Guest Blogger: A Writer’s Identity

by Robyn Martins

If I were one-dimensional, I could define myself with a single word or phrase. I am a mother, or I am a graphic designer, or I am a musician. I cook. I knit. I read books. I like to sing along with James Taylor and The Eagles. I voted for Obama. I am bad at math. I hate sports. I am an avid fan of old movies, and Jimmy Stewart was a god.

But I’ve got many layers and cannot be defined by one single label. It is the sum of all my interests and activities and roles that provides my comprehensive profile and distinguishes me from the woman across the street and the guy on the other side of town. Even if the neighbor lady is as bad at math as I am, she may prefer singing along with Billy Holiday to James Taylor. And maybe the guy on the east side loves to read but is a whiz at fly fishing, which couldn’t appeal to me any less than it does.

Not only do my characteristics and interests combine to define me, but they change as I evolve and enter into new phases, piling on more layers. I wasn’t always a musician, but now I am a member of a community orchestra. There was a time when I didn’t know how to knit, but now I can make hats and scarves like nobody’s business. I used to survive on Weaver’s frozen chicken and spaghetti with sauce from a jar, but now I can put together a meal that would make you think you’re sitting in Ina Garten’s very own kitchen, or maybe the kitchen of her cousin once removed. And who knows what I’ll learn tomorrow that I can add to the list of what defines me.

Whatever I am on any given day or at any given moment as I pursue an interest or fulfill an obligation, I am a writer and have been since childhood. It’s a part of my identity that is woven into all of the other parts. It’s not the one thing that describes me, but it’s an essential and prominent element of my description. Writing is not my vocation but my preferred avocation—I’ve never earned a cent from anything I’ve written. Even my local newspaper that prints my articles nearly once a week doesn’t pay me a dime for my trouble.

No matter how doggedly, and so far unsuccessfully, I hunt for an agent, or how often I send submissions to Salon that end up in someone’s desktop trash bin, I still confidently call myself a writer, although sometimes I waver. In that local newspaper I mentioned, someone wrote in to criticize my opinion on something or other but finished by saying that I write with a skill that is well above average. That was something, enough of a bone tossed my way to encourage me to continue including the term “writer” among my other attributes and to write every day to prove it, even for free.

I can’t seem to help myself. I perform a concert with the orchestra and write about it the next day. I cook a delicious meal and sit down to describe the experience on my blog. I even write about knitting baby hats and singing Sweet Baby James to myself in the car and how Jimmy Stewart delivers his lines like butter in Harvey. You’ve got to be some kind of a kook to do that. Or among other things, a writer, through and through.

When you define yourself in all of your roles and interests, what are the top five words or phrases that best describe you?

Among many things, Robyn Martins is a musician, graphic designer, and writer living in Ohio.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Yvonne on December 4, 2008 at 8:05 PM

    >The biggest compliment I’ve gotten was from my husband. He introduced me to his co-workers as his wife and a writer. Up till now, I was a teacher, so when we he said that, it made me gasp with inner glee!

  2. Rachel on December 4, 2008 at 6:11 PM

    >I wonder how many of us are homeschooling-writer-musicians? These modifiers seem disproportionately represented in this group. hahahahaha!

  3. Mark on December 4, 2008 at 5:34 PM

    >Well to me you’re a writer. But it’s always cool to discover the different facets of a person.

    I hate to label myself. I think of myself as a writer, but I have a hard time saying it. And I didn’t uncover that layer of me until my mid thirties.

  4. Avily Jerome on December 4, 2008 at 2:35 PM


    In that order. 🙂

    Thanks Robyn!

  5. Lea Ann McCombs on December 4, 2008 at 2:15 PM

    >Robyn, I admire your confidence to tell others you are a writer. I find that very difficult, since I have not had a novel published yet. And I HAVE made money writing magazine articles, etc.

    But I still stumble over the word when asked to define myself. Because I know the next question will be, “Oh, what do you write? How many books have you published?” And no one but another writer has any idea what is involved in the chasm between writing and publishing, so I know that immediately, in the listener’s mind, I am not a REAL writer.

    I’m working on it, but until I consider myself a REAL writer, I can’t expect anyone else to.

    Good for you for giving yourself the freedom to define yourself the way you see yourself, and not by someone else’s standards.

  6. Rachel on December 4, 2008 at 1:32 PM

    >I am…

    1.) a child of God
    2.) My husband’s femme fatale
    3.) a homeschooling mama of 3
    4.) Taylor Swift’s back-up fiddler
    5.) a crazed knitting fool when the spirit comes upon me

    oh…and I sometimes stay up all night to write.

  7. Chatty Kelly on December 4, 2008 at 11:40 AM

    >My Labels would be:

    Christian, wife, mother, writer, volunteer

  8. Yvonne on December 4, 2008 at 11:00 AM

    >Beautiful thoughts, Robyn.

    God made us each so perfectly and unique. I love getting to know the “layers” of people.

    My five labels? Hmmmmm…

    1. Mother/wife
    2. Kindergarten teacher
    3. Country/simple person
    4. Creative/artistic
    5. Hugger/encourager

    It’s hard to narrow yourself down to five simple phrases!

  9. Marla Taviano on December 4, 2008 at 10:18 AM

    >Love it, Robyn. WELL above average. 🙂 I’m a Buckeye too.

  10. lynn on December 4, 2008 at 10:02 AM

    >Yep James Stewart WAS a god. lol. Nice piece, Robyn.

    I’d say, for me:

    A mother
    A writer
    A photographer
    Socially responsible
    Humorous – I hope

    Being a writer is indeed rewarding. It’s a struggle at times though – the journalist job you were so kindly pleased about for me is no more. The paper has closed, in light of the economic downturn. Hey ho, but we writers carry on… 🙂

  11. Kim Kasch on December 4, 2008 at 9:55 AM

    >Harvey! Oh Robyn – especially at this time of year – you should be talking about It’s a Wonderful Life.

  12. RumorsOfGlory on December 4, 2008 at 8:28 AM

    >Yes Robyn, you are INDEED a writer.

  13. Richard Mabry on December 4, 2008 at 8:11 AM

    >Robyn, thanks for a thought-provoking post. When I was a professor at the medical school, interviewing medical students who were applying for specialty training in our department, I would ask them this question: In a few sentences, what would you like said about you at your funeral?

    I would hope that I’m described as a loving husband and father, follower of Jesus, who used his time on earth to reach others through medicine and writing.

  14. lynnrush on December 4, 2008 at 6:42 AM

    >Great post, Robyn. Thank you for sharing.

    I thank God for the fact I’m not one dimensional…I think He wants more from us as he’s blessed us all with many blessings.

    I’d say 5 phrases for me would be:
    1. A Devoted wife
    2. An encourager
    3. An athlete
    4. A Loyal friend
    5. A Follower of Jesus

    Have a great day.

  15. Gwen Stewart on December 4, 2008 at 5:58 AM

    >Robyn, thank you for this great post. I am a fellow Buckeye whose husband, like most native Michiganders, is not easily parted from his mitten-shaped peninsula…so I’m a Buckeye living in Michigan.

    Five phrases that describe me:

    1. Child of God and Jesus-follower
    2. Mrs. Stewart, joyful wife
    3. “Mom”, blessed with two children
    4. Mrs Stewart, dedicated music teacher
    5. Gwendolyn Stewart, writer

    I am created by God and saved through faith in His Son–number one. I have the joy, blessing and dedication which proves numbers two, three and four–not to mention marriage, birth and valid teaching certificates.

    I have the right to claim and embrace number five for myself. I claim it. I embrace it every day when I sit at this laptop and the words flow.

    God bless you on this Thursday and thanks again for a great post!