Impostor! Impostor Syndrome and You

Have you ever felt like you don’t actually deserve the attention or success you have had? Do you ever feel like the good things that happen are because of something outside of your control or a mistake someone else made regarding you? Do you feel like if people actually knew and understood, they would take away those successes?

Well, my friend, you just may be suffering from Impostor Syndrome. And let me tell you, it’s not the most fun thing in the world.

Impostor Syndrome is defined as a persistent, internalized fear that you will be exposed as a fraud, that your successes come from external sources rather than your own abilities and self-worth (source). It is a trick that causes us to doubt the worth of our work and our successes and feel as if we don’t deserve the good things that happen to us.

And it’s often our brains lying to us.

Unfortunately, this is a common feeling among high-achievers, particularly women (though this idea may be incorrect… some emerging evidence suggests it affects men and women equally). I first encountered this idea while I was in grad school, and I think it’s pretty relevant to writers, too. We can experience this feeling when we receive compliments or awards or publications, any time our work achieves some level of success or recognition. It keeps us from ever feeling like we have made progress in our skill, talent, and career. Even the greats, like Stephen King, will tell you they still don’t feel like masters (see his book, On Writing). Many writers who have “made it” still feel like impostors. Just like us.

You see, we consistently put our souls out for the world to see whenever we share our writing. It is easy to think that people who say negative things are correct while those who say positive things are just “being nice” or have fallen for a “trick” of some sort. We attribute what success or acclaim we gain to luck rather than our hard work or our talents.

And this is unfair to us and our readers. Let me tell you why I think this.

When we shrug off a compliment and tell ourselves it’s not because of anything we did, that people will figure out soon enough that what we did isn’t worthy of attention or adoration by anyone, we prevent ourselves from taking pride in a job that not everyone can or will do. Writing is hard business. And by ignoring or downplaying the compliments or good reviews because of our feelings, we are invalidating our worth and the worth of our work. That’s not fair to you.

On the other side of the coin, when you ignore or shrug off a compliment, readers do not find it attractive or humble. It can be just as invalidating to them. You are telling them that their opinion doesn’t affect you at all, which can translate to you not caring about their opinion. And as writers, our life and the life of our stories depends on readers. We need connections, and we need to make our audience feel appreciated. If they took the time to write to you or leave a review, your work affected them. End of story. Say thank you and accept the praise.

So next time you’re feeling like a failure, remember that it might not be true. Take a few minutes to step back and look at your feedback. Don’t dwell on the negative reviews (people tend to remember the negative over the positive, no matter the difference in numbers). Realize that not everyone is going to like your work, but that doesn’t say anything about you as a writer. Take pride in your successes, accept the accolades you receive, and most of all, keep writing no matter what your mind tries to tell you.

Because as long as you keep creating, these feelings lose.

Your turn: Do you have any suggestions for dealing with impostor syndrome? Anything to add? Tell me in the comments below!

Don’t Stop Dreaming.

The writer life can be hard.

“Duh, Selina. We’re writers. We know.”

Okay, I know you know. And I’ve definitely talked about it a bit before in a post all about discouragement as a writer. But let’s forget all that for a minute and talk again.

Last year, I called it quits on querying my now-on-Wattpad novel This Cursed Flame. It was a really hard decision, but ultimately, I made it for a lot of reasons. The time wasn’t right to find an agent for that book. And in the time since then, I’ve poured my energy and the time I had into my next book, Foxfire, which is finally in draft 3 and in the hands of a critique partner and beta readers. This is the next book I can’t wait to query.

But in the meantime, it feels like my writing career is stagnant. I feel like my dream is impossible. I feel like I will never accomplish my writing goals. I feel like I should give up, I feel unfulfilled in my day job, I feel like a failure. All because I’m not querying right now.

How silly is that? My first book wasn’t right for the current market, and I don’t have anything else ready, so obviously that means I’m a failure as a writer.

It is so easy to fall into these traps, especially in the early days, when the writing and publishing industry still haven’t accepted you into their ranks as a Published Author. But it’s important to keep things in perspective. Remember that you’re doing everything you can, that you haven’t given up, that you are creating something great and making it the best version of itself that you can make it.

So shove that little failure demon back in his hole. You’re not failing. I’m not failing. We’re not failing. And in the meantime, don’t let this feeling keep you from dreaming.

Your turn: Can you relate? Do you have other big writing demons on your back? Tell me about them! How do you deal with it?

 

When You Don’t Meet Your Goals

So NaNoWriMo was in the month of November. Show of hands, who participated? Who is close to completing the goal? For me, yes on the first and no on the second.

Unfortunately, while I participated in NaNo this month, I was not able to complete my goal. I am not going to be able to reach 50k unless something really drastic happens. I was on track for much of the month, though, and I did write over 30k, which is still the most I’ve ever done.

And I have to admit I’m disappointed in myself. I feel like I let myself down. I feel like I let my fiance down, since he was rooting for me so much to reach my goal. And worst of all, I feel like I let my dream down.

So what happened?

Very simply: life.

Long version: I was on track, then I had a friend visit for a few days, so I was entertaining instead of completing my writing. Then I went home for Thanksgiving. Then I was in South Carolina for the weekend. And by that point, I was hopelessly behind, even though I did try to catch up when I could.

Now, this is the second time I have attempted NaNo. Last time I made it to 14k before I called it quits. That time, it was an intensely stressful month and the onset of a depressive episode that blocked by path. This time, it was poor planning. But I still got closer than last time.

So how do we handle it when we don’t meet our goals? Here are some tips that I’m trying to keep in mind and might help you also.

1.  Acknowledge how you feel. Don’t try to bury your anger or guilt or sadness or whatever other emotion developed from you failing to reach your goal. It’s okay to feel. Let yourself feel it. Just don’t let yourself stay there and sit in the mud.

2. Evaluate what happened. Take stock of the situation. What prevented you from reaching your goal? Where did it come from? Be realistic: was it preventable?

3. Cut yourself some slack. Don’t beat yourself up for failing. If you really tried, then you still accomplished something that hadn’t been done before. In the case of NaNo, if you wrote at all, you still added words that didn’t exist before November. Just because you didn’t finish the entire goal doesn’t mean you deserve to feel like crap about it. Life happens. Things happen. We mess up or get lazy or have too much to do. It’s okay. Accept it for what it is and strive to do better as best you can.

4. Create an action plan. After you figure out what prevented you from reaching your goal, set up a way to reach your next goal. For example, since I didn’t complete NaNo this year but still want to, I will alter my approach next year. I will weight the writing at the beginning of the month so that I have the room to spare at the end, when holidays and life really get in the way. If illness got in the way for you, like it did for me last time, make a plan to address it. If it can’t be resolved or won’t be resolved for a time, create a plan to cope and fit your writing in around it. Remember: your health always, always comes first.

5. And most of all, don’t give up. Yes, failure can feel very personal and devastating. Don’t use it as an excuse to throw in the towel. Pick up your manuscript and keep working on it. Just keep putting those words one after another, and you’ll get through it. Don’t stop writing, and don’t give in to whatever negative emotions come up.

There you have it: advice for the writing failures in your life. I hope this list of tips is helpful to you. For now, I’m going to shift back to my own writing now. I might not be able to complete the 50k this month, but I can do my best to get close.

Happy writing!

The Comparison Conundrum

So today I got an email.

Nothing special there, right? I mean, I get at least a hundred emails per day, mostly because of my problem with subscribing to too many author newletters. But this email wasn’t one of those. No, it was a Goodreads email, a monthly YA newsletter.  I scrolled through like normal, then I got to an author profile. “Oh, cool!” I thought to myself. “This is kinda like me. PhD student to writer.”

I kept reading. Not only was this person a PhD student, but she wrote her debut novel while at MIT. Awesome for her! But it didn’t stop there. She was a neuroscientist.

I stopped reading, and all my feelings changed. Instead of the connection and interest I had felt at seeing someone like me, it shifted to jealousy and a case of “why not me?”

You see, I wrote my first novel (well, my first completed and polished novel) while I was in grad school. For neuroscience. But unlike her, no one offered to represent my book. It sat in the query spiral for two to three years before I finally decided to pull it and publish it on Wattpad (you can read it here. I’m publishing it in serial form, which you can read about here).

Let me tell you, it is not a good feeling to see someone like you, only better (at least in your mind), succeeding at your dream. And not only that, but she used her science, like me, to influence her writing. I felt like my identity as a writer had been stolen.

Side note: if we, as writers, are truly honest with ourselves, jealousy is a very real issue that we all face at some point in our careers. It’s okay to feel jealous, as long as you don’t act inappropriately because of it and as long as you strive to get past it.

Here’s where the comparison gets deadly. It would be so easy for me to just quit trying at this point, to say that my voice can’t possibly matter because someone like me did better. To say that my voice has already been heard.

But that isn’t true. Even if you find an author similar to you, who did the things you did, even if they seemingly did better at it, that doesn’t mean your voice shouldn’t be heard or that you aren’t succeeding at life. It also doesn’t mean that their story is the same, and by its very nature, that means your storytelling is different.

Success is relative, my friends. For me, grad school was a monster with teeth and poison, and I had to deal with that while pulling myself out of it and completing my degree. That severely and negatively impacted not only my health but also my productivity and creativity. But I graduated, and at that time, that was a huge success.

I found a science job I love, and I excel at it. That is also success.

I love to write. I’ve written a total of four complete novels in the last five years and have polished, cleaned, and queried one of them. I’ve entered two short story contests and was a finalist in one (the other one is still pending).

This is my success, and all of these things are my story. No one else has exactly my story, though it’s the relatability of my story that can connect to others.

I love to write and I keep sharing it with others. Putting my dream into perspective, that’s what I wanted all along. I wanted to share my work, to make connections with people. And I’m doing that. Yes, I also want to be a published author, so very much, but just because the book I queried wasn’t right for the publishing world at this time doesn’t mean it’s a bad book or that I’m a bad writer. On the contrary, I’ve gotten a number of compliments on my writing and on that book, from beta readers, other writers, and industry professionals. As writers, we need to separate our ability and skill from the publishing market, because the market is fickle and relies on what the publishers decide is marketable…not on how good a book is.

I know it’s hard to avoid, but comparison is the killer of dreams. Once you start going down that alley, it’s a quick spiral into “not good enough”s and “why bother”s.

But here’s the truth of it: no matter what someone else has done, no one else can tell your stories that way you can. And no one should. Don’t let self-doubt and criticism and jealousy win. Write. Listen to the criticism of others. Rejoice in the success of others. Let your doubt make you more determined, and let your voice be one well-regarded and respected among your peers, no matter how well you are achieving your dreams. Don’t give up on those dreams.

Keep writing, and keep telling the stories the way only you can.