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EN 101

Kevin Waltman
Seth Chandler

An Analysis of and Response to

Emily Vallowe's “Write or Wrong Identity”

In “Write or Wrong Identity”, Emily Vallowe discusses her inability to come to

peace with her identity as a writer, and her analysis as to why she doubts her
Vallowe examines her writing career as a whole, diving into her roots in
elementary school as a budding writer. Through the lauding and encouragement
of her teachers, and her own self-pressure to excel to the best of her writing
ability, Vallowe documents her fear and anxiety concerning her writing, which
plagues her to this day. Vallowe then asserts that her “abstract absolute” of being
a writer is no different from other “absolutes” she'd held growing up, like her
childhood enamorment of Chicago. To Vallowe’s chagrin, she would be
disillusioned by counties revelations debunking these “abstract absolutes”, and
weighs in wondering if her writer identity would suffer the same fate. Vallowe
concedes that her writer identity is a divine vocation. Due to this outthought,
Vallowe is unable to fathom the possibility that her identity as a writer is original
and wholesomely organic. Vallowe concludes her literary narrative with her
expressed incapability to cease such questioning, as it would follow her
throughout her writing career.

I resonate with Vallowe's words heavily, as I have come under the same literary
struggle as a singer-songwriter. Often times I've doubted in my songwriting ability
and identity, and wondered if I could write conventional pop songs, let alone my
own experimental, off-kilter structures. So there is no doubt in my mine that
Vallowe's kind of identity crisis befalls most writers, if not alone, at least once in
their writing careers, from amateurs to professionals. Vallowe is not alone in
struggling against the tide.

Vallowe describes constant panic as a drawback to clinging to her writer identity.

Vallowe second-guessed her writing ability compared to that of her peers, and
even faced “a seasoned writer's terror of ‘am I any good?’” (p. 75, Vallowe) at the
EN 101
Kevin Waltman
Seth Chandler
age of ten. As a singer-songwriter who has faced the same literary identity crisis
as Vallowe, I naturally empathize with Vallowe. I'm a lyricist who is earnest to add
a new ambitious quirk to contemporary music, resulting in my quickness to
compare my literary work to that of Lennon/McCartney. This is all to fuel an
arrogance of thinking that I can write at the level as the Beatles or Billy Joel, and
a lingering fear that I’ll have to excel, if not surpass the musical greats, otherwise
I'll fade away. It is rather dispiriting that most singer-songwriters are young adults
in their young 20s - people of my generation who write and record their own
original material, much like myself; yet they have a much larger fanbase and can
sustain music careers off of not only their musical proficiency, but also by album
sales and concert tours. Are these writers better at their craft than I am, or are
they just playing their cards right?

A recurring hindrance that challenges my writing identity is a perfectionist attitude

to everything that I write, whether it be a song or an essay. Whenever I write a
new piece, I scrutinize elements and passages, in an attempt to chisel them into
something that can surpass what I've previously written. While this level of
thinking has given away to some of my most prolific literary work, most times it
has handicapped my writing ability, for fear of writing something totally trite and
not original.
Vallowe’s words address the same issue: “It doesn't help that if I am a writer, I
am a very slow one. I can't sit down and instantly write something beautiful like
some people I know can…… I still find these people threatening. If they are
faster then I am, does that make them better writers than I am?” (p. 75, Vallowe).
Clearly both my and Vallowe’s anecdotes entail the difficulty concerning creative
writing that brings fruition, which in turn is due to the apprehension of rising
above the level of normality in writing, especially when it threatens the sanctity of
the writing identity.

Vallowe contemplates an intellectual and emotional void that would be present if

her writing identity were to crumble, and should it crumble, it would spark
Vallowe's fear of nothingness and thoughts of not doing remarkable in other
academic or artistic fields. While I am intimidated by both scenarios, I can safely
denote that I am also a guitarist, trumpet player, and world traveler. These are
EN 101
Kevin Waltman
Seth Chandler
additional identities that I can cling to, and would be comfortable with versus
being a hollow husk devoid of any character and wonder; much like how Vallowe
can relate: “...if I’m not a writer, I am still plenty of other things: I am a Catholic. I
am a Vallowe.” (p.77, Vallowe)

Vallowe concludes her narrative with her vocation to spread God’s love to others,
this vocation of course being writing, but raises worry that everything she writes
comes from an external divine being, and thus is none of her work. The worry in
question leads to Vallowe's further fear developments of whether she possesses
originality or not, which Vallowe injects with the hopelessness of being “no more
original than the characters that I create in my fiction.” (p. 78, Vallowe) Vallowe
further questions her writing identity, asking herself if it is a predestined trait
given to her by God, or if she built up a repertoire based on overthinking
mentorial approval.
As a Christian much like Vallowe, I believe that all of my positive creative traits
are gifts from God, and are what differentiate me from the rest of His children.
Nevertheless, much like Vallowe's own plight, I too suffer with the idea of my
talent being hackneyed, and whether it can actually evoke something organic
and not overly banal. Even at the apex of an inventive songwriting session, I
entertain troubling thoughts that I might've lifted a riff or borrowed a line from
another musician's work by sheer coincidence.

All in all, Vallowe displays a portrait of literary disheartenment and existential

doubt that is not too distinguishable from any writer who suffers from trials of
literary or lyrical uncertainty.
Vallowe’s testament very well could showcase the darker side of the creative
mind, and highlights what is not revealed from behind the curtain. Every writer
from Irving Berlin to Ernest Hemingway has suffered from the feelings of
skepticism in their own respectable works, so Vallowe and myself are no
exceptions. As Vallowe puts it, “In my old age, I still might not understand my
writer identity.” (p. 78, Vallowe)
Perhaps this malady of disbelief in one's writing ability and identity follows with
writers for the rest of their careers, yet this is indubitably the price to pay for
writers who aspire to write seriously. While I am relieved that I am not alone in
EN 101
Kevin Waltman
Seth Chandler
this literary struggle, it is discontenting to say the least that this mode of thinking
will handicap even the best of writers.

Works Cited:
Vallowe, Emily. “Write or Wrong Identity.”
The Norton Field Guide to Writing With
Readings and Handbook, ​Richard
Bullock, edited by Maureen Daly Goggin and Francine
Weinberg, UA Custom Edition, 4E, Norton, 2016,