Last weekend I was honored with serving as a Guest Speaker at the DFW Writers’ Conference. It was my second year to do so and it went spectacularly well. In addition to participating on several panels, I taught a class on writing fight scenes (more on that in a second), and gave one-on-one critiques/consultations with authors.
It actually surprised me that I had two authors (well, three because one was a writing duo) actually pay a good deal of their hard-earned money to have me offer my opinion of their work. The week before the conference I was emailed ten pages from each of their novels to review. Now, I’ve been in workshops for many years. I’ve given hundreds of such reviews, but those were workshops with numerous members and offering a wide-range of opinions, not one-on-one paid consultations. Horrified that I’d disappoint them, I pored over those pages, marking every single item that I thought would be helpful. And yes, I found many things that I could help them on, and feel that I did as good a job as I could, but the entire time I was thinking, “Why me? There’s a million better authors out there. Real authors.”
In the end, the consultations went better than I could have hoped. Both gave me sincere thanks for all of the critical and helpful advice. I don’t doubt their sincerity one bit. I wish all the best for them. But even then, while they were clutching their pages, slathered with my red ink and notes, and thanking me for all my help, there was still a little voice in the back of my head screaming “Fraud!“
I sold my first story in 2006. My debut novel released three years ago and my sixth book will be coming out later this year. Two of my audio books were Audie Award finalists, I’ve sold thousands of books, I have actual fans that reach out to me, yet that little nagging bastard of a voice still wont shut up.
In 2016, when I was asked to speak at that DFWcon, several of the local presenters got together to work on our presentations. Tex Thompson (who is one of the coolest people, and quite possibly an actual living angel) organized it, and during our first meeting she asked if we had any concerns. I sat silent, afraid to say what it was. Then Dantzel Cherry raised her hand and said, “I’m just going to address the elephant in the room: Impostor Syndrome.”
That was the first time I’d heard the term Impostor Syndrome, but I knew exactly what it was. I knew who it was. It’s the name of that asshole voice screaming in the back of my head any time anyone called me an author. Not only did I know that voice, but I’d thought I was the only person who even heard it. Everyone else was a real author or a real editor. I was a fraud, a fluke, some idiot that had just gotten lucky and fooled my way into their company. Tex (who I can’t stress enough is fucking awesome) assured us that we all deserved to be there. She must have seen the doubt in my eyes because she looked straight at me and gave me an assuring nod.
It helped. It helped having a name for that voice. Soon I discovered how many of us have that voice – way more than I’d have imagined.
While at this years’s conference I was talking to a few of the authors and one mentioned self-doubt. They were referring it in relation to self-doubt being an obstacle that must be overcome in order to finish and sell your story (which is very true). I warned that self-doubt never goes away after they’re published. It just morphs into Impostor Syndrome. One author laughed and said they couldn’t wait until then because those of us with Impostor Syndrome have at least been published. I couldn’t argue. Hopefully they’ll become one of those authors that sells their novel and never once questions if they’re frauds.
Sunday afternoon came time for my writing fight scenes class. It was in the last schedule bracket for the conference. I’d assumed that few people would show. It had been a long weekend and a lot of people would be heading out and going home. Why would they stay for some 15th rate author like me?
I admit a moment of terror when I walked in ten minutes early to setup my laptop and this very large room was already full of people with more filing in every second. I’ve done this presentation before. I have it down and I think it’s pretty good (or at least entertaining. I even give a bad Keanu Reeves impersonation during it). But I’d never given it for this many people, and many of those faces in the crowd were real authors, active members of the writing community, people who I’d somehow slimed my way into their company and was referred to as their peer. After a brief technical difficulty in getting my ancient laptop to work on the projector, I began what would be the final presentation and many people’s final memory of the conference.
It went amazingly well.
Better than I could have imagined. Not only did no one stand up in the middle of my class and scream, “You don’t know shit!” but it ended with a lot of applause, and people rushing up to thank me. It was incredible.
After 20 minutes of shaking hands, I strolled out of the room for Tex to tell me all the praises she’d heard about my class. It felt good. It felt incredible.
Once I got home, and still riding the high from the response I’d received, I posted my experience on my Facebook wall.
See that reply? That’s a sincere congratulations. That’s someone complimenting me.
Do you see my response? That’s me downplaying it. I even added a smiley. But that’s not what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say was the echo of that little gremlin of a voice. “Don’t call me famous.”
Even while strutting on Cloud 9, happy as I can be at a job well done, I can’t even for a second pretend that I’m something that I’m not. I’m an author – an obscure one at best. That’s simple fact. I’m hoping to fix that.
But one thing with Impostor Syndrome, even if the stars align and I find myself in a position where I’m no longer obscure, will I accept that? Will that gremlin ever go away?
I don’t know. But like that wise author said when I warned them of the gremlin’s existence, I can’t wait to find out.
So in case you’re wondering why I’d post a blog lamenting about my own demons after what was by all accounts a triumph, the reason is simple. This is for all those authors who still wonder if they’re good enough. This is for all of you who downplay everything you do and lie in bed wondering when someone will figure out that you don’t belong.
You’re not alone.
Just keep telling that voice to shut up.