I know it’s been a long, long while since I’ve posted anything, aside from posts promoting other authors and the occasional short story anyway. As I mention in my Post “Your Baby is Ugly…Again” my contract with Harper expired, they didn’t offer another, and I started on a new project.
I’d like to say that project is what occupied my time, but it wasn’t.
I’d be willing to bet all of you are aware of Imposter Syndrome, even if you don’t know it by that name. In short, it’s the feeling that an achievement isn’t earned, and as such, you feel like an imposter just waiting to be found out. Now, imposter syndrome isn’t limited to the creative fields, in fact, I’d be surprised if many of you haven’t suffered from it at some point or another in your life. Maybe when you became a new parent, landed a new job or promotion, or just faced some sort of challenge. The more significant the achievement, the more likely it seems imposter syndrome will rear its ugly head, and for any reason it can find.
Perhaps that’s why so many authors, nearly all of those I know, struggle with it. It’s not easy to get there, and oddly, everyone else who achieved it has clearly earned it. Just not you. The most insidious part of imposter syndrome is that successes don’t count, only failure, even just failure to succeed. Very early in my writing career, I met a multi bestselling author (New York Times, USA Today, etc) who has been writing for almost 30 years. He is, by every metric, a success. I told him I was terrified my first book would be my last. He told me he feels the same way after finishing every book. He worries people will finally see he has no talent and his writing career will be over. As you can imagine, that was both reassuring and depressing. It’s good to know you’re not alone in how you feel, not so much to find out those feeling won’t go away.
Here’s another excellent example of how those at any level can suffer from imposter syndrome.
As I’ve said before, when Harper passed over the next book in the American Faerie Tale series, I was exceedingly disappoint, though not entirely surprised. My imposter syndrome had been expecting it, and he relished that rejection like a fine meal. Hoping to keep him at bay, I threw myself into a new project. Everyone I’d told about it said I needed to write it because they wanted to read it right now. So I worked, and wrote, and when it was done I was very happy with it. Honestly, I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Which is how it should be, you should always be improving in your craft.
My agent started sending it out, and the initial response was amazing. Nearly everyone it went to wanted to read it. I felt certain it was only a matter of time before I was offered a contract and then I’d be a writer once again, and this time it would be for real.
Why do I say it like that? Well, my path to publication was unconventional. If you’ve read my other posts, you know I had no agent when Harper offered me a deal for my first book, normally a requirement. Instead, I was one of 4500+ people who participated in a, very rare, open submission window open to unagented authors. In the end, I was one of a dozen or so picked for publication. The Stolen even launched Harper’s new imprint, Harper Voyager Impulse, and for a time, the cover was on the header of Harper Voyager’s website (yes, I have a screenshot saved). But none of that mattered to imposter syndrome; I’d only won a contest, I hadn’t earned my way in, so I wasn’t a “real” author. I thought selling this new project would, finally and definitively, prove I was a real author.
Yes, I’m fully aware how ridiculous that sounds. But like phobias, depression, or other dark states of mind, reality has very little, if anything, to do with it.
You can probably guess what happened next.
The rejections started rolling in, one after the other. Almost without exception they were effusive in their praise. They loved the story and the characters, and felt the writing was really strong…BUT.
That dreaded word, so small, but powerful enough to wipe out all the words, however good, that came before it. Sure, Intellectually I knew, and my agent continually reminded me, that such praise was a good thing. It meant the book was good! They just didn’t know how to sell it, or they’d just signed a book like it, or other entirely valid reasons. Intellectually I knew, logically I knew. But that didn’t matter. The imposter syndrome kept whispering that this just proved I’d been right all along. I wasn’t a real author, I’d just gotten lucky. To be fair, luck plays no small in life, especially when it comes to achieving dreams, but in the end it only gets you so far. My luck, it seemed, had run out.
That’s when imposter syndrome’s friend showed up: depression. I’ve made no secret of my struggles, especially in my youth, with depression. This wasn’t a chronic or persistent depression though, this was acute. We all get depressed sometimes, and if we’re lucky, it’s circumstantial rather than biological. It’s no less valid, but usually easier to overcome. This particular depression didn’t prevent me from getting out of bed, it just made sitting down to write anything seem pointless. So I didn’t write, not much anyway. I worked on short stories, and when I did write it felt good, but actually getting my butt in the chair took effort. As such, this blog and posts for it fell further down my priority list.
What was the point? No one was going to read them anyway, right?
So what changed? Well, the especially observant among you might’ve noticed I haven’t mentioned the title, or much of anything, about this new project so resoundingly rejected. The reason is, there’s some new interest in it. Obviously I can’t say who, but that influx of hope gave me the strength to push imposter syndrome, and his friend, to one side. Nothing may come of this interest, but I decided to put this new found hope to good use and write a blog post.
I chose this topic partly because writing about it, and as such naming it, takes away some of its power. Don’t look at me that way, I’m a fantasy writer, okay? But I also chose it because I know others struggle with it too, and, well, it’s always nice to know you aren’t alone. I’m lucky in having good friends and a group of writer friends in much the same boat as me to offer support. But, for me at least, it’s too easy to dismiss their kindness and encouragement; they’re your friends after all, it’s what they’re supposed to do. Again, recognize this has nothing to do with reality. Your friends, and family, aren’t obligated to blow sunshine up your backside. Sure, sometimes they do it anyway, but even then it’s because they love you, believe in you, and want to help.
That being said, when a stranger offers encourage or support, it can stick better because they have no reason to do it.
So, dear readers, as a stranger, I tell you this: Imposter syndrome, for all his power, is a fucking liar. He is utterly and entirely full of shit. So tell that bastard to fuck right off whenever he shows up and starts whispering. Yeah, I know. It’s soooo much easier said than done. But how about this, I promise to do it if you do? Deal? Make no mistake, we’ll both give in sometimes, and that’s okay. Feel bad. Let the little shit have his moment, then remember that you‘re made of pure, high grade, artisanal, fair trade awesome. You can do the thing! More than that, you earned that achievement, that job, that relationship, that thing! You heard me, you earned it! So don your steel-toe boots, kick imposter syndrome in the balls as hard as you can (repeatedly), tell him to fuck right off, and that Bishop sends his regards.
So is there another American Faerie book that is waiting for a publisher? I love your books and look forward to something from you again. I know it is hard for talented people to get their projects out but don’t let that get you down because your fans are dying out here for your next book.
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Thank you so much! That means a lot. The next American Faerie Tale boom isnt quite finished. About 3/4 of the way there. I’m considering my options on that. One way or another though, there will be more. Thank you so much for your kind words and support!
Bishop, that was beautiful. Imposter syndrome is often my boon companion, my ever-present shadow.
So glad to hear that there’s interest in your project! I want to see it out in the wide world where I can recommend it to everyone!
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Thanks, Erin. Yeah, that bastard gets around. I’m glad you liked the blog post and I hope it helps you knee the lying POS in the balls.
That’s so nice of you. I hope something comes of this interest too. You’ll be among the first to when it does. When, not if, because I know itll happen eventually.
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Wow….just wow. You put it so well. Impostor Syndrome lurks around my psyche all the time. I judge myself far more harshly than others judge me. I’m glad you’re moving forward again though!
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Thanks, I appreciate the compliment. That imposter syndrome bastard is everywhere. I think a lot of us judge ourselves more harshly than others, but the trick is learning not to judge too harshly. I hope you’ve mastered that skill, or do. I a moving forward, not quickly, but forward still. Thanks again for the comment. I appreciate.
Thanks, Marie. I think, for whatever reason, a lot of us judge ourselves more harshly. But the trick is not to judge yourself TOO harshly. That’s the hard part. I hope you’ve mastered that trick, or do in the near future.
And thank you, I am moving forward. Not always fast, but forward. Thanks so much for the comment.
I didn’t know there was an official name for this. Glad to know others feel it too. Best of luck with your new project.
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Having a name for it does help, doesnt it? Oh yes, you are in esteemed company to be sure. Thanks for the comment and I hope your projects are going well too.
Our profession runs on validation, so I think we’re particularly susceptible to Imposter Syndrome. Thanks for being so candid about it especially as a traditionally published author.
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I agree completely. I think the distance between writer and reader also contributes to it as well. It’s a tough thing, but I hope me sharing my own struggles helps others.
Thank you so much for commenting. I really appreciate it.
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For years, before the phrase ‘impostor syndrome’ became current, my friends and I called it ‘playing with the grown ups’. Same thing essentially, that feeling that you’re there by mistake because you’re only still about 12 years old where as everybody else around you is actually a bona fide adult there on merit.
Impostor syndrome or ‘playing with the adults’, you’re right Bishop, the main thing is to not let it stop you doing what you want to do!
Everybody: write that book, compose that symphony, chase the dream and be what you want to be, because only by doing it will you achieve anything. And enjoy the journey on the way!
I like that term too. Playing with the grown ups is just how it feels. I don’t know if it’s comforting, but it is surprising just how many “grown ups” feel the same as we do.