Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Imposter!

            Look!  We’re a day early because tomorrow I’m going to be cooking and watching a lot of my favorite black-and-white movies.  Joy!
            Well, not all joy...
            I need to get something off my chest.
            I’m a fraud.
            Seriously.
            I would guess, on an average week, this idea runs through my head five or six times (by odd coincidence, I tend to work five or six days a week).  The notion that I’m a complete fake who’s kind of stumbled into this life off sheer luck more than ability.  I re-read my new projects and wonder if they’re good or if I’m just deluding myself.  Maybe I don’t know a tenth of what I think I know—a textbook case of the Dunning-Kruger effect. 
            I sometimes wonder if the next book is going to be the one where my small fanbase gives a big shrug and says “ehhhhh... I guess he’s burned out.  Time to move on.” 
            I fret a lot about whether or not my publisher’s going to dump me as a writer, too. Well, not dump me, but just decide this latest contact will be... well, the last one.  Same with my agent.  He has some much, much bigger clients than me, and it’s not irrational to think he might decide his time and efforts are better spent focused on them.
            You may have heard of people feeling this way before.  It’s called imposter syndrome, and it’s really common.  I get it all the time.  Chuck Wendig gets it.  Victoria Schwab gets it.  Pretty much every writer I’ve ever talked to at length has copped to it. They’re plagued with self-doubt. They question most everything they write.
            (You didn’t think Hemingway drank that much because it was fashionable at the time, did you...?)
            I’m not saying this to freak you out or feed your insecurities.  I’m hoping it reassures you a bit.  We all feel this way sometimes.  Yeah, even those of us so-called-pros who are doing this full time.
            There are two reasons people get hit with imposter syndrome, in my so-called expert opinion.  For what it’s worth.  And they’re kinda related.  It’s almost the same thing, really.
            First is that, once I hit a certain stage in my writing, I start to see certain things.  I can admit to flaws in my work.  Of course, once I admit problems might be there, that also opens me up to imagining and creating problems. 
            As it happens, imagining and creating is what most writers do.  We’re good at it. Sometimes we do it even when we don’t want to...
            Second is fear.  I think imposter syndrome is a lot like writers block.  The act of creation—of pulling something out of my head and setting it down on paper—can be terrifying.  If you think about, it’s really common for people to talk themselves out of doing scary things.  Think of a couple times in your life when you had to do something that scared you.  How often did you end up thinking something along the lines of “ I can’t do this! What was I thinking?  I shouldn’t be here!”
            I can think of three or four times that sort of mantra ran through my head, all long before I became a full time writer.
            There’s a flipside to this, too.  The folks who are utterly, 110% confident their work is perfect, and that they absolutely should be professionals.  The ones who have no doubts at all.
            And yet, for some reason... they’re not.  They don’t make sales. They don’t get deals.  Usually because of gatekeepers or antiquated systems or something.  Definitely not because of them.
            I’ve run into a few folks like this. You probably have, too.
            Y’see, Timmy, I shouldn’t look at imposter syndrome as a problem.  Oh, it sucks, yeah, and it can lead to one or three stressful days or nights. But really it’s a sign of my maturity as a writer. It shows that I’m open to the possibility my work isn’t perfect, which means I’m open to improving it.
            And improving it is the big goal for all of us.
            Next time I might shout at you real quick.
            Until then, go write.

1 comment:

Sebastián Lalaurette said...

"I’ve run into a few folks like this. You probably have, too."

Oh boy, you have no idea.

I, of course, suffer from the same syndrome. Like most writers who take themselves seriously, I think: I'm overcritical of my own work, always plagued by doubts about its quality... basically what you said. ;)

But in my case I'm kind of alone. Why? Because all the books I've published to date (not counting short stories and poems included in anthologies) have been children's novels. And as a fellow writer informed me, with a half-condescending smile, writers who write for children apparently don't suffer from that.

The worst thing about it is that I'm pretty sure she's right. Every single author of children's books I've met seems to be fairly confident and worry-free. They complain about publishers and editors and money and time, but they never tell you how hard it is for them to get to the end of the damn thing, how unsure they are about writing crap, or wanting to dump everything sometimes because they will never be good.

It's like a parallel universe of happy, self-assured, well-rounded writers.

I hate it with all my heart. Even though some of them are my friends. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯