Imposter Syndrome and the Writing World

Recently, I came across a few posts about Imposter Syndrome. Along with that link, there is a very good personal essay about one woman’s experience with it over on Geek Feminism.

The short definition is “Impostor syndrome describes a situation where someone feels like an imposter 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 being needlessly insecure.”[above link]

I was struck when I first started reading about this, because it absolutely describes the problems I have faced in trying to learn more about computer technology. I’ve wanted to learn various things, but feel that I’m not good enough, and I frequently find myself denying what I know I’m good at. I’m always second-guessing myself.

And then I realized that it’s not just the geeky stuff that it affects; it affects my writing, too.

If someone asks me about my writing achievements, I will certainly mention what I’ve done, but I’m quick follow up with “but.” “But I’m just e-published.” “But I haven’t sold much.” “But it’s not that good.” I don’t feel like I have made any huge accomplishments to be proud of, in part because I’m not published through a big New York house. Realistically, that is becoming less important every single year, and even if I were, I think I would still feel the same way.

It’s something I hear a lot from writers. I’ve been in a lot of writers’ groups, and it’s so very common that someone will get published, but still feel like they’re some kind of sham. That it’s not real. That they’re making it up. I suspect the “sophomore novel” blues that frequently are discussed have something to do with Imposter Syndrome — we have trouble believing that what we’ve done is real and valuable, and now that the whole world is looking at us, now they’re going to see what a farce we really are.

This year, I wanted to submit ideas for panels to my local SF convention. I went last year, and they had a wide range of panelists. Many people only had short story publications, and some were not even published, but had real life experience in what they were talking about. Despite having several e-published books, I couldn’t believe that anyone would take me seriously. I was convinced people would just laugh at me. That they’d see that I was some sort of fake, a fraud. And then came the shame, that, who the hell did I think I was, trying to present myself as some sort of expert? What the fuck was I thinking, that I had anything worthwhile to share?

All these things ran through my head, and my gut twisted and turned, and I just let the deadline pass, because deep-down, some part of me doesn’t believe that I have the credentials to speak on — well, any issue. And truthfully, I don’t think it would be any different if I were NY published. Because I have seen the same thing from NY published authors.

And it seems primarily a problem that affects women. We are so devalued by society that it is hard for us to believe that our ideas and experiences are worthwhile. It is hard to believe that there are those that would value our expertise when it is still common to run across people who tell you to shut up and demand to speak to a man instead. It’s something that is reiterated through all our lives, when as kids boys are called on more often in class to answer questions and rewarded more.

Even now, just writing this, my gut is twisting and I fear that I’ll be ridiculed for speaking about this with any sort of authority — because, after all, don’t others have it worse? Aren’t there other people better able to speak? Why should anyone believe me?

It’s part of what led to a breakdown the other night when I received a hurtful comment related to some of my writing. The comment came from someone I trusted, and the novel the commentary was about was one that I had some amount of confidence about. The end result being that I was completely torn up and questioning whether I should even keep at this thing, because, well, obviously I’m just a fake and not anywhere near as good as I think, and I should just give up and make way for Real Writers…

And I know that’s bullshit. I really do. And I suspect some people are going to be rolling their eyes here and thinking that I need to get some self-confidence. But it isn’t about that, really. It’s a cultural issue. Otherwise this wouldn’t be so common. Otherwise you would not see professional, published authors, some of them award-winning even, convinced that they suck.

It’s not generally talked about. I think it needs to be. I think that’s the only way that it will ever change — that we speak up about our fears and our doubts and these deep feelings that we aren’t good enough. Because, you know, I can’t put into words how it felt when I first read that article on Imposter Syndrome. I just about burst into tears, because, oh my gods, there was someone out there that was going through the same thing. It wasn’t just me. I wasn’t crazy.

And I’m writing this, and I’m convinced that I’m going to be told that I’m crazy, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that it isn’t that big a deal, that I need to suck it up, that I’m some kind of fraud, that I can’t speak about these issues, that this isn’t a real issue, that I’m just making it up. I’m scared to the point of my gut knotting and feeling like I’m going to throw up. But I have to write this, and get it out there, because if I feel this way, there have to be others. I know there are others.

This is a discussion that we need to have. Let’s start.

Women in Urban Fantasy, and Mistreatment Thereof

I love urban fantasy. I have for years. I started out with Mercedes Lackey’s Diana Tregarde series, then discovered Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books, and longed for more. For a long while, it just didn’t exist. Annnnnd then it boomed.

Unfortunately, there’s a pattern in urban fantasy that I have a huge problem with and has been turning me off the genre more and more. And that’s the treatment of women in urban fantasy. You would think this wouldn’t be an issue. After all, most urban fantasy these days features a tough, competent, kickass heroine. What could go wrong? Well, a lot of things.

Most prevalent is the overwhelming tendency to completely defang women. Hear me out. Most modern urban fantasy has a heavy romantic subplot and borrows heavily from romance tropes. Being a writer myself, I follow a lot of writing circles, and I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “I have this awesome heroine, but she’s so capable, she does everything! And I need to make the hero sexy! And nobody will find the hero sexy if the heroine can do better than him!”

Ignoring the obvious solution of having the hero and heroine have completely different and complementary strengths, far too many writers go for the TSTL solution. If I had a penny for every time I saw a heroine do something completely out of character… *sigh*

Like, oh, storming off for no good reason and doing something utterly stupid that nobody competent in their field would do. Usually because, well, the hero suggested it, and thus he must be wrong. And if there was a good reason for the heroine to disagree, great! But that’s often not it at all. It’s a matter of cutting off her nose to spite her face. It’s a plot device to put the heroine in a position where the hero has to come to the rescue and save her from her own stupidity — and frankly, this is just insulting. And it’s common. Ridiculously common. And it’s lazy writing.

It’s one thing if, hey, the heroine runs into odds that she can’t beat, or an enemy that’s stronger than her, or gets outwitted by someone equally as capable. But that’s not what’s happening. These are situations the author is forcing the heroine into by making her act out of character for the purpose of giving the hero a moment to shine. Why not put the characters in situations where both their skills are needed? But, that wouldn’t allow the heroine to be the damsel in distress, now would it?

One of the other major issues in urban fantasy in regards to women is how the heroines relate to other women. In a genre that is so focused on strong female characters, it is pretty shocking how few heroines actually have relationships with other women. Often, other women are not friends and allies, but the enemy. Often, the heroine looks down on other women. And you see the same trope over and over again — the leather-clad dark and tortured gun-toting heroine whose strength is all physical or perhaps supernatural.

This is really just the whole “girl in the boy’s club” thing rearing its head. Femininity is derided while masculinity is put on a pedestal. Rarely do we see women who enjoy feminine things, and when we do, it’s usually a slight touch rather than an integral part of the character. Even Anita Blake, with her stuffed penguin collection, dismisses and derides other women. It’s been a long time since I read the books, admittedly, and I haven’t read the recent ones, but of the early series, all the characters that I recall her being close to were male.

(Mind, the problem is not that masculine-leaning heroines exist. The problem is that they are the sole archetype that we see commonly in urban fantasy heroines.[1])

Very few urban fantasies actually pass the Bechdel test (two women, who talk to each other, about something other than a man). For a genre that is supposedly woman-focused, that’s just sad. Where are all the relationships between women? Most of us have friends who are women, mothers, sisters, aunts, etc. Where are they?

So what’s the solution here? It comes down to writers being aware of the social implications their fiction will have. Because words have meanings, and stories have power. If they didn’t have power, Piers Anthony’s Mode books wouldn’t have helped me when I was a suicidal teen, and Mercedes Lackey’s books wouldn’t have helped me come to terms with my bisexuality.

When even supposedly strong heroines are undermined at every turn and cannot succeed without the aid of a man, the underlying message is that of Well, if $awesomecharacter can’t do it, why should I believe I can? Women are already at a disadvantage in society, with all the negative messages lobbed at us. We should be able to read fiction that empowers us, not reinforces that we are nothing without a man.

I am not saying that heroines should be all-powerful, because that would be boring. But if you’re writing about a top-notch FBI agent, you don’t have her forget basic gun safety. You don’t have her barging into trouble without thinking about it. You don’t have her so distracted by the hero’s good looks that she misses the villain’s move and gets trapped (and yes, I have read this). It sends a very negative message.

So how do you get around it when you need the heroine to screw up somewhere? Well, make it a believable screw-up, not something that a rookie would do (unless your character is a rookie, but most of the heroines I’ve seen in urban fantasy are purported to be some of the best at what they do). Or, hey, maybe she doesn’t have all the information, makes a decision on what she knows, and then finds out that she was missing a vital piece of the puzzle.

But you know what I’d love to see more of? I’d love to see more heroines who get themselves out of that pickle, rather than heroines who have to be rescued by the hero. But, how do I manage an alpha hero and heroine and their power struggle without having one or the other knuckle under? Not everything has to be a power struggle, although they can be fun to write. The best alpha heroes I’ve read have been adept in their own field but respected the heroine in hers and listened to her opinions. But what if they’re both experts in the same field? Well, hey, they’re probably going to argue — but the automatic reaction shouldn’t be for the heroine to be the one who’s wrong. Mix it up a little. Or hey! Maybe they’re both wrong.

There’s a lot of focus on alpha heroes in urban fantasy and a need to make them sexy. You know what? The sexiest heroes I’ve read aren’t the ones who are always rescuing the artificially created dumbass heroine — they’re the ones who respect the heroine, her abilities, her strengths, and love her for who she is. The ones who aren’t threatened by a strong woman. The ones who know when it’s appropriate to take a backseat. The ones who know when it’s time to stand their ground, and when it’s time to say, “Hey, you know more about this than I do”, or “I don’t agree, but let’s compromise.” It’s not an all or nothing situation.

I’d love to see more women who have relationships with other women, too. I’d also like to see a greater breadth of heroines — heroines of color, heroines with disabilities, queer heroines, etc! Or hey, maybe not the heroine but a lady friend who is one of the above, or someone deeply involved in the story. I’d love to see more focus on this, because the lone uber!heroine surrounded by a sausage-fest is getting old.

This is something that writers have the power to change. Let’s change it.

[1] I know there are exceptions to this. Please do not focus on them. This is a widespread issue, and the fact that there are exceptions does not negate that the overwhelming majority of urban fantasy heroines fits only one archetype.

Also…

I really need to update this thing more often. I’ve been posting a lot on my LiveJournal, but it occurs to me that I really should write here, too. I’ve kept this mostly free of my personal life, but I’m beginning to wonder if that was the wisest decision. Due to my various illnesses, I have periods where I’m not actively writing and thus this blog gets awfully quiet.

Honestly, not sure anyone is reading this anymore. I only ever get comments from spammers. Iff’n y’all are still reading, gimme a poke, willya? πŸ™‚

Current projects

So I actually have been writing lately. πŸ™‚

I finished up revisions on a Shadowguard prequel, Severed Spirits Rising, the other day. I’ve been sitting on it for, man, a couple years now. I had some really nasty crap happen right around when I finished it that resulted in me leaving it be. That, and the fact that Shadowguard has not sold as well as I would like; as much as I love the setting and characters, I can’t justify spending the time with it right now.

I found that it was on the upper end of acceptability for Tor.com, so figured, hey, what the hell? It’s just sitting on my hard drive. So I fixed up the ending and my writing buddy Robert spent all night going over it with me and tightening so it fit the word count limit. We’ll see where that goes. I’m trying not to get my hopes up, since I’m competing with authors like Catherynne Valente here, but hey, what the hell, right? πŸ™‚

As far as other writing, I’m working on Stronger than the Night again. This one has come and gone so many times over the years. It’s in the same setting as the Shadowguard stories but told from a different perspective; where Shadowguard focuses on Arielle and the FBI side of the world, Stronger comes at it from the side of the “monsters”, the paranormal underworld. Initially, I wrote it nearly ten years ago, when I was 17, but I’ve changed and grown a lot as a writer since then. (I should certainly hope so!) I started rewriting it a few years ago but stalled out with all the drama.

I picked it back up again to finish recently. And I made a massive change to the story. I’ve made a somewhat interesting revelation recently, which is that I’ve had a very hard time writing romances, or romantic subplots, with men. It’s not that I have anything against it, but I’ve been wanting to write love stories between women for years now, and I kept putting it off because — it won’t sell, or nobody wants to read it, or I shouldn’t write it because people in my crit group think I shouldn’t.

And I was thinking about Stronger and a thought came to me. What about changing the male lead’s gender? What about making him a woman? I initially disregarded it but it kept nagging at me, because Alex always was a more feminine sort of guy. Feminine man but he’d be a slightly butch woman. And then I realized that it fit in with the rest of the theme of the planned series. The rest of the books? Book 2 is a lesbian romance, 3 is a gay romance, and 4 involves a transgendered woman as love interest. Starting off with a straight relationship didn’t give a good idea of the rest of the series.

Plus, it’s something a little different in the sea of dark broody alpha males. πŸ™‚

I have a couple other things up my sleeves but they’re taking backseat to Stronger right now. I have twelve scenes left and then I’m finished with the book! And then I get to jump into revising the first half of the story, which needs some fairly massive work.

But there is progress! πŸ˜€

Writing As A Vocation

I’m blogging today at The Novelty Girls about my writing doubts. Seems we’ve determined that “my” Inner Dickwad gets around a lot. πŸ™„

I actually wanted to expand on something I said there, but wasn’t immediately relevant to the post. I mentioned that writing is my calling, and for me that’s been very true. I’d told stories from a very young age, but it wasn’t until I was eight and started writing more frequently that I realized it was what I wanted to do with my life. Being a kid and all, I sure as hell had plenty of other things I wanted to do — primarily, veterinarian or nurse. But that one thing always stayed with me: Writing.

Several years ago at this point (wowÒ€¦ it’s hard to believe that much time has passed), when my Dad and I were butting heads because I wanted to leave college and he wanted me to be an English professor, I wrote him a letter explaining my plans — and how I felt about writing. Something I said in the letter:

Ultimately, I have to follow God’s will. I have to follow what feels right. This is not new. This is not some harebrained plan I just thought up. This is something I’ve wanted since I was eight years old. It’s a calling, just the same as a shaman is called. Some people have worked damn hard at crushing my dream, and they nearly managed to. [Former writing group] restored that, and I’ll be forever grateful to them for that. I can do this. I have a confidence in myself and my abilities that I never had before.

This isn’t just a hobby. This isn’t even just a career. This is me.

 

Certainly, a lot has changed since I wrote that letter. Obviously, I’m not Christian anymore, and I’m no longer at my former writers’ group. While I am still grateful for everything they did to help me, the circumstances under which I left wereÒ€¦ not pleasant, to say the least.

But my feelings toward writing haven’t changed. I still view it as a deep calling. I’ve dealt with so many doubts since I wrote that letter Ò€¦ I’ve had so many people nearly convince me that I shouldn’t waste my time; that I should go back to school and get a “real” job Ò€¦ I’ve looked at other things so many times, but nothing calls to me like this. There are other things I could do well, but they would be so intensive that I wouldn’t have much of a life. (Of course, the whole fibro issue complicates things.)

Recently, I’ve been back to wondering if it’s the right thing — maybe I really am wasting my time here — maybe —

Then I think back to my accomplishments over the past year alone. I’m finally making serious progress. I need to learn how to work with stress better than I have been, but Ò€¦ this is what I’m meant to do. And I can’t go letting some stupid stuffy Inner Dickwad keep beating me down. πŸ˜•

Now that I’ve gone baring myself here πŸ˜‰ how do you feel about writing? Am I the only one who feels so deeply drawn to the field, to the point I can’t ever see myself doing something else? What about you?

I’ve been Snarked

Okay, not really. For all that people have quivered over the prospect of submitting to Miss Snark’s Happy Hooker Crap-o-meter, she really hasn’t been that snarky, outside of the hooks that seriously deserved it. (A good majority of the commenters, though, are another story entirely.)

What Miss Snark said about mine: “This is unfocused and a recitation of events. Use the XYZ to get the important factors on the page, then start over.”

I appreciate the time and effort Miss Snark has taken to run the Crap-o-meter and comment on everything, but I’m not sure how useful this has been for me. I haven’t read all of the hooks, but there have been others she’s said were unfocused and unsuitable that bear a striking similarity in structure to “winning” queries posted by other authors and agents–ones specialising in romance, fantasy, or other genre fiction.

The “hooks” that she’s liked (that I’ve seen) … I was not at all impressed by, and probably would not have given a second look. But, then, I don’t like the vast majority of literary mainstream fiction. I find it boring.

I’m not sure what to take away from this. I’ve had the query critted by several different people, who have liked it. It seems to be in line with what I’ve seen on SF/F blogs and such. I think I’m going to chalk this one up more to taste… and that’s not a bad thing.

But I think it’s something important to keep in mind. One person’s trash is another’s treasure and all that. πŸ˜‰

I must be recharging …

I’ve been trying to get back to working on Deceived by Twilight — and I have done some on it — but I think I must be recharging after finishing the revisions on A Passion Draconic.

Why?

Cause I’ve been reading. A lot. Well, for me.

See, when I’m writing, I read, but it’s liable to take me a week or so to finish a book. Maybe longer, unless it’s something that really grabs me — I read J.R. Ward’s Dark Lover and Lover Eternal in only a couple days. (And as soon as Lover Awakened hits print, well, I’m away from the computer till I finish it. ;))

I’m not sure why that is, but it’s been the case ever since I started writing “seriously” four years ago. Except back then, I used to hardly read at all because I couldn’t turn my Inner Critiquer off. (It’s a lot easier to do now, thankfully.)

I’ve read two books in the past three days (On Fire’s Wings by Christie Golden and Awaken, My Love by Robin Schone, both of which are very good) and I just started another. Technically, it’s three books; it’s an omnibus of Susan Sizemore’s vampire “trilogy.” (I read the first book in it, I Burn For You, which some of you may remember as the “one minute man book.” LOL.)

I should be writing… but I wanna curl up with my books and read! 😯

Questing For Titles

I’ve been referring to Resurrection and ArielleWIP for awhile now, but … both are working titles. Resurrection was never supposed to be the final title, but I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to call the damn thing.

So I sat down yesterday and decided to come up with them. Trying to come up with titles is a royal pain in the ass. I ended up looking at song lyrics and titles for inspiration — a lot of the gothic music I listen to has very complex, poetic lyrics, so I thought it might help. And it did — to the point I got more than one title out of it. πŸ™‚

A Passion Draconic
This will be the new title for Resurrection. I think it fits, because the hero is a dragon shapeshifter. It doesn’t much describe the heroine, but I don’t think I can without having an overly complicated title.

A Caress Vampiric
This book takes place in the same setting — kind of. It’s about the son of a vampire who discovers he is a necromancer and ends up crossing over to the world of A Passion Draconic. I’m actually revamping this one from game notes from a game I GM’d — all the characters and worldbuilding are mine; I just need to excise some of the stuff the other player added that I don’t want to use. πŸ™‚

A Kiss Serpentine
I have no idea what the plot for this is going to be, but I’d intended to do something with the serpent shapeshifters, so … πŸ™‚

Deceived by Twilight
This will be the title for ArielleWIP. I didn’t want anything overly “romance”y for a title. My first two thoughts were The Assassin’s Embrace and Kiss the Blade, but I think this works better for what the story is.

Beyond the Veil
The title for the second Arielle & Jackson novella, if I should write it. I’m thinking that one will deal with the portal reopening and Jackson’s past coming back to hit them both in the face.

How do you come up with your titles? Any new and interesting ones you want to share? πŸ™‚

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

I’ve been working on Chapter 23 of Stronger … and it’s multi-POV. No, not omniscient or head-hopping, but I make direct scene breaks several times to switch POV between the hero and the heroine. It’s working a lot better than it would from just one perspective, because you get to see from the mind of both characters.

Thing is, I’m feeling very … weird about it. I’m not blocked or depressed or anything, but — this is something I’ve never done before. Yeah. Really.

Looking back, I used to participate in writing challenges at a community where chapters only counted if they were 1000 words. For some reason, I’d gotten into the habit of writing one scene per chapter, and I didn’t break that. Ever. Part of it is I’m obsessive compulsive — I want symmetry, dammit. I don’t notice lack of it in other work, but in mine, I want the same number of scenes per chapter, all the way through.

I don’t think it was ever a conscious decision, though. Just something I started doing and resisted heavily every time someone suggested a different tactic.

But … I’m really liking how this chapter is coming along. Cassandra, my heroine, is going out to be social at a goth club, and Alex is trailing her to try to lure her away and kill her. Except it goes a bit differently than both of them plan. πŸ˜‰

It’s also coming out a bit longer than most of my scenes because of that, I think. 1500 words and I know I have at least another 500 to go.

So now I’m wondering if I don’t need to go back and fiddle with the POV on the rest of the earlier chapters … I dunno. I’ll save that for when I go over it again. Last thing I need is to get perfectionistic again.

I guess an ol’ bitch like me really can learn, after all. πŸ˜‰

Anyone else have similar experiences?

The Space Between Writing and Storytelling

Kristen Nelson has an excellent blog post at PubRants regarding how “strong writing” alone isn’t enough to sell a novel. It made a lot of sense to me, but I was surprised at how many of the commentors just did not get it — period.

I’ve seen this elsewhere around writing fora, loops, and journals/blogs. Many writers assume that writing “well” is the most important factor in selling a short story or novel. These are often the same people who ask “How are Terry Brooks / Robert Jordan / Dan Brown / etc. best-selling authors? They can’t write for crap! They break all the ‘rules!'”

(Trust me. I’ve heard it. I didn’t understand, either, several years ago.)

The key here is story. An author doesn’t hit the NYT if the story sucks rocks. It might not be to some people’s tastes, but that’s going to be true of about anything, because personal likes and dislikes are subjective. Bestsellers have some quality in the story that captivates readers, otherwise they wouldn’t read it. (Outside of the controversy factor, that is, but I doubt that controversy alone can make a bestseller.)

I’ve been in critique / writing groups for several years now, and I have seen a lot of stories and novels that are technically perfect. The writing shines. But the story itself is often standard, predictable … “safe.”

This attitude is often encouraged in various sorts of writer’s groups. I’ve received far too many critiques from multiple different sources where the critiquer focused on the writing but ignored the big picture. I know other people who have received the same. Romance writers have talked about receiving crits from contests that focus primarily on writing “perfection” without looking at the story. Perhaps the intention isn’t to encourage people to focus on the writing first, but it’s often the way it comes across.

This isn’t to say that good writing isn’t important. If your writing sucks like a cheap whore who can’t figure out which end to blow, an agent or editor likely won’t make it past your query letter, much less take you on. (And by this, I mean truly horrid prose. If you’ve ever critiqued a beginning writer’s first novel or short story, you know exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about.) Writing is important, too.

But. It’s a lot easier to fix a novel that has passable writing than it is to fix a story that’s at heart “ho-hum.” Line edits are a piece of cake. Rewriting the entire book because it’s competant but not good enough? Not easy. (I’m in the middle of it myself.)

Yes, it’s a delicate balance. But I don’t think it’s impossible. The Internet is an immensely useful tool for writers to commune and help each other along — but the “downside” to this is that there are more competant writers than there used to be. At one point, it was good enough to be “competant.” It isn’t anymore. You need to be good — and by that, I’m not talking about the technicalities of writing alone, but the quality of the story you’re telling. Though how to tell a story that’s unique and different while still being marketable is another matter entirely… πŸ˜‰

Is it tougher for writers to get published nowadays than it used to be? I think so, though I couldn’t say for certain. I know there are some writers who get upset and worried about the competition, wondering whether or not they can “make it.” Me? I see it as a challenge. πŸ™‚

What do you think? Are the expectations / standards for new writers unreasonable (as some people seem to think), or is it par for the course? Do you find it depressing — or just another obstacle to overcome?