There are a couple of common issues in the writing community: Comparisonitis and Imposter Syndrome. Let’s talk about those for a sec, shall we? (No, this is not a “woe is me” kind of post. It’s just a thing I keep seeing cropping up and want to share my irrelevant opinion.)
Comparisonitis is the writing “disease” in which you compare where YOU are as a writer to someone else. For example, I published my first book not quite a year before my writer friend in Canada published hers. Within a month she had outsold me by a factor of at least 10.
Part of my brain said, “Well of course she did. She’s a much better writer than I am.” She also wrote in a more popular genre than I did, and to top it all off…
She actually told people she had done it. She also used her real name, which surprised me, and which is why I did NOT tell people. I didn’t want people in my day-to-day life reading my books. I have enough HR troubles as it is.
So some people hit “publish” (or actually get a traditional publishing deal) and immediately think that Stephen King money is going to start pouring in. When it doesn’t, they begin to question. Is it their writing? Is Stephen King some kind of alien that can mind-control people into buying everything with his name on it? (Yes, I think that one is true. It worked on me, anyway.) Why am I not, after my very first book, where Stephen King is 40+ years into his career?
Hmmm… let’s ponder that.
The cure for comparisonitis, of course, is to stop comparing your career with anyone else’s. If you must compare, compare where you are now with where you were a year ago. Two years ago. Five. Ten. If you don’t have that many “agos”, you have your answer. Publishing is a long game. You may become an overnight success, but chances are it will be after at least a decade of busting your butt to produce the best work you can. If you have that decade under your belt (which I don’t), you can still bet good money that you are more successful now than after your first book. (Assuming you have put out at least a book a year — which I have not.)
Comparisonitis is damaging. To your ego, to your productivity, potentially to your career. (If you call it that. For me, this is still a hobby.) If you let other people’s success take the wind out of your sails, you’re not going to get very far at all. You’ll be dead in the water.
No one wants that.
On the other end of the spectrum is Imposter Syndrome. The Big Bang Theory had a line in their final season (one of the last five episodes, I think), where Sean Astin’s character said something to the effect of, “I feel like we’re imposters. Like we don’t deserve this honor. I think there’s a name for it…” at which point Amy (Mayim Bialik) shrieked, “It’s Imposter Syndrome, and you don’t have it, because you ARE imposters!”
Before I get into why I love that sequence, let me explain (again, I guess) what Imposter Syndrome is. It is believing that any success you have received is undeserved or a fluke.
Let’s say you achieve that impossible goal of making the New York Times Bestseller list. Now the pressure is on to write the next book. Each time you sit down to write, you may be thinking, “This is crap. If I turn this in, everyone is going to know that I’m a fake. A fraud. A con artist. A charlatan.” As in, the book you already wrote was outside the norm for your ability, and THIS book is going to show what you’re really capable of, which is — at least as far as the Syndrome is concerned — not much.
Now here is why I love that Big Bang Theory sequence so much: Just as with Sean Astin’s scientist, I don’t have Imposter Syndrome, because I really am an imposter. There was a semi-recent entry here (though I think it was from last year, which would mean it got nuked in the host move) where I talked about being a con artist. The difference is that I knew up front I’m not a very good writer. I don’t have some crazy way with words that suddenly I think is less good. I suck. I know I suck. Anyone who has read anything I’ve written (including this blog) knows I suck.
Yet I still put out a book in 2018. And then another in 2020. I’m working on yet another (fingers crossed). And each time I am asking people to give me money for a product I know will break the first time they play with it. Is it a lot of people? No. I will never make any bestseller lists. But because I am asking people of their money, it’s a con. I, Darren Blake, am an imposter.
But back to the syndrome, which is a real thing. If you believe you’re an imposter, you probably have it. If you have done any amount of work to make your product the best it can be, if people have bought your product, like your product, and want more of your product, congratulations! You are the real deal. And if you sit down to write your next product thinking that it’s all about to come crashing down around you, you also suffer from Imposter Syndrome.
The only cure I have heard for Imposter Syndrome is to try to have faith in yourself when the doubt slaps you upside the head. Create the work you think will reveal you for the fraud you aren’t. When that is also well-received, celebrate it, because the truth is that there is no cure for Imposter Syndrome.
Sorry. That’s just the way it is. You will always have fear. You will always have doubt. You will always question the sanity of anyone who claims to like your books or your art or your music. You will always wonder if you’re really any good, or are all these people just lying to you to spare your feelings?
No. No, we’re not. Trust me. On the internet, if we don’t like something, we’re not afraid to tell you. TO. YOUR. FACE. (Or the electronic representation thereof.)
So don’t compare yourself to other people. That way lies madness, and not the good kind. And have a little confidence that you are at least a passable writer with a basic grasp of the language you speak.
When you slip… and you will slip… forgive yourself, pick yourself up, and keep going.
WRITING IN PUBLIC
Wanna know the reason this wasn’t a “woe is me” blog entry? Come in here a little closer and I will whisper it to you. Closer… Closer… Okay, ready?
THE CURSE IS BROKEN!
This past Friday (yes, as this posts — I did not write this entry last week, thank goodness) I wrote nearly 1,300 words on a new book! Shockingly, it is neither Comedy of Terrors II nor Axe to Grind. It is the first book in what I hope becomes a series about a super hero (a term which I cannot use in the book due to the dual trademark by DC and Marvel) who juggles her heroics with being a stay-at-home mom. The book chronicles her first outing in public as a hero and the attention it garners from the local hero group. Is she a force for good? Is she a harbinger of evil? No, she’s just a mom doing what she can to save the day whenever possible.
So here is the downside to being a Pantser / Discovery Writer: I have no idea what the central conflict is going to be. I have no idea who the antagonist is going to be. I don’t even know how she got her powers, though I’m sort of leaning toward being born with them dormant and manifesting at some point in her early adulthood. (Not a Marvel Mutant, but more like Kal-El from Krypton, only taking longer.) If Kal-El or alien is the direction I ultimately go, she doesn’t know about it yet, only that she suddenly got the ability to fly, punch things, laser vision, and a couple of other Superman abilities, but without the invulnerability that can sometimes make Supes boring. If you shoot her in the head, she will die.
Why am I spoiling the entire plot (as it currently exists)? BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER READ IT ANYWAY, even if I ever do get around to finishing and publishing this thing.
I’m just glad I finally WROTE something.
The first two scenarios of the introductory adventure for Skull & Shackles are complete! And we need a Holy Candle — which does not exist in this set. I almost want to pull in Rise of the Runelords just to snag the Holy Candle… but I feel it would be cheating. Plus, if we do not have the crutch of extra turns, we have to use our turns more wisely. Right? (*whimper*)
Gamex 2021 will be virtual (again), and again I will not be attending because I’m too lazy to look up the details. Not only that, but Memorial Day weekend is up in the air for me health-wise. I am scheduled for my second vaccination dose that Thursday, and I don’t feel like I can commit to any activities in case I get hit with the Dreaded Side Effects.
Wait. That’s supposed to be for the next section!
I had my first vaccine this past Thursday. Took Friday off JUST IN CASE. Ended up with a slight bit of soreness in my arm, but not enough to stop me from writing. (YAY again!) Later in the day I got a bit sleepy so took a nap, and woke up with a very low-grade fever. Took another nap, and it was gone.
All in all, not bad as far as side effects go. But it was only the first dose. The second, they say, can be much worse. People I know range from “big fat nothing” (sez roomie who downplays anything actually important and blows minor crap way out of proportion) to being sick from “that night” all the way into the next week.
I’m hoping for more toward what roomie claims, but I’ll have a five-day weekend to cope.
In other news that didn’t fit in the main section, as of TODAY (when this posts), I am working in a new office. I have not seen it yet, but I have been to the building. It was locked, because I got there after they closed. I will miss most of the people in the main office, but this is hopefully going to work out better for me commute-wise.
We shall see. I will report more on this in the next entry.
Rachael Herron says on her podcast a lot: “Give yourself a little grace.” I find her to be a goddess of writing advice, because it radiates kindness and compassion for her fellow writers.
No matter where you are on your writer’s journey, give yourself that same grace. If you’re not making Stephen King money, cut yourself some slack. He’s been in the business a LONG TIME, and the business has changed a LOT since he started. I guarantee you, if a young Stephen King published Carrie TODAY, it would not have made the same blip it did in 1975 or 1976. [Fact-checker Note: 1974.]
Do you. Do you as well as you can.
And then do it again.