Have you ever been close to the finish line with a project only to find yourself paralyzed by a sudden onset of impostor syndrome? This was me two weeks ago and I'm talking about it in today's episode.
Hello, and welcome to About This Writing Thing, a weekly podcast about living the writing life. I'm your host, Sayword B. Eller, novelist, short story writer, podcaster, and imposter.
Prior to recording this, when I first began writing these show notes I'd nearly added the additional 14,000 words needed to my WIP. I had less than 2500 to go and only 15 chapters left to edit before sending to my editor. I should have been feeling great, but I wasn't.
On the second of February 2020, I entered the shower in a fine mood, but exited almost in tears. Yes, it happened that fast. As I lathered my hair, I thought of Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel, I thought of the RWA scandal and the American Dirt criticism, and how I may be criticized by the masses for the diverse characters included in my narrative (of which there are 2 in a cast of less than 10), and I thought of just how many of us are going for traditional publication and how many make it, and then I thought of how many get the first book deal and don't get another…you get the point. By the time I stepped out of the shower my anxiety was through the roof and I was left thinking, what's the point?
I tried to talk to my husband about it, tried to get him to understand exactly what it was I was feeling, but I couldn't articulate it because I wasn't even fully aware of what I was feeling. Yes, I was overwhelmed by the emotions of what if I'm not good enough to ever be published. My social media presence is small, my query writing skills are abysmal, and I don't even want to talk about my ability to write a synopsis. As with everything else, I am an undesirable because I'm not good enough.
And there is was. Despite having gained so much knowledge about my craft, regardless of how many people tell me I am a strong writer, I don't think I'm good enough, and all these outside things are confirming what I think I already know. I'm not good enough.
Turns out, I was suffering from full onset Imposter Syndrome.
In her 2008 article, Overcoming Imposter Syndrome, Gill Corkindale defines impostor syndrome as, "a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success" (Corkindale). At this point I'm less than three thousand words from finishing my third novel. Three. I've seen a story published in a literary magazine and I have several writers who look up to me as a type of authority on writing. I'm successful at my craft in my own right. Yet, I felt as though the completion of this novel meant nothing because it's just another novel that will sit unpublished despite the fact that (IMHO) it's really good. It’s relevant, it challenges the reader to like someone they probably wouldn't like out of mere misunderstanding and first impressions in real life. This book, if given the chance, could really be something. Despite knowing all this I wallowed for two days.
On the second day I made myself really think about what was going on. Yes, on the first day my insides were upside down and churning without me thinking beyond how absolutely desolate I was feeling, but the next day I sat in the sun and made myself think about all those things that were holding up my progress.
Yes, there are eyes looking with increased scrutiny at every published word. That isn't a bad thing. Is it scary that I might end up on the dark side of that attention one day? Hell yes, but I know this special attention, even if it does seem unfair and unwarranted to some, is mostly being done with the best intentions.
Yes, according to Donald Maass's book I'm probably not going to see the success that I once imagined in this new world of best seller or super best seller. If I'm like the average population, and I usually am, I can expect to see moderate success. I need to be okay with that even though I'll still be reaching for the top.
Yes, my social media presence is sub par. Less than 2,000 followers on Twitter and less than 500 on Instagram. It isn't ideal to some agents and publishers, but the great writers who came before me didn't even have social media. Donald Maass's book may be telling me super success isn't likely, but it's also telling me how important word of mouth is and that's something that was around well before social media. It may make things a bit slower, and I may still be rejected based on my lack of numbers, but it doesn't mean I don't have a chance.
Yes, there are a lot of writers in the world going after what I am, but there are also 7 billion people in the world and 86% of them can read. In short, there are enough readers to go around. Especially considering not all readers only read one author.
Finally, yes, there are plenty of authors who get one book deal and don't get another from their publisher. I know a couple. It's not the end of the world. And, to be honest, that's a bridge to cross if or when I get to it.
On the third day I got back to work, adding another 4k to the manuscript to bring its total to a little over 83k. In case you're trying to do the math, before my breakdown I had a very productive week. I added 11,000 words in 3 days. This book was ready to be finished and I was ready to finish it.
Now, two weeks later, Catching Fireflies has been to the editor. Notes are good. In fact, they're far better than expected. I'm working on the query letter, the first draft of which has been sent to my mentor. I'm feeling good again. I know the imposter syndrome will creep up on me again at some point, but I hope by then I've signed with an agent. I might be able to talk myself down a bit easier.
That's it for this week. Please excuse my lack of episodes this year. Next week I'll be revisiting those goals I talked about in January and, hopefully, updating you on the status of the dreaded query.
If you liked this episode, please give me a like or subscribe, or both. I won't be upset If you share me with your friends. The more the merrier. For those local, I'm hosting a workshop in May with a couple of writer pals. We'll be talking about making time for your writing, how to write engaging short fiction, and turning your memories into essays. The Find the Writer in You workshop will run from 9:30 to 12:30 on May 2, 2020 at the Asheboro Public Library in Asheboro, North Carolina. It is free and open to the public. I encourage you to join us if you're nearby.
As usual, if you'd like to see what I have going on you can check out saywordbeller.com or you can find me on Instagram and Twitter using the handle @saybeller. There is a Twitter account for this podcast @writingthingpod.
Thanks for listening. Have a great week and happy writing!