mer: (if I were me)
Syndrome: A group of symptoms that consistently occur together or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms.

One does not merely walk into a publishing contract without seeing at least a few of the signs of impostor syndrome in oneself.  I've been declaring many of my symptoms not to be emblematic of the syndrome, because, well, I think one has to have some sort of Emperor's New Clothes feeling about the whole thing in order to get the firm diagnosis on the impostor syndrome.  All things considered, I have largely not felt that anyone was particularly looking at me, nor have I secretly felt that other people could see my clothes while I could not.

If anything, she grumbled to herself on occasion, I felt that people weren't taking me seriously enough: because I write kidlit, because I'm a gurl, because I'm not conventionally attractive, because I still work my dayjob, because whatever.  But they are rarely, if ever, people who actually matter to the course of my career.  Not really.  Does it matter if a mil-SF writer doesn't give me the time of day at a convention? No, it does not. I don't write mil-SF, and I never will.

Plus, at the heart of it, I have all the girls and women who write me the letters and let me know I made their lives better--or that they were at least a little bit in love with Dragos, whatever--and that is enough to keep me going.  (Yes, girls and women. I haven't gotten one fan letter from a boy or man.)  And when I started this endeavor to become a published writer of novels, that was the plan, see? To make people feel as great as my favorite writers made me feel.

So, when impostor syndrome is brought up, I usually go, "Hm, no, I'm fine."

But then I notice something--stuff like what provoked my last entry here, in fact, or finding oneself/one's work in a random list, casually mentioned, as if one had written something that everyone knew about (not the case)--and I blink and go, "Oooooh.  Impostor syndrome."

It's all those little moments working together that make the syndrome for me.  I never have moments of "I shouldn't be here" or "They're all going to find out, soon."  That's not how it works for me.  It never has.

I have the blessing and the curse of being an only child who is both a first-born and last-born grandchild, and I have a full repertoire of coping mechanisms for dealing with the real world not particularly thinking I'm as special as my family always made it out to be--one of those coping mechanisms is never believing that I'm less than anyone else thinks.  Haha, no.

So anyway. Call me a late bloomer.  I finally get why it's a syndrome, because it seeps into the cracks and gets you, rather than throwing you down the rabbit hole with something you could see on an MRI.  I get it now.

Drat it all.
mer: (Humans are Funny)
I know why people give up. I know why people fear success. I know why people with buckets of talent don't finish stories (or drawings or songs or whatever). I know why people with finished stories (or whatevers) don't submit them to gatekeepers, to critiquers, to audiences, to the scrutiny of the impartial, disinterested, and unsympathetic.

But fear is the mind killer, etc.

Husband came through my office. "What are you doing?" he asked. I was flipping through my editorial notes semi-despairingly.

"Crying," I said.


"On the inside."

"I don't know why you'd do things that make you cry on the inside," he said.

I didn't even think about it. I just said, "It's what makes me awesome."

See? Look at that. From self-doubt to cocky self-assurance in point two seconds.

He left to go feed the guinea pigs. My grin faded. I looked at my manuscript, at the multi-hued notes from my editor. She uses track changes, and we have three different colors going on this round of edits, which I think means she's read it three times, maybe? A minute ago, I was whining on the inside, thinking about all the details she's poked at, all the work of mine she's pointed out as unnecessary scaffolding, all the word choices she's doubted. Three minutes ago, I was thinking, "She's got no faith in this book anymore, I bet she read this and wondered why she bought it the whole time, why she invested so much in me..."

Then, the conversation with my husband.

It's what makes me awesome.

I'm like that, you know: Slough of Despair one minute, the Heights of Self-Congratulatory Asshattery the next. I swear, though, most of the time, I'm pretty even-tempered and I don't buy into the tortured artist schtick at all. And yet, here I am, even-tempered, practical, pragmatic me, and I do that valley-to-mountain run in record time when I'm in the throes.

I'm not sure this is living the dream. I'm happiest when I'm drafting, second-happiest when I'm my own editor, sifting through word choice and whatnot. I can't stand the scrutiny of others, not because I have some great faith in my talent/craft/skill/art and think I'm above editing or some crap, but because it makes me feel stupid when I don't see my work with perfect objectivity, and I hate feeling stupid.

But on the other hand, the chance to do this for a living, the opportunity to write something that resonates perfectly with another brain somewhere halfway around the planet, to keep some other soul sane for the few hours it takes to read and re-read my work? That's what I want as much as I want to just write first drafts for the rest of my life.

And so, the process: I do it. It's the only way to make the book good enough to get to the people who need to read it. The self-doubt: I fight it. It's not sexy. The crying: I keep internal, and mock myself for it. I don't need more mucus in my life, and honestly, I didn't cry when I face-planted in the Badlands two miles into a hike and sprained the hell out of my ankle and scraped myself up, so why would I cry now? The self-congratulatory rear-end milliner's art: I strive to reach it. Because the asshat is a necessary piece of my armor in the fight against myself, to keep me from giving up, which I would really like to do right now--maybe go write some unpublishable poetry or something for a good year or five.

And the fight against myself?

It's what makes me awesome.
mer: (if I were me)
Just one other snippet of writhing, through the power of time travel and my text editor:

It is December 9th, and I need to tell you about freaking out.

My agent is taking my book to auction tomorrow. There are four editors "interested" and two who've passed and three we haven't heard from. I AM LITERALLY FALLING APART. LITERALLY. MY NOSE JUST FELL OFF. THERE IS BLOOD EVERYWHERE.

Okay, that part was a lie.

I need to email my agent. I don't know how this is going to go. I need her to tell me how to keep my nose on. It's not off yet, but it's seriously a matter of time. I'm jittering too much to keep the nose on for much longer.

So, here I am, 111 days after selling a book. I have felt at times, in between the writhing and the near-bursting, rather like the dog who has caught the car: "So, what do I do now?"

The answer, of course, is probably "opposable thumb implants and driving lessons."

And then, yesterday, not two hours after the contract showed up, I got my edit letter.

So, you know, there's now THAT to freak out about. So. Nothing new there.

Because this actually has been a long road of freaking out. I am not, apparently, the sort of person who thinks she deserves nice things to happen. Or something? I kept waiting for the evil shoe to drop. For the editor to wake up and say, "Nah, you know, nah. I was crazy for wanting that book." Especially since the contract just kept not being done and not being done and not being done. I tried to maintain positivity, but honestly, the longer I waited, the more I was sure it was all going to come to an abrupt end. I had little mental conversations. "Well, then, logically," I would say to myself in the shower, "my agent will just try to sell the book again." But it hasn't come to an abrupt end. I got the contract. Things are moving forward.

I've been trying to figure out how I'm supposed to be now; how I'm not supposed to talk about being freaked out, and how I'm supposed to pretend to be cool professional writer chick who is unfazed by this publishing gig. But that won't ring true. I'm still going to angst, and fret, and freak out, just like I did all along the way. I guess, if you're inclined to hate reading about that, you may want to remove me from your reading list. I could offer to filter, I suppose. We'll see how it goes.

Five years ago, if you'd pointed out a writer in my position who was angsting and fretting about their tremendous opportunity and good luck, I'd have clicked the back button in disgust.

With good reason. Five-years-ago Me didn't need to know any of that stuff. Especially since this is the place I wanted to be, regardless of how daunting I now find it.

I find myself pondering things like my edit letter (which also came yesterday) with some trepidation. "Hoo boy," I say, in my best hitchin-up-my-pants way. "Hoo boy, now comes the hard work."

But to say that the hard work is ahead dismisses the last seven years of work, the last twenty-seven years of ambition. To say, "I want to be a writer" was no great challenge for a seven-year-old; saving up for a typewriter actually wasn't too much harder for the eleven-year-old, either. I wrote to escape, back then. It just happened to be lucky that I was getting in some useful practice. But each step along the way, things got incrementally harder. And at times, I chose the easy path, and the writing suffered for it. (On the other hand, I got out and lived a little, so maybe the writing benefited, too; but I could have--and should have--practiced my craft more.)

7/27 )

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is, that I realize that there is still a lot of hard work ahead--perhaps even the hardest, if sales aren't brisk right off the bat, or I run into rough criticism, or any of the 900 other things that might trip me up--but the last seven years may have been the hardest I'll ever face, because I had to do it all on faith. Faith in myself, I might add, which is kind of a perennial problem with most people I know. (They either have way too much or way too little.)

So, no. I don't like saying the hard work is ahead of me, because it not only dismisses my last 7 years, but the people who are also working on faith and fumes.

On the other hand, to say that the hard work isn't ahead of me is a bloody big lie.


I guess the hard work is ALL AROUND. I am floating on an ocean of hard work. I just spent seven years paddling away from shore with all my might. And now I'm here. In the ocean. Out of sight of land. And they just handed me a slightly more ergonomic paddle and said, "Get going. You're paddling until you sink, or until you die."

(Not unlike marriage, then.)

Hm. Yeah. Ergonomic paddles, ahoy.
mer: (Chocolate)
The one and only creative writing class I took in college was Creative Non-Fiction. I did not like the professor, to the detriment of my own grade, because I did not attend some of the mandatory office hours and skipped not a few classes, too. I'm not sure why I took such a sharp and sudden dislike to the woman, and I suspect she was probably a pretty good teacher, and I was just a bit of a know-it-all with an attitude.

(It was also, if I'm going to be honest, my semester of Least Performance. My only withdrawal and my only bad grade also show up on that same semester's transcript. I remember staying in bed and reading a lot. I now wonder if I wasn't somewhat depressed--winter depressed during my first low-sunlight winter, coming from North Carolina to live in Michigan; food depressed, because the food sucked; weight depressed, because I surpassed the freshman 15 and then some; creatively depressed, because I couldn't find the time and space to write, and the one play I auditioned for didn't even recruit me for tech... and so on and so on and so on.)

I also had a suspicion of creative writing classes, brought on by Madeleine L'Engle's sort of transparent authorial advice put into the mouths of one of her characters in A Ring of Endless Light. The suggestion was that creative writing classes stifle, and reading is the True Path. Nonetheless, I took the class because it seemed like an unusual premise--Creative Non-Fiction?--and my friends had all taken the professor's classes and found them rewarding. It was meant for things like biography writers, who take all these facts and have to assemble them into a narrative, and things like that.

Anyway, to get to the point of this entry: the sudden attack of memory was this. Our first assignment in the class was to write a short narrative description of yourself, physically. I whipped it out in ten minutes or something, didn't really think twice about it, and brought it in. We read them out loud--they were maybe two hundred words long. Afterward, the professor pointed out all the interesting word choices I'd made--referring to my green eyes as rebels, since Mom had blue and Dad had brown, referring to my hair as chaotic (the curls), and so forth. The subtext was clear, as soon as it was pointed out, and it looked like I'd labored over a nuanced portrayal of my character, layered in with my physical description. But I hadn't.

The professor asked, "Did you do that on purpose?"

Dumbly, I shook my head.

And she moved on.

That wasn't the first time, and wasn't the last. I find that whenever people find subtle nuances and little things like that in my work, 95% of the time, there was no conscious effort to put that stuff in. I worry about that, a bit. I worry that it means I'm not in control of my craft. I worry that it means I couldn't do it properly if I tried, that I only excel at writing when I'm unconscious about what I'm doing.

I don't like not knowing where that stuff comes from. It makes me feel that I lack mastery, that I lack control.

I feel it's related to all my other little disruptions of faith. Example: When I'm writing along and I can feel the future audience's disbelief pushing in on me, I throw up my hands and say, "They're all totally going to be able to tell that I just made all this up!" I'm pretty sure that one is only me; the other writers I've surveyed about that problem tend to blink at me and say, "But you are making it up, aren't you?" (I have recently decided that this is because as a writer, we lack the immediate audience feedback that an oral storyteller can rely on to figure out if they are heading precipitously off course; it may be a feedback signal that I-as-audience find the story unbelievable, but it might be me doubting myself, so who knows.)

Am I the only one who has such crises?
mer: (Herbalist's Apprentice)
I am halfway tempted to call off this Major Restructuring Revision and do something much more basic, like just cut wordage and a few (seemingly, in comparison) minor things and pray.

Of course, the patient is on the operating table with his guts in one jar and his heart in a cooler, so of course it doesn't look good. Let's put the thing back together and see how it goes before we start looking for time travel to undo what has gone wrong. Shall we?

April 2015

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