Fear of Failure

I’m genuinely sorry this blog isn’t more active. From its inception, I decided to only post when I have something worth saying. Unlike many of my fellow men, this isn’t quite as often as you’d think. For the most part, it comes down to either adding something of value to a conversation, or sharing something I learned or experienced that might prove useful to others. Today’s post is the latter.

Two-Gun Witch is doing well. The reviews have been overwhelming positive (thank you!) and it’s helped me in making some progress on the sequel (about 30k words so far). Which, as it turns out, is going to be a pantster novel because it’s continuing to evolve as I write. That’s not why I’m writing this post though.

I know, get on with it, O’Connell!

I haven’t made much progress over the last couple weeks and, as the title suggests, it’s a fear of failure that’s holding me back. This isn’t a new feeling for me, and I’ve experienced it with basically everything I’ve ever written. As I’ve said before, TGW wasn’t easy to write, but the fear was (and usually is) more exhilarating. That rush you get when facing a challenge, one that requires you to push yourself. You know you might fail, but in the end it will be worth it. That’s not the case this time. And it isn’t plot, character, or the like that has me wrapped around the axle. I’m genuinely afraid of failing the story, and this time, my failure would have serious consequences.

TGW didn’t have any cameos of famous historical figures, which was intentional, despite some suggestions that I should do so. Names were mentioned, but no one appeared. This time, the story requires it. I know in my bones this is the best path for the story to take, so there’s no going back and rewriting around it. Not without short changing the story, and I won’t do that.

What about creating a character from whole cloth to fill the role? I certainly could. More than that, I seriously doubt most readers would realize that any such evasion had been done. But once again, it would be taking the easy way out, and the story would be less for it. Besides, I’d know, and it would eat at me every time I looked at the book.

So, who is this character than I’m so concerned about doing justice to?

Harriet Tubman.

Yes, THAT Harriet Tubman.

It isn’t just that I’m a white man writing about a historically significant woman of color (understatement of the millennia), though that’s absolutely a part of it. It’s also the fact that much of what’s known about her is as much folklore as genuine, accurate historical fact. How do I go about parsing the folklore from the history? Yes, mine will be a fictional version of her, in a world of magic, elves, and dwarves, but that doesn’t let me off the hook. If I get this one wrong, I’ll disrespecting a figure of MASSIVE cultural and historical significance. Not to mention someone I admire and respect (which is the least important factor here).

So, what do I do? Well clearly, I need to do research. Careful research. Written by people of color, preferably women, so I can avoid as much bias (unconscious or otherwise) as possible.

It goes without saying that nothing will be from her point of view. I mean, I have a healthy ego, but holyshitareyoufuckingkiddingme (it’s a word!) not anywhere near the Galactus size ego such a feat would require.

Yeah, even The Devourer of Worlds is nopeing out of that idea.

Once I’ve learned as much as I can, all I can do is write the scenes, with as much respect as I can, never for a moment forgetting that I’m treading on sacred ground, and comporting myself as such.

And, lastly, as always, if I do fuck it up, then own my fuck up, do my best to make amends, and do better next time. But really, isn’t that just the human condition? In life we’re all going to screw up, and sometimes those screw ups may have massive repercussions. Avoiding situations that could go badly isn’t any way to live, nor is it a way to write.

Good luck to us all.

Podcast Appearance

Ed, my friend since seventh grade, is a history teacher in Northern California. He also co-hosts a podcast called A Geek History of Time with Damian Harmony, a fellow teacher. They were kind enough to invite me on to talk about my writing journey, and my American Faerie Tale books. I’m a fan of the podcast and if you enjoy history and/or geekery, I highly recommend it, even the episodes I don’t appear in. The episode on Squirrel Girl is on of my favorites. Beware, if you dread puns, stretch your eyes before listening because Damian will have them rolling continually. And good news, the podcast is available everywhere I know of that you can get podcasts!

Home Page

iTunes

Spotify

Hey, Remember Me? Updates and Some Announcements

#SWFAPRO

The title is rhetorical. If you’re getting this, you’ll (hopefully) remember me. Been a while, hasn’t it? How are you? How’s your mom and them? Me? Well, like—I imagine—many of you, I’m still wandering through the pandemic weary world where every day seems to blur into the next. All while lasting roughly 150 years. I’m getting some words down, but never as many as I’d like and mostly just focused on getting from one day to the next.

Now, some announcements:

First, I now have a roommate. Well, it’s a kitten, so probably closer to a landlord.

This is Guinness, and yes, he is as adorable in person.

He is entertaining, a total goofball, and has fondness for human flesh. Specifically, mine.

I’ve had him a few months now and he’s been good for me. It’s my first time owning a cat and I assume it’s his first time owning a human, so we’re both figuring it out as we go.

Okay, now that I’ve hooked you with cat pictures, here is some other less adorable news.

Two-Gun Witch is being editing and should be released early next year. Those of you with good memories might recall me saying something similar about the released date last year. Well, Covid is a thing and it’s caused delays as do the normal, and not so normal, problems that existed before the plague hit. In short, expect to hear more from me as the release date approaches about special pre-order offers and teasers.

And lastly but not least(ly?), there is a new(ish) American Faerie Tale story available! Yes, you heard that right! The Greatest Gift was part of a novella collection a few years ago. Since then, it’s been re-edited, given a spiffy cover (see below), and made available on its own! If you want to know how Wraith spends her holidays, check it out! It makes an excellent gift for family, friends, strangers, the barista at Starbucks who always gives you a little extra whipped cream, or even your cat or dog.

Yes, I know they can’t read! That’s what they have you for.

Fair warning, it’s a Wraith story, which means it isn’t candy canes and hot chocolate, but it has heart. If you liked the rest of the series, I’m confident you’ll like this story too.

So, there it is, short and sweet. I hope you’re all faring well through this, well, this. Hang in there and keeping hanging on. Despite some people (waaaay too many) seemingly determined to drag this out for as long as possible and learn the entire Greek alphabet, we can and will get through it.

And just because it’s that time of year, here’s a short film staring Guinness titled “My Fucking Mouse”.

First Time Spoon Deficit or Plague Make Wording Hard

I never seem to update this blog as often as I’d like. Usually I just don’t have anything of import to share with the world. There’s an awful lot out there vying for our attention, and I feel like if I’m going to take up some of your precious time, I should have something to say.

That’s in a normal year anyway, and I think we can all agree this year has been anything but normal. This year has been (still is) a dumpster fire. A dumpster fire of flaming dumpsters. And those dumpsters are filled with bags of dog turds. And the turds explode. Explosions of murder hornets. With lasers that give you hemorrhoids and make pizza and chocolate taste like brussels sprouts.

In short, this year has sucked on a level usually reserved for Greek tragedies. As such, is it any surprise that so many us are dealing with low-key fatigue and/or depression? For me, it’s like a constant grinding. It’s subtle, and while sometimes it hits me like a brick to the face, most of the time it’s background noise. Regardless, it’s always there and I feel raw—as good a word as any—and tired. Additionally, everything takes more effort now, mental and physical.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hell of time getting any writing done.

"Scream" by anguila40 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
That book isn’t going to write itself

I don’t tend to get writer’s block so much as logjam, but of course I’ve had times where I struggled to get words on the page. Usually I could push through, put butt in chair and after a bit I’d find my groove and get my wording on. But now, it takes a concerted effort to get myself in the chair at all. And then, more often than not, I have to brute force every word. The energy that would produce 5000 words before, now gets me 1000. I’ve dealt with varying levels of depression since my teens, but this is different. It’s not depression. It sort of is, but not quite. Then it dawned on me what was going on: for the first time, I’m running out of spoons on a (near) daily basis.

For those of you unfamiliar with the spoon reference, it’s an analogy used in the disabled community. The premise is that every person has a daily allotment of spoons based on mental and/or physical limitations, or lack thereof. Every task, mental or physical, costs you spoons. Everything from getting out of bed or getting dressed, to hauling boxes of books up and down stairs, or doing calculus. When you’re out of spoons, you’re done for the day; your body or brain just can’t do anything more. This means that someone could only have a few spoons for the day. So, if they want to clean the house and do the things a person needs to do every day (eat, drink, move from one place to another) there are some things they won’t be able to do. Maybe that day they don’t take a shower, or they eat cereal instead of cooking. That’s every day for some people. A constant mental balancing of the spoon allotment. For those of us without a disability, we pretty much have more spoons than we’ll ever need in a day. Sure, some extraordinary circumstances might mean we do run out, but typically we don’t. As such, we don’t think about it. We don’t have to.

I think a lot of people that never had to think about it before, are finding themselves out of spoons on a regular basis. Maybe things cost more spoons, or maybe we just have fewer of them, I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter, it’s the same in the end. I know for me, some days are better than others, but by and large, it’s hard. Everything is harder.

I didn’t write this to garner sympathy, or to shame you into “sucking it up” because others have it so much worse. I did it to tell you that you’re not alone. That you’re not crazy and there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not weak, or a failure, or being overly dramatic, or just making excuses. What you’re feeling is real. More than that, it’s a completely reasonable reaction to *gestures wildly around at the world* this.

Life is hard right now. Really hard. If you’re lucky, you and those you love are safe at home and you’re “only” dealing with isolation. If you’re not so lucky, well, you’re not. Maybe you’re not able to work from home. Maybe you’re sick, or someone you love is. Maybe you’ve lost someone, or multiple someones. Maybe you lost your job and you’re not sure if you’ll have a place to live next month, or anything to eat tonight, or what you’ll do if you get sick.

So, go easy on yourself. Don’t berate yourself if you’re not writing (or whatever your art is) as much as you think you should. Don’t feel guilty because all you managed to get done is getting from one side of the day to the other. You made it. Right now, that’s enough. That’s a win. And I want you to know that I, at least, am proud of you for that.

Another reason I wrote this is because of a blog post Chuck Wendig wrote last month that really resonated with me. You can read it here, and you really should. You should also have tissues handy.

Speculative Chic

#SFWAPRRO

The really great people at Speculative Chic asked me to stop by and talk about some of my favorite things in Sci-fi/Fantasy. I decided to use the space to talk about some really excellent books by women of color. If you’re looking for something new to read, check it out (and the rest of the site too!). Even if you aren’t, you should check out the site.

You can see the post here.

A Big Announcement!

#SFWAPRO
One of the downsides to being a writer is that you often get good news but can’t share it right away. A few weeks ago this happened to me (again) and now I’m finally able to share it.

*drumroll*

Two-Gun Witch has been picked up!!!


(SQUEE)

For those of you who follow my blog posts, you know this has been a long and often daunting road. I feel this book is my best work to date, which it should be in terms of my writing skill, but I also believe this is the best story I’ve written with some of the best characters. For those who haven’t followed my posts, or don’t remember, the short version is that the book got sent around to the big publishers, and a few smaller imprints. Generally (high 90 percentile) the editors really liked the book and wanted it, but the marketing people put the kibosh on it because they weren’t sure how to sell it, or felt it was too much of a gamble (fantasy westerns don’t usually sell well). I knew this would be an issue even though I think it’s more of a historical fantasy; only part of the story is set in the old west. As such, It didn’t take long for me to realize that a small press would be the best place for TGW. They can often take risks the bigger houses won’t.

The book will be published by Falstaff Books. I think Falstaff is a great home for TGW, and not just because they call themselves the Misfit Toys of Fiction, but that helped. I’ve known John Hartness for a couple of years now, and I’ve rarely met someone who works harder for authors and books. Additionally, there will be an audiobook which is something I’ve been wanting for a very long time. I’m super excited (in case you couldn’t tell) and I can’t wait to see what the book becomes.

Obviously there isn’t cover art yet, or a release date beyond sometime next year, but as soon as they become available, I’ll be announcing them here. While I am eager to get the book out, I’m also excited to have the time to build up some hype, get some reviews, and hopefully spread the word. This is of course where you (my wonderful, brilliant, incredibly attractive, spectacular readers) can really help. Have I mentioned lately how much I love you all, you sexy beasts?


(I’m just going to assume this is you)


(or this #BestCompanionFightMe)

In the coming months I’ll be releasing details about the book (see above about hype) and also revealing details about a special offer for pre-orders from The Fountain Bookstore (my local indie, who ships worldwide).

In the meantime, here’s a little something for you wonderful (and did I mention super hot?) people to tantalize. This is a sample flap copy I wrote up last year. If you don’t know the term, the flap copy is the paragraph or two you find on the back cover of paperbacks or inside the flap (hence the term) of the dust jacket for hardcovers. It’s unlikely that this will be the final copy, but I think it offers a good idea of what the story is about.

Talen is a Stalker, a bounty hunter hired by the Marshal Service to hunt down humans stained by dark magic. She’s also a two-gun witch, one of the few elven women who can wield two magical revolvers, spell irons, at once. For three years she’s lived for the next bounty, and a whisper of vengeance for the destruction of her people. That changes when she takes the warrant on Margaret Jameson, a new kind of stained, one immune to the usual tools of collection. Upon finding her quarry, Talen realizes Margaret isn’t stained at all, but someone worked very hard to make her appear so. The search for an answer carries the two unlikely partners from the wilds of the Great Plains to the expansive cities of post-Civil War America. There, they learn the truth is much darker than they imagined, and it could mean the death of millions, or even reshape the world itself.

More to come. Watch this space.

Cancel Culture – A Creator’s Point of View

#SFWAPRO

First off, Happy New Year! I hope 2020 brings much happiness and joy.

To kick off the new year, I wanted to write about something I’ve been seeing more and more talk about: cancel culture.

Now this is going to be on the long side, so:

TLDR: Don’t be an asshole. If you do become an asshole, don’t whine about people calling you an asshole, or try to make them out to be the ‘real’ asshole.

Now, for those unfamiliar with the term Cancel Culture, I envy you. While I don’t usually rely on Wikipedia as a source, in this case, the
definition is sufficient. But, like any sort of social reaction, there is nuance that is hard to easily quantify.

Call-out culture (also known as outrage culture) is a form of public shaming that aims to hold individuals and groups accountable for their actions by calling attention to behavior that is perceived to be problematic, usually on social
media. A variant of the term, cancel culture, describes a form of boycott in which someone (usually a celebrity) who has shared a questionable or unpopular opinion, or has had behavior in their past that is perceived to be either offensive or problematic called
out on social media is “canceled”; they are completely boycotted by many of their followers or supporters, often leading to massive declines in celebrities’ (almost always social media personalities) careers and fanbase.

Some examples of “cancel culture” include, but aren’t limited to: Louis C.K., Shane Gillis, Harvey Weinstein, R. Kelly, more recently J.K. Rowling, and many, many more.


CLARIFICATION VIA MINI-RANT:

What I’m going to go into from here on is about people who say or do offensive things, NOT people who are themselves offensive. Like, for example, people who use their positions of power to get others to do things against their will, and actively work to destroy those who don’t go along with your twisted little fantasies. Those people are predators who need to compensate their victims AND spend a long while behind bars.


As way too many of those on the receiving end of this digital public shaming often shout about censorship and first amendment rights, I’m going to briefly (I hope) digress to hammer that argument into the ground. Apologies to my non-American readers for this. The text of the first amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
Government for a redress of grievances.

The first five words are the key. Congress shall make no law. The first amendment’s purpose and protections extend only as far as the government. It offers no protections from private entities, or businesses, such as social media companies for example. If you work for me and I discover that you like to spend your off time posting about how awesome lynching was, I’m going to fire your ass. Possibly out of a cannon. Into the sun. Some could argue about the fairness of firing someone based on what they do when I’m not paying them, though in my example it would take some serious mental gymnastics. What there can be no argument about, however, is that my firing of the above-mentioned douche-canoe violates their first amendment rights. Congress passed no law preventing them from saying something despicable, I just decided that I don’t want that view point associated with my business. Neither does the first ammendment guarantee you a platform, i.e. social media. When you sign up for any social media account, there is a (often lengthy) terms of service agreement you must agree to. And yet, some insist those companies are somehow obligated to permit any and all speech. To which I can only assume they would have no issue to me sitting in their living room 24/7, shouting obscenities through a bullhorn, and refusing to leave. Free speech, right?

Another unwritten aspect a lot of the first speech enthusiasts seem to believe is that the first amendment also protects them from criticism or consequence. There is so much irony in this idea that I’m amazed they don’t drop dead from heavy metal poisoning. The truth of course is that it ensures the exact opposite. Detractors have the same free speech rights. It should be noted the Supreme Court has ruled that all rights—including free speech—are not absolute. Yelling fire in a crowded theater is the most common example, but it also includes incitement to violence. This is why death threats are illegal, and why you rarely hear direct calls to do violence to others. It’s often coded. Or its weasel worded so the person can say they never actually told anyone to do that, they just said that if it happened it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. This is why no social media is prevented from banning racists or bigots, but those same racists and bigots are allowed to organize protests and marches, so long as they don’t incite violence or put the public at risk.

Some like to include the “war on Christmas” in the cancel culture discussion, but that’s a false equivalency. Someone saying something other than “merry Christmas” does not intrude on your freedom of religion. However, insisting they do, does intrude on their freedom of speech. Also, it’s just a quick path to being an asshole.

Okay, so not so brief a digression. Sorry.

But, Bishop, I hear you ask, what does this have to do with being a creator? Well, I’m glad you asked.

I heard a clip from a podcast in which a group of comedians lamented how hard it was for them these days. They can’t perform at the venues they used to because they get booed/heckled, or just aren’t booked. The reason of course is because their material isn’t “politically correct.” I have several problems with this notion, as a person and an artist.

As a person, I’m sick of the PC boogeyman. No one seems able to agree on what exactly it means aside from: if you say something I don’t like (happy holidays) I can call you out for being rude or insensitive. But if you tell me I said something rude or impolite, it’s being PC. Generally, I try to start from a place of respect or politeness. If someone tells me something I said offended them, or the like, I generally apologize and make a mental note. It costs me little, and it helps me avoid being the asshole. Are there some people who go to extremes? Yes. As humans, that tends to be our default: “If one is good, then a thousand is awesome.” As I’ve noted in other posts, I’ll respect just about any viewpoint, up until it deems someone as less than, particularly if it’s something they have no control over (skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.). Even if it something they do have control over, so long as it doesn’t dehumanize, and all parties involved are consenting adults, I say, you do you.

At this point we come to the crux of the post, apologies for taking the long way around, but I couldn’t find any other way here. As an artist, I’m bothered whenever I hear another artist blame the audience for their failure.

“The audience is too uptight/PC to get my humor.”

“My book is too highbrow for most readers to appreciate.”

“People are too indoctrinated into mainstream music to get my style.”

“My work is just too edgy for most sheeple.”

Two words: Bull. Shit.

If you’re a creative, once you put your art out into the world, you no longer get a say. It belongs to the world and they will do with it what they will. If they dislike it (which isn’t the same as not liking it), it isn’t because of some failure on their part. It’s because of a failure on yours.

Wait! Don’t freak out!

This doesn’t mean you’re a failure as an artist, just that you failed to connect in that instance. That’s what art is about, creating a connection. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t, but you created it. For example, if you’re a comedian and people aren’t laughing at your material, the problem is the material, not the audience.

It’s not unlike when someone puts their foot in the mouth—or their head up their ass—and the defense is that they were taken out of context. In fairness, that can be a legitimate criticism. Using a single sentence from a ten-minute speech could leave out important information and change the tone of that sentence. But typically, “taken out of context” is code for “yes, I said that and meant it, but I refuse to accept the consequences.”

If you say something rude and/or offensive, and that wasn’t your intent, you stupendously failed in your attempt to communicate. And there’s no shame in that, we all roll a 1 sometimes (Dungeons & Dragon reference). Hell, it happens to me fairly regularly (thankfully, more often just saying something stupid rather than outright offensive) and it’s happened in every book I’ve written. Thank the merciful Gods my editors have been great in catching them and helping me do it less, but it still happens. When it does, there are three ways to proceed. Yes, there are more than three, but most are just some variation of these three.

  1. You can acknowledge that you messed up, apologize (sincerely, and no ‘I’m sorry if anyone was offended’ bullshit), and make the effort to do better next time. The last part requires listening to others about where you went wrong
  2. You can do nothing. Just ignore all the looks and comments and go about your day.
  3. You can stand firm, or even double down.

The last two—spoiler alert—are great short cuts to becoming a complete asshat in short order. If the idea of apologizing and “giving in” or “capitulating” makes you uneasy, well, tough. Your job as a creative, or anyone who communicates with others, is to get your message across and understood. It’s not easy, and you’ll fail a lot. Like a LOT. But you won’t improve (as either a creative or a person) if you never recognize your own failures, and certainly not if you blame the audience.

This is how I view my job as a creative anyway, and what I do when I fall short. Maybe something works better for you. Or maybe you don’t care and think that if people are offended, they should just get over it. If you’re the latter, and your goal was to be an asshole, congratulations on your stupendous success.

Writing the Right Way

#SFWAPRO

There is no right or wrong way to write.


Okay, I suppose I should expand a little.

First, this can’t be said enough: all writing advice, regardless of who gives it, is very, very, very (you get it) much your mileage may vary. What works perfectly well for one person is completely useless to another. Everyone has to find their own way to create, and while some pieces of advice can be useful (a controversial opinion from someone who writes a lot of writing advice) it’s up to you decide which is useful to you. As seems to be happening more, this post is inspired by interactions I’ve seen on various social media platforms.

Outline – to pants or plot!

You might’ve come across the terms pantster and plotter. A panster is just someone writes by the seat of their pants, and a plotter, well, plots out the story. I’m 99% pantster. I do create an outline for everything I write, though it’s rarely more than a two pages, three at most. It’s little more than the chapter number, the point-of-view character, and what key event needs to happen in that chapter. With the exception of The Forgotten, every outline I’ve created is generally useless by chapter 4. As the story develops, the sequence changes, new ideas come into fruition, etc. I’ll usually update the outline for a while, but before long I say screw it and just focus on writing the damn story. I’ve never thought of it this way before, but for me outlines are like the towers for rocket launches. It’s necessary to get me started, but it gets left behind in a fiery explosion. Not really. Well, okay, there was that one time, but I can’t legally discuss it.

On the other end of the spectrum, I know authors who build outlines that are nearly novels on their own. For them, this is the skeleton around which the story is built. I also know some people who don’t outline at all. If you find them useful, use them, If not, don’t.

Write the book start to finish!

Guess what? You don’t have to! This can also tie into the different software people prefer. I have several friends who use Scrivener and they love it because they can write chapter 21 then chapter 7 then 8, then 1. Apparently you can also move the chapters around with ease and it’s just awesome. I wouldn’t know as I don’t like Scrivener and thus don’t use it. To me, it’s overly complicated for what I need and while I generally love learning new software, I’m happy to stick with Word and just get the writing done.

I do write from start to finish and in a completely fictional and non-scientific study I’ve done, it appears that those who can and do write chapters (or sections) out of order also rely on robust outlines. As I don’t, I don’t. For me, the story grows and develops as I write it, and the very idea of writing a later chapter before a preceding one fills me with dread. The ability to do so is clearly witchcraft, and while I approve of witchcraft in general, writing witchcraft is beyond me. But you can do that magic, get witchy with it. Just please don’t turn me into a newt. I’m not going through that again.


(college was a wild time)

You must use (enter software name here)!

Yes, I’ve actually seen this argument and, you guessed it, it is grade A bullshit. Use whatever works for you (are you noticing a recurring theme here?). G.R.R. Martin uses an old DOS machine running WordStar because it works for him, and he’s George R. R. Martin so people work around it. I use Word because I’ve used it forever, or at least since Word Perfect died, and I know how to use it. In the past, I’ve written long hand (my hands hurt just thinking about this), and used word processors, as in an actual word processing machine. They were like computers that only ran Word. I’ve also used manual typewriters, not because it was iron but because that was all that existed. Yes, I’m old, get off my lawn.

To make a long story short—too late—find what tools work for you. If the ones you’re using don’t, try something else, and keep trying until you find something that does. I’m a computer geek from the way-way back, when the old ones walked streets lined with boothy-phones and the internet was called Encyclopedia Britannica. So, I prefer to do all my work on a computer. I outline, keep notes, create story bibles, write, and edit on a computer. Some people can’t edit if they don’t print it out and mark it up, which is cool for them. One author I know uses a whiteboard and 3×5 cards to plot and layout a story. It’s a little too Beautiful Mind for me, but she rocks it and good on her.

TLDR: Writing can be hard. Chuck Wendig—very funny man and skilled writer—once said something along the lines of: writing can be rainbow unicorns that poop cupcakes, and sometimes it’s digging ditches. I imagine many of you reading this know the truth of that statement. Writing is hard, so don’t make it any harder than it needs to be. Grab a shovel, even if that college professor, famous author, weird guy on the street, the Dalai Lama, or a weird Dalai Lama on the street said you should dig with your hands first. It’s a creative process and no one knows how to do it your way, but you. If anyone tells you otherwise, tell them I said they should piss off. This will probably confuse them, but if they’re Catholic it could terrify them, so, have fun with it!


(Avoid all advice from the Llama Dalai Lama)

Imposter syndrome (A Long Hiatus)

#SFWAPRO

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.

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.