Helpful Ways to Best Your Worst Enemy

You’ve written a novel, a handful (or a boatload) of short stories, flash pieces or essays. You’ve queried, suffered rejection, and maybe been published. You’ve enlisted beta readers and participated in critique workshops. Others (not just your mom) have complimented your work. So why do you still sometimes feel like a fraud?

Turns out Imposter Syndrome is actually a thing, a recognized condition common in creative fields, especially among those who’ve already had success. It’s the feeling that sooner or later, everyone around you is going to figure out you’re not that good. They’re going to discover that you aren’t who they thought you were (a great writer), and they’ll hate/ridicule you for fooling them.

Imposter Syndrome is a case of being one’s own worst enemy because that fear undermines the creative process.

I’d felt this myself for years without ever knowing others did too until the last year. In that time, I’ve heard writers say it a lot, both in my online community and my realspace community. Its effects also touch celebrated best-selling authors like Maya Angelou, Neil Gaiman and a host of others, so at least the rest of us can find hope in knowing we are in good company.

Numerous websites offer advice on dealing with Imposter Syndrome. The Writers Hub offers five strategies that might help, one of which is to work with others—critique groups and beta readers, things I’ve recommended here before. I know this always helps me to renew my confidence and will to keep writing. These groups become a critical support network that offer reality checks and assist in maintaining balance and focus.

The Writing Cooperative talks about “Imposter Thoughts,” including “You’ll never be as good as (insert vaunted author).” Ever felt that way? I know I have. Then I remember that my critique class instructor noted in one class that she could see in my work the influence of Frank Herbert and Ursula LeGuin. Granted, she wasn’t saying my work was as good as these Big Names. Still… Ho-Lee Cow! I danced a spontaneous jig right there in class. That kind of feedback is so uplifting!

Mel Wicks says, on Smart Blogger, that one trick to beat the “Imp” is to keep yourself busy. Don’t sit around waiting for success or failure. Jump right into the next project. This has been my S.O.P. Otherwise, I drive myself nuts (short drive, I know) obsessing over whether my work made a good impression on Agent/Editor of the Week/Month (wherever I last submitted). Distraction is a useful skill. Make it an art.

As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, I entered Pitch Wars back in late August. Now, almost a month later, none of the mentors I sent to have requested my full manuscript. Michael Mammay, author of Planetside and one of the mentors to whom I submitted, commented on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that he imagined mentee hopefuls were “starting to see the handwriting on the wall.” While I’m sure he didn’t intend it in this way, his words sucked all the wind from my sails and shot down my lingering hopes for landing a menteeship. Yet he went on to say in further comments something even more memorable and encouraging: Don’t self reject.

I’ve not seen it included in any of the Imposter Syndrome articles, but I wonder if “self-rejection” and the Imp are related. Self-rejection is when you assume your work is sub-par and therefore don’t submit it anywhere. It’s when you give up before you have the chance to succeed. I can see it reflected in symptoms of the Imp’s presence, wherein a writer doesn’t follow through on a project, never completing it because it will “never be good enough to be published.” I can so relate. A recent personal experience brought this home to me in a very vivid way.

I penned a short story last year about a Mayan woman and her daughters living in the cloud forest of Guatemala. The tale is short, capturing the harsh reality of their lives and how they cope. A surreal element winds throughout the narrative, which I won’t reveal here (I want you to read it one of these days!) but which made me think it might be a decent fit for a particular national contest. So I entered it.

A couple of weeks later, I began to believe it would never win, that it wasn’t really a good fit and I’d wasted my time. No big deal, I thought. It didn’t cost anything to enter, and in the meantime I had plenty of other projects to tend. The winners were supposed to be announced (I thought) in mid-September. I could wait that long to submit it elsewhere.

Mid-September came and I went to the contest’s site to see if the winners had been announced. I would swear I saw names listed for the third quarter, so I assumed mine did not win and I submitted it to a magazine. Twenty minutes later, I searched through my e-mails for something totally unrelated and found a message I’d missed from a week before that said my story made it past the first round of judging and had been passed on to the head judges.

Oh the shock!
Oh the thrill!
Oh the rush to withdraw it from consideration at the magazine where I’d submitted!

Because of this experience, I’ve kept Mr. Mammay’s words in my head. It’s easier said than done, as even he might admit, but it’s worth the effort. So I keep working on other projects while reminding myself that Pitch Wars ain’t over, and the contest winners haven’t yet been named.

After all, until we open Schroedinger’s box, the cat’s both alive and dead. Right?

Doggie Disguise photo by Braydon Anderson.
Handshake photo by RawPixel.
Photos courtesy of Unsplash.