I love writer swag. Notebooks, fancy pens, tote bags, stickers with book quotes on them. I drool over The Writer‘s monthly Take Note column, listing all the things I could buy to make myself a better writer. If I sling my typewriter tote bag over my shoulder, people will know that I labor over the craft each perfect sentence in my masterpiece. If I wear my NaNoWriMo t-shirt, people will see that I am capable of writing a novel in 30 days. They will see me with my expensive pen and my leather-bound notebook at the coffee shop and murmur, “Yes, there is a real writer, you can tell she is very serious because she has a a scarf with books on it.”
This is all bunk, of course. I can’t buy my way into being a better writer. A candle touted as smelling like “Inspiration” isn’t going to write my story for me. All those notebooks are just going to clutter up my apartment. A typewriter is a useless gadget in the digital age, and I’ve found my perfect pen already, thank you.
But oh, that temptation! It’s easier to convince myself that buying something to proclaim myself a writer will announce me as one moreso than, say, a real-life book with my name on it. Writers spend so much time trying to convince others that they’re legit that there’s an industry built up around our insecurity, our need for bravado, for other people to notice us. Writing is, by nature, a solitary pursuit, but it’s one that demands the attention of others — to read, to edit, to praise, to buy books.
Swag is nice to have (especially if it’s free swag from AWP) but before you buy that next t-shirt, ask yourself “what am I really trying to buy?” Time? Inspiration? Camaraderie? Will it really help you become a better writer or will it distract you with the momentary glee of shiny things? Ask yourself honestly and be brutally honest. Chances are, it’ll do more damage to your bank account than repair to your word count.
And if you simply have to have that Great Gatsby tote bag, try this — for every page you finish, give yourself a dollar. Earn that treat, but in the end, you may find that you don’t really need it to feel like a writer.