With the holiday season quickly approaching, so too does the age old question: What do you want?
I've been told I'm a fairly easy person to shop for. Candles are always welcomed. I'm always up to add to my eyeshadow stash or expand my earring collection. In true CatMom fashion, "If you don't know what to get me, get something for my cat" has become a common phrase for me since Willoughby came into my life—and several people have followed through with that, adding a cat toy to whatever they've gotten for me.
One thing people tend to gift me is notebooks. As someone who prefers to write their first drafts by hand when possible, notebooks seem like a good choice.
When getting a notebook with the intention of giving it as a gift, so much thought tends to go into it. The details of cover, the feel of the pages, maybe coordinating it with a matching pen. In the past, I've been given notebooks that are bedazzled, baring a Jane Austen quote on the front in gold script, or filled with portraits and facts about inspiring women through the years from Marie Curie to Amelia Earhart to Maya Angelou to Malala Yousafzai.
One of my closest friends gave me a personalized leather-bound journal with my pen name emblazoned on its front shortly after I launched my blog, and I almost cried upon unwrapping it.
I haven't cracked any of these open, save for the Jane Austen one I used to take down notes during an online course focusing on her life (which you can read more about here). This was several -years after the notebook came into my possession.
I'm never not grateful for these gestures, but receiving a pretty notebook can lead to the opposite effect and induce imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is the frequent doubt of your abilities or belief you’re not good enough at something even though there is significant proof of competence, which can lead to a subconscious fear of being regarded as a fraud.
I've talked about this as far as my presence and activity on social media goes with what I've come to call Kool-Aid Man Syndrome, but I haven't gone into imposter syndrome in relation to writing itself.
Everyone is bound to face imposter syndrome at some point, regardless of our profession or where life takes us. It's something I feel I've been dealing with in a greater amount since beginning to submit queries to literary agents in the hopes of gaining representation for Bound to the Heart and having gotten a couple of declinations along the way. Opinions are subjective, tricky things, but seeing someone isn't interested in something you've poured yourself into wields a harsh sting, and you start to wonder if you're really cut out for this profession despite it being your absolute passion. Wondering if you truly belong in the crowd or have any chance of fitting in with the cool kids, aka published authors.
Since I'm currently in the midst of another imposter syndrome slump and the gift-giving season is upon us, I figure it's time to sit down and talk about this.
Recognizing Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome can take a few different forms depending on the person. For some, this drives them to work harder and prove that self-doubt or external influences wrong.
I tend to fall into a writing slump, maybe only adding a couple-hundred words to my WIP if that.
Imposter syndrome slams the brakes on my creativity. Hard.
It's a heaviness that cannot be easily shaken. It just sits on my shoulders or hangs over me in a pall or descends in a fog across my mind.
I'm not a speedy writer. On a good day, I make it about a third to halfway through a chapter, but I'm typically in the 500-ish-words range. When imposter syndrome rears its ugly head, that number plummets.
In most cases, I try to shift gears and distract myself to take my mind off things. Imposter syndrome for me is more linked to my fiction, so I tend to focus more on blog-related work when it strikes; to be completely transparent, this post is actually the third I've written in the span of a few days following a thanks-but-no-thanks from an agent.
Blogging isn't a guaranteed fix, though. Right now, I have a list of topics I want to cover, a couple of which are linked to specific dates like the end of year wrap-up and subsequent post about what I'm hoping to accomplish in 2021.
However, when I don't have this kind of to-do list, blogging can be difficult. Not knowing what to write about adds another layer to my feelings of imposter syndrome because not being able to come up with an idea for a blog post on the spot leads to the fear that I've burnt myself out. An additional facet of this is when a quick Google search for inspiration brings up a list of ideas often geared towards authors who have already published a book or have one releasing soon. I'm not able to do a cover reveal, for example, because there is no cover to be revealed, so that's not exactly a helpful suggestion.
When the creative juices dry up and leave me feeling like I'm in the middle of a drought, that's when my impostor syndrome is at its worst.
Sometimes, taking a break from writing (and not letting myself feel guilty because of it) is all I can do. It's on these days that I'll indulge in some retail therapy, fire up The Sims for an afternoon, or take care of some things I've been putting off like organizing my makeup.
I eventually am able to get myself back to focusing on my WIP, but I do try to allow myself a grace period and not expect that I'll be running full-throttle as soon as I open the document again.
The Pretty Notebook Predicament
Perhaps one of the most unexpected things that can induce imposter syndrome is being given a pretty notebook.
There's a bit of pressure that comes with it, especially when the notebook is a thing of absolute beauty and when you know it was chosen specifically for you.
The first rule of writing a first draft is that their only purpose is to exist. They are not pretty. They are not perfect. That's why we edit.
Editing is there to breathe life into your writing. To polish it until it shines. Arduous as it can be, editing it the light at the end of the tunnel because I know I can fix absolutely anything wrong in the first draft and dive more into the things I love about my story and the discoveries I make along the way.
First drafts are about playing and experimenting. Taking a stroll through the world you've created. Living alongside new characters we writers are prone to bond with as friends or family of flesh and bone. Cheering them on, recoiling in secondhand embarrassment, and feeling their agony.
The first draft, in many ways, can be the one that provides the greatest thrill and most escapism. There's a freedom to it not necessarily as present in revisions where you have to put on a more pragmatic hat and view the story from a critical lens.
Somehow, that first draft is so daunting. The better it is, we tend to think, the less there will be to do down the road. Fewer things to change.
On top of that, with a notebook, there's a sense of permanence. A quick strike of the Backspace or Delete key wipes away your mistakes as though they never occurred.
Ink does not provide that luxury. Even a pencil mark you've erased still leaves a trace. We can only cross them out, cover them in a layer of White-Out, or write over them. No matter what we do, those mistakes will always be there.
For me, the pressure of writing in a pretty notebook lies within that indelible mark and a fear of tainting it with imperfection despite that being the essence and purpose of a first draft. When someone goes out of their way to choose the perfect notebook for me, I want to create something worthy of the gesture.
And yet, I do the opposite by letting them go unused and leaving them to sit on the shelf, their pages barren while I continue to buy droves of one-dollar composition books, writing in those with far less inhibition. They're not pretty. They get the job done.
Just like the first draft they contain.
I want to believe there is some subconscious influence on this. There were so many outfits my parents bought me growing up that I never actually wore because there was the fear of it being stained or dirtied, and that bit of disappointment when a brand-new shirt ended up in my "play clothes" drawer after wearing it once because I decided to roll around in a mud puddle or spilled a drink on it.
Bound to the Heart especially exposed me to the craft of bookbinding. The precision and care that goes into a finely crafted book is extraordinary. For there to be anything else inside seems almost sinful or dishonoring it.
Imposter syndrome exacerbates this, turning it into a fear of the inevitable imperfections. The notion we must write something beautiful in a beautiful notebook.
In the end, the fear of not creating anything good causes us to not create at all.
Working With, Through, And Past Imposter Syndrome
Does impostor syndrome ever truly go away? Can it be beaten?
Regardless of how much confidence you might have in yourself and your work, there are going to be times where the doubt starts to creep in once again.
Maybe you are in the drafting phase of a story you were excited to jump into but realize you need to rework your outline and don't know how to handle it. Or you're checking your email and find that an agent you hoped to work with has passed on your book after what seemed like an endless wait. Or you've finally achieved your dream of being published and get hit with a scathing review that's several paragraphs in length.
I try to look at these times from three different angles: working with imposter syndrome, working through it, and working past it.
Working with imposter syndrome is about acknowledging that it's there. Recognizing it has set in and not letting myself get down about. Remembering that it's happened before and will happen again without fail. This is the phase where I try to establish what specifically causing this bout of imposter syndrome, not to dwell on it (or at least try not to dwell on it), but to determine the cause. If it's a relatively minor thing, say not feeling good about a conversation I've written, it might mean moving on to a different area of my WIP and coming back to the problem when I'm in a better space to tackle the issue. When it's a more significant issue, that's when I tell myself it's okay to walk away and take a breather.
Working through imposter syndrome is what I'm doing with this post. Finding a way to still be productive in some capacity where I can. If I can't focus on fiction, I shift to the blog. When editing is too taxing, I start planning for my next WIP so I have something to look forwards to. Motivation like this is one of the things that helps me get through a stretch of imposter syndrome. This too shall pass and soon enough I'll be able to get myself back on track.
Speaking of passing, working past imposter syndrome starts with going back to the project. Even though I know I won't necessarily be making a ton of progress with it right away, the importance of that first session back after taking a day or two away is not to be underestimated. It's about saying, "You know what? Yeah. Yeah, this thing that happened sucks. But it's in the past."
Take the lesson and learn from it, but don't let it rule you. Bouncing back is one of the best feelings, even though it can be hard to take the plunge back into the fray.
I'm sure there are a few people who come to this post hoping for an answer on how to cure imposter syndrome, or at least an easier way to cope with it. I don't want to disappoint, but I'm not sure that there is a perfect solution.
One thing to remember is that this is universal. Challenging as it can be, I try to avoid comparing myself to other writers out there, recently taking more breaks from social media so I don't become overwhelmed by being surrounded by success stories while I'm trying to write my own, but there are plenty of posts floating around about the difficulties of being a writer, including imposter syndrome.
Seeing someone mention they're dealing with similar feelings towards their project doesn't fix the problem, but it does provide a sort of comaraderie. That we're all in this together, just at different places in the journey.
No story is perfect. The things that one person likes about it might be what someone else dislikes. I don't know of anyone who enjoys receiving criticism that isn't constructive, and this is something that can cause imposter syndrome to take hold. Just because your story is not one specific person's thing doesn't mean that it will not be any person's thing.
Try to remind yourself of the things you love about your writing without shrugging it off.
Modesty nourishes imposter syndrome. Telling ourselves something is good but not *that* good or not as good as this thing or that thing plays into the belief that it's just not good, period. It adds fuel to the fire that is doubt, which can ultimately consume us if we're not careful to control the flames.
Just be sure that you don't do this so much that you become completely closed off to all feedback. Take the good with the bad, but place a teensy bit more attention on the former where possible.
Rekindling The Spark
Remember what I said earlier about they way some writers approach imposter syndrome by letting it push them and inspire them to prove outside influences wrong?
Persisting in the face of doubt is nothing to scoff at. It's something to take pride in.
Being able to look back and realize how far you've come can be one of the greatest rewards of success.
Allow yourself to reflect on where you were when you started writing. What drove you to this particular story? What about the concept gripped you and refused to let go until you wrote it?
Questions like these are often what I turn to when I need a boost of confidence. Writing is a compulsion. Even when I take a day off from a project, there's always a part of my brain itching to get back to it. When that part of my brain is smothered by the smog of imposter syndrome, the questions fixate on the issues causing this shift in perspective and fixing what is wrong, but the focus is always on writing. Reminding myself to focus on the positives and my personal draw to the story rather than trying to perfect it for someone else is one of the things that helps ease my feelings of imposter syndrome. The doubt doesn't go away instantly, and there is always a speck or ten of it lurking somewhere in the recesses of my mind, but steering myself away from that kind of antagonism is the first of many steps to combat imposter syndrome.
In truth, it's a never-ending battle, but one worth fighting.