April 27, 2016
I’m launching a new book in September and as part of the audience building process, I’m trying to do a better job maintaining my own blog. Regular posts about interesting topics are supposed to build readership. With this in mind, I diligently wrote out a list of topics I’d like to cover in the coming months, figuring that if I had a topic list, I couldn’t use the “I have nothing to say/write about” excuse.
Today I opened a blank Word document with the intention of covering one of my planned blog topics, and I hit the wall of doubt:
No one will read it.
No one will find it interesting.
No one cares.
It’s not that I don’t have direct experience to refute these soul-crushing beliefs. My posts here on OYOL and elsewhere have generated decent traffic, likes, and positive comments. I also have a confidence in my writing abilities and know that on the writing quality spectrum, my work lies closer to “award winning” than “trash bin.”
Yet, doubt lingers. Last week a piece by Eric Barker called “How to Beat the Imposter Syndrome” appeared on The Week. In general, I’m pretty confident about the quality of my work (see graphic, above). But…I do have some of the hallmark characteristics the imposter syndrome:
I agonize over flaws in my work
I’m (perhaps) excessively honest
I downplay my successes and highlight my failures
If someone asks me about my fiction, I’m more likely to tell them what it isn’t, than what it is. Underselling is no way to promote a book in this age of indie publishing, but I despise all those posers who churn out substandard work and crow about it everywhere on social media. And I’m terrified of being perceived as one of them.
A couple years ago after I released my first two novels, I was chatting with an acquaintance about her book club. This woman perfectly represented my ideal audience—a highly educated, feminist literature aficionado who also liked science fiction and fantasy—so I mentioned my first novel and suggested her club consider reading it. Reluctance blossomed on her face—a look that said “oh no this crazy poser person wants me to read her lousy book; what should I say to politely escape?” The acquaintance made a tepid promise to take a look, and we never spoke of it again. My conclusion: if this smart person thinks my work sucks, it must suck.
So perhaps I do indeed have some imposter-y feelings to overcome.
Eric Barker suggested 3 steps to overcoming the imposter syndrome:
- Focus on learning and improvement, not on being “the best”
- Aim for “good enough” and accept that perfection is unattainable
- Take off the mask, meaning share your fears with others and you’ll probably find they feel the same way
I already do the first two steps by nature. Step 1 is mainly about not being crushed by criticism—I actually thrive on constructive critiques because it means someone is paying attention, and I love attention. I’m also very good at translating critique into revision, and I get a charge out of how people react to improvement. Step 2 is a no-brainer for me too. As a lazy not-quite-perfectionist, I excel at triaging tasks and cutting bait when I’ve done A work; rarely do I strive for an A-plus. (Though I sometimes publicly berate myself for laziness, I’m secretly proud of my efficiency.)
Ah, but then there’s step 3. That darn mask poses a helluva a barrier. I’m shy by nature and have also cultivated a reserved cool that makes it just as hard to reveal weakness as to tout my strengths. Also, in my upbringing, it was bad manners to share one’s struggles and triumphs alike. One should let one’s accomplishments speak for themselves. And yet…in our business of writing, we MUST remove the mask. So here goes. I’ve written this essay and invite others to chime in with their stories of imposterism in the comments.
What say you? I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.
To read more letters, click on The Path!