The Masquerade copyright amalie
This year, I volunteered at the Writer’s Symposium at GenCon. Partly, I did it because I was late registering for events/panels which led to me being unable to get tickets for many and this left me with a lot of extra time on my hands and, partly, because I like volunteering and I like meeting writers/authors; they’re fun people to hang out with and I find I learn more from these casual encounters than I do from a traditional workshop or panel setup. And, all right, if I have to, yes, I did volunteer out of the self-serving desire to make my face known. Writing is a small field, comparatively, and SF&F writing is even smaller. I’d prefer people to know me as the helpful volunteer than the submitter asking for publication.
While I was volunteering, a topic kept coming up with a number of professional and hobbyist writers, the idea of being an imposter. The hobbyists didn’t usually have the words to express it (and neither did I, until someone else gave it a label), but what they described was almost exactly like what the professional writers who talked about it did, and is exactly what I’ve been struggling with for awhile now.
This feeling like you’re only pretending, and one day, everyone is going to figure out you’re a fraud and you’ve duped them into thinking you’re a “writer” (or, in the professional field, an “author”). This feeling that, no matter what you do, it will never be good enough, that you’ll fail no matter what you do, so why bother trying in the first place? This feeling like, even if you do succeed, it’s luck, not skill, because that’s all that runs this business, isn’t it? Chance? Luck? Someone in a good mood picking up your manuscript on a good day and thinking, “Yeah, this might have potential, maybe?” And more likely than not, they’ll be in a bad mood on a bad day, read it and think, “This is crap. What fool thought they should submit this?” Right?
I’d been sitting next to a writer in one of the hotel bars (if you know the Indianapolis Convention Center, you know there’s, like, five hotels all connected to the center and a hell of a lot of bars) when I heard, for the first time, a label for this feeling. I’d always thought it was something true to me (oh, self-centered creature I am), that no one else experiences this because no one else is quite the fraud I am. He’d been drinking his second Gin and Tonic, I was still nursing my shot of scotch (some seriously expensive scotch, but it’d been a gift for volunteering, in a roundabout, gift-card way) and he’d confessed to feeling like a fraud. Which made no sense to me. This man is a published author, he’s got books on the shelves, short stories in anthologies, had just submitted his most recent MS to a major SF&F publisher. How could he be a fraud?
And then he went on the describe the same damn feelings that I’ve been fighting against, called them “Imposter Syndrome,” and said that these were common feelings among writers, that a lot of us struggle with feeling like we’re lying to the general populace and, one day, someone will figure it out. Not only that, but we often feel like outsiders, even among our own, because we fear our own will finally notice that we only painted ourselves to fit in with the rest of the “real writers” and are, in fact, lying our asses off.
Today, I woke up feeling like crap, the little gremlins in my head whispering, “What makes you so special you think you can waste someone else’s time with your words? You’re not anything of worth!” Which is probably why, instead of writing like I’d meant to, editing my first chapter, extending chapter eight, and pushing forward in twelve, I instead spent my day binge-watching City Homicide (which I recommend to anyone looking for another cop drama to fill the hole until regular TV starts airing their new seasons).
Between episodes, I Googled “Imposter Syndrome.” And, oh, how much information I found. Yet, there was nothing about writers struggling with it. Mostly, it was about women in cooperate fields or working toward their degrees to work in cooperate fields, and I did learn that, while it’s not considered a DSM disorder, it was named during the 70’s and it’s recommended by the nameless, faceless people of the internet that people suffering from Imposter Syndrome should talk to a therapist.
Which helped. But didn’t. I mean, it helps to have a label for it, since now I can see it as an enemy I can fight, and know that this isn’t “normal,” but it also isn’t “truth” either, it’s something that my brain made up and drilled into my skull for years. I do wish that there was more information out there for writers suffering from Imposter Syndrome (the only blog I could find on it talked about how the writer got past her Imposter Syndrome when she got her first case of her books, which didn’t really help me work through how I feel now, just give me the promise that, one day, I might not feel like this anymore).
But one of the things that the blog asked was for writers suffering from Imposter Syndrome to talk about it, to share with other writers looking for answers their story, and, through sharing, let them know they’re not alone. Which, I suppose, is why I wrote this. In part, it lets me declare this is a problem I’m struggling with and make it into something concrete I can work against, and in part, if someone else is fighting with Imposter Syndrome (or has struggled with it in the past and moved beyond it), they can share this space with me.
Masquerade copyright Michael Brack.