Over at Genreality today, a really interesting post on the Impostor Syndrome and how it applies to writers. I think this is something that every writer I know does, in fact, struggle with, both before and after they’ve published. The difference is how much we let the voices get to us, which I tend to think is ultimately rooted in whether or not we’re afraid to talk about it to our non-writer friends at work.
Before we’ve “made it” (for all values of “made it” that = whatever the hell you think making it looks like), we’re always looking for some external validation of ourselves as writers. A non-pro sale. Acceptance into a respected workshop like Clarion or Viable Paradise. A writing contest win. There’s always a need to feel like you can point to something, other than that story you wrote that no one seems to quite like enough yet. Absent an external indicator, you’re always afraid when you start describing yourself as a writer and, especially, a writer of speculative fiction (in and of itself, a euphamism for science ficion, fantasty, horror, et al. that I’m convinced was created so people didn’t have to say the word “fantasy” when describing their writing to non-writer friends or their parents) that you come across like that guy at the Game Parlor who wants to tell you about “his totally amazing Mage/Firefly crossover campaign” (Yes, I can see that Inara is clearly a Cultist; Book? A techno shaman, of course. I’m sorry, I have to go now.)
All of which is to say that it’s sometimes hard to talk about and that makes it hard to believe in. I know that the first time I was going to take time off to go to a writer’s workshop, I waited until the last possible second before going in and talking to my boss about it.
Me: “So, I put in to take leave in October for a few days.”
Boss: “Sure, are you going out of town?”
Me: “Yes, I’m going up to Martha’s Vineyard.”
Boss: “Oh, how exciting! Do you have a house there?”
Me: “Um. No. I’m (mumble) attending a writing workshop.”
Boss: “Ooooo. Are you working on novel? What kind?”
Me: “(pause) Yes, I’m working on a novel. It’s about (significant mumble) fairies.”
Yea, we’ve all been there.
I could speculate about how we feel like impostors after we’ve made it too, but I don’t have to. I’ve heard it or read it over and over again on writer’s blogs or in conferences. The feeling never goes away, but the bar you’re trying to live up to changes. What awards was I nominated for? Why wasn’t I asked to speak on that panel? Look at that person, they got published after me, but have passed me by.
We struggle to own it and see ourselves as outsiders see us – successful, people pursuing a dream that most people don’t have the courage to tackle. If you can’t see yourself that way, find your champion who will do it for you. Mine is my wife. She’s wonderful and caring and listens to my panic attacks, but usually ends with some version of “now stop being silly, and go back in there.”
I can do it and so can you.