m slowly finding myself adapting to the notion that in fact I can – and perhaps should – carry lots of labels at the same time! I’m still sort of working out what those are, though I’m beginning to own ‘writer’ – which was maybe the biggest challenge of all… Well done for claiming your ‘illustrator’ crown – you are very talented, and most definitely should be adding that string ‘officially’ to your bow :) xx
    Sophie Lovett recently posted…In pursuit of popularityMy Profile

    1. Alice @ The Filling Glass

      What Sophie says! I used to think that I was only one thing, and then I became a mother and I realised that for my sanity I simply couldn’t be just one thing anymore. And also being defined by one thing was about other people and now being more than one thing is about me. You rock at the drawing Maddy, so I completely agree you are an illustrator, how exciting to be asked to be involved in this project. Xxx
      Alice @ The Filling Glass recently posted…Gratitude Journal OctoberMy Profile

  5. jude

    This is really thought-provoking. To be honest, any sort of label makes me cringe – I can’t bare it when people put a string of meaningless labels on their twitter profile for example. ‘Adventurer, Dreamer, Wild Woman, Activist, Storyteller, Gypsy’ etc. Shudder. But I can see the point when it comes to concrete things like writer and illustrator. Own it, girl. You deserve it! #whatimwriting
    jude recently posted…Playing Dress UpMy Profile


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