Blog: Why am I so afraid to say I’m a Playwright?

Moving to a new city, meeting new people, it all means that question is bound to pop up. The ‘What do you do?’ question. The one I dread people asking. Because I’m very much a part of Generation Slashie, having multiple jobs rather than one distinct career path. I work for a charity/as a consultant/as a journalist and drumroll please as a playwright. But I never feel justified in saying that last one. I never call myself a writer, and spend my whole time blushing when I’m introduced as one.

My friend noticed this recently when we were at a party together when all I said in response to the ‘what do you do’ question was a vague mention of a charity. She asked me why I don’t say that I’m a playwright, and I replied matter-of-factly that I’m not, despite having had five short plays staged in London last year, being part of a theatre company, on the SOHO Writers’ Lab, and I’ve co-written a one-woman crime noir show, Double Infemnity, for the upcoming VAULT Festival. Even just having written that down, I have the immediate instinct to type: ‘But that’s nothing, I’m not a proper playwright yet.’

Though, objectively, that’s exactly what I am. Yet I’d never say that when I’m introduced to someone. I’d feel too embarrassed about my small feats that pale in comparison to anything a ‘real’ writer has done. Because being a playwright is a strange profession. It’s one that you’re frequently not paid for and depends on the validation of others through applause and reviews and tiny gold stars.

That means I feel like I need to wait for a standing ovation from a packed theatre, or receive a fancy award, or even just have playwriting make up a significant part of my pay cheque before I feel allowed to call myself a writer. And this fear in thinking that if I say I’m a writer, someone will automatically tell me “no, you’re wrong”, is shared among many female playwrights I know.

Now, I will add me saying that is from the small sample of people I know, but it has been found that women are more likely to experience Imposter Syndrome than men. In a study last year, it was found that a third of millennials experience self-doubt at work, with 40% of women saying they felt intimidated by senior people, compared to 22% of men.

Women are raised to be self-depreciating, even taught that it is an attractive quality. But, if you want to be a playwright (or in fact do well in any career), self-deprecation is going to be the thing that holds you back. For the upcoming VAULT show I co-wrote, we have seats to fill and we’ve got to be the ones marketing the show. I need to be spreading the word, not cowering from the fear that’s someone’s going to call my bluff when I say I’m a writer. As a friend recently pointed out to me, there are plenty of men who write one rhyming couplet and declare themselves a poet.

In regards to VAULT, it has felt intimidating knowing there are so many other shows going on, and shows written by people I am much more likely to consider writers. Yet VAULT itself is not a competitive place, it’s a wonderful community of writers (yes, we’re all writers) supporting each other. It’s taught me the importance in valuing your own work and made me realise that actually calling yourself a playwright, even if you don’t feel like one yet, is the best thing you can do for your career. Mentally, it puts you in a much better place, enabling you to feel more confident in both applying for opportunities and sharing your current work.

It’s not cute to be self-deprecating. And if someone thinks it’s cute, they’re not the person for you. Now I’m not saying we all need to swan around thinking we’re God’s gift – writing is about constantly learning, and learning from others – but you are a playwright, and should view yourself as one. Even if you’ve not had a commission yet, or won an award. You’re still a writer. I’m just starting out what I hope will be a long career as a playwright, but I need to start calling myself one if I wish to progress any further. So if we ever meet each other, that’s exactly how I’m going to introduce myself, and I hope you’ll do the same.

Jennifer Cerys

Jennifer Cerys

Jennifer Cerys is a 20-year-old playwright for Paperclip Theatre Company and has had short plays performed at The Courtyard Theatre, Bunker Theatre, CentrE17, the Betsey Trotwood and the Rosemary Branch. She enjoys writing black comedies that play with the idea of reality, and also hopes to produce more theatre centred around living with a disability.