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Dealing with Imposter Syndrome - The Motive Center
March 20th, 2005
10:12 pm


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Dealing with Imposter Syndrome
Just went to a meeting of the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America, which spans Maine to Connecticut, which was a very good time. Romance writers, contrary to popular belief, are among the most professional and productive writers I know. I'll never forget the time Toni and I went to the Romantic Times conference (she was nominated for an award), and someone asked Toni "how many books do you write a year?" "Um...one? Mostly?" There are people writing four romance books a year or more regularly. This is impressive! (They also dress better than other genre writers for some odd reason...)

Anyway, I wanted to discuss a topic that came up both here and at Sleuthfest, which is about not believing in yourself. It's called the Imposter Syndrome, and yes, I discuss it in the book as well as including an exercise to analyze your own self-image. Basically it is the feeling that, no matter how successful you might appear to be, that you are really just faking it. Someday people will come into your home and strip the shelves of the awards, the books, your computer, and declare that you are a fraud. I heard Barry Longyear comment that he had this all the time, and he's certainly a multiple-award-winner as well as a helluva good writer by any standard. (Go. Read. Now.)

But I digress. How do you deal with the Imposter Syndrome? That's what I want to discuss care of Bob Williamson, head of the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) Florida Chapter.

Bob was trained as an engineer (if I am remembering properly), but in one of his classes he was trying to design in a baroque style. He was having a hard time, and he told his professor "I'm just not a baroque designer." The professor responded: "Well, think of what you would do if you were a baroque designer--and do that!"

In other words, pretend you a were baroque designer. I thought this was a rather neat idea--it is saying, "no, I'm not really like this--but it's okay to pretend!" Strikes me that this is using the Imposter Syndrome to your advantage.

The truth is: Everyone's faking it. You just get better at it over time. Look, you can be a world-famous, beloved, and wealthy author, or you can just fake it so well that you become a world-famous, beloved, and wealthy author. Who's going to be able to tell the difference?

I see writers setting absurd standards for themselves, mostly because they don't realize this basic truth. When you pick up a book in a store, you are reading the last draft someone produces. Maybe the first one sucked--but you'll never know. Don't judge your first draft by their last. Pretend to be a writer, and do that!

Current Music: Fakin' It

(8 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:March 20th, 2005 08:04 pm (UTC)
Really enjoyed your NEC talk today (as did everyone else if the chapter email loop is any indication). The four plus books a year thing is not typical of romance writers, but I know it makes for a funny story. :) It is true, however, that for single titles, one book a year often seems regarded as a minimum. For the shorter formats, e.g., series romances, it is true that some writers publish 2-4 books a year.

Thank you again for a very entertaining talk.

[User Picture]
Date:March 21st, 2005 12:08 pm (UTC)

NEC talk

Thanks! I do know 4 books a year is not typical, but romance is the only genre I can think of where it is considered within the normal range. Top speed for mysteries is about 9 months per (hence, three in two years); on rare occasions 6 months per (2x year), usually only for newbies with three already ready to go. SF and Fantasy, one a year is generally fine, and in fact if you want to do more, you often have to do a different series, as Harry Turtledove does.

Glad it was so entertaining. I'm very curious as to what's going around the email loop now...
[User Picture]
Date:March 20th, 2005 08:46 pm (UTC)
Imposter Syndrome! I knew it had a name. Now I have something to call it when that creeping feeling hits me that everyone else is so much better than I am and I'm just faking it.

Still waiting for Amazon to ship the paperback edition of your book. Not sure what's up with them.

Post your speaking dates! If you come out to the Northern California area and the gig is open, not private, I'd love to come down and listen to you talk.
[User Picture]
Date:March 21st, 2005 12:10 pm (UTC)

Arrival dates

Yep, that's the name. People have written books on the subject; I just cribbed the title and concept...Don't know why Amazon is so slow; I know someone who got the hardbound library edition last week, and I've seen it on shelves in Borders here in Boston.

I'm behind on my speaking gigs--sorry about that. My next is in Florida again, though in the Panhandle this time. (It just worked out that way.) I'm trying to set up a few things as well! So far, none in Northern California, but I do have that client in San Francisco... I'm also hoping to set one up in London!
[User Picture]
Date:March 20th, 2005 08:56 pm (UTC)
Interesting, Steve! Never heard of that syndrome before, but I like the idea of pretending. That somehow feels safer. Now I can pretend I'm an artist. :"D

As to Romance writers, I'd never heard of Nora Roberts (aka J D Robb) before, but I'm thinking she's not real, or is a fembot! I swear, that woman has no time to eat!

Thanks for the post, the ideas and the inside take on the industry!
[User Picture]
Date:March 21st, 2005 12:12 pm (UTC)

Nora Roberts

Here's my next book: "Be an Artist--or Just Look Like One!"

Nora Roberts clearly needs a water-cooled keyboard to keep it from melting from friction! You know she wrote a book collaborating with herself?
[User Picture]
Date:March 21st, 2005 11:45 am (UTC)
Oh I've had this! Not in connection with writing, but with my RL job, which I quite enjoy. I keep getting this feeling that 'someone is going to find out' or 'they're going to realise about me', this is despite the fact that I was responsible for winning the project a major award. *sigh*
[User Picture]
Date:March 21st, 2005 12:14 pm (UTC)

Imposter Syndrome

Oh, it's hardly limited to writing. I get it once in a while, even though I am evidently a top world authority (maybe even the top world authority, which is scary) on what I do (scaled leadership competency development and appraisal). I can't help but feel sometimes that this is because of insufficient competition, or perhaps lack of market knowledge...
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