What makes me think I'm qualified to give writing advice?
Sure, there are days when I think I'm doing good work, but what if on those days I'm delusional? The publishing contract I got with Penguin/Ace? Sheer luck, obviously. My fabulous agent? Either she didn't know what she was getting into, or she took pity on me because she's a nice person. Readers who write to let me know they loved my books? Clearly misguided.
I am an impostor, or so my internal critic wants to tell me.
Since I'm also a mental health counselor I happen to know there is a name for this problem: Impostor Syndrome.
I borrowed this definition from Geek Femininism Wiki:
"Impostor syndrome describes a situation where someone feels like an impostor or fraud because they think that their accomplishments are nowhere near as good as those of the people around them. Usually, their accomplishments are just as good, and the person is applying an unfairly high standard to themself (and not to others). It's especially common in fields where people's work is constantly under review by talented peers..."
Sound familiar? Every writer I know is aiming for perfection. And we are constantly under review by - well - everybody.
Have you ever felt like your successes are all due to luck, kindness on the part of others, or some sort of fluke? Or worried that you're a fraud and others will find out you really aren't a writer after all?
If you ever feel this way, you're in good company. Impostor Syndrome is a common disorder among high achieving, perfectionistic type people.
Even Maya Angelou once said: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ ”
Impostor Syndrome can lead to procrastination and prevent us from trying out new opportunities, so I work hard to counteract this kind of thinking. When it comes up I run myself through a little belief challenging exercise, and I thought I'd just share the basic steps with you.
1. Clearly state the belief. In this case, something like: "My writing is horrible and my books do not deserve to be published or read. Therefore I have no business call myself a writer or talking about how to engage with writing."
2. Question the belief. Now you become an investigative journalist (one with integrity; we're not talking Fox news here) This means keeping an open mind and looking into the evidence to see whether the belief is true or not. For example:
An editor saw enough value in my novel to acquire it. Editors are busy people, and they are also business people. They do not have the time to invest in a book just to be nice.
Or, my critique partner believes this book is ready for submission. In the past, she has been perfectly capable of pointing out flaws and weak spots. I believe she is trustworthy and wouldn't lie to me just to be nice.
Now maybe, just maybe, the truth is that your writing isn't ready for publication and the inquiry reveals that. If fifty agents have passed without any positive feedback, or a whole string of editors have passed without any positive feedback, and the only person telling you your story is good is your mother, this could indicate that you have more work to do.
3. Choose to accept or reject the belief. Once you've examined the evidence, what does a clear and logical evaluation tell you? Are you really an impostor and a fraud, or is it possible you're a fairly decent writer with something to contribute?
4. Act accordingly. Don't let negative self talk hold you back.
If you'd care to read more on this subject, there's a great article about the whole impostor thing right here: Afraid of Being Found Out? How To Overcome Impostor Syndrome