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Are You a Writer?

Dive into the depths of vulnerability with memoir writer Shanda McManus as she learns to swim away from imposter syndrome.

By Shanda McManus

July 27, 2023

On a recent trip to Aruba, I finally agreed to go snorkeling with my husband to preserve marital peace. My idea of a vacation is all relaxation—feet in the sand and eyes in a book. My husband needs a little more adventure. And so, a middle-aged surf dude with bronze skin over his softening muscles, Danny, picked us up in his weathered Jeep Cherokee to take us snorkeling. 

“Are you a swimmer?” Danny asked over his shoulder.

I am never sure how to answer this question; I get a squirmy feeling in my belly. When I turned 30, I enrolled in an adult swim class, Fear No More. I had a fear of swimming ever since an episode of near drowning at summer camp when I was 10. But I joined the class because I had two preschoolers learning to swim. I was ashamed when I admonished them to not be afraid of the water when I was afraid myself. 

After that class, I could survive in water if I had to. If I relaxed and let go of the fear, I could put together some strokes without inhaling water. So was I a swimmer? Well, if not drowning counts when in a body of water, then yes.

“Yes, but I’d like a life jacket just in case,” I answered Danny.

I came to writing later in life as I did swimming. And just like the swimming question, whenever someone asks, “Are you a writer?” I get the same squirmy feeling around my navel.

After five years of taking classes, writing regularly, and publishing a few essays, I still pause before answering. What counts as being a writer? Is it a book deal? A literary prize? An unbroken streak of daily writing? 

I struggle with the answer to Are you a writer? because it varies with how I feel. When I’ve been on a streak of consistent writing, or maybe one of my essays gets picked up—the answer Yes! I am a writer jumps out. But on other days when I am blocked or haven’t written regularly for some time— the answer I want to give is No, not really.

That day with Danny, I made it out far enough to see a few sea turtles lazily grazing on seaweed. The truth about swimming is that I am a swimmer when I let go of fear and the life jacket. And the same is true of writing when I let go of the fear of being an imposter and just say—yes, I am a writer!

Shanda McManus has been featured in Intima Journal of Narrative Medicine, Midnight & Indigo, and other publications.