So many people walk around this earth with no idea
how to communicate their gifts to the world.
But you, dear writer, have already found your language.
Now it’s simply time to trust YOUR voice.
With love and total belief in you,
Have you ever heard of imposter syndrome? Scientific American describes it as “a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity or fraudulence, despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”
It’s most commonly associated with the workplace, but as writers, I’d argue it’s just as prevalent, if not more so, in the arts. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat in front of my computer and thought to myself, “Who am I kidding? I’m not a writer,” while I squished around in my self-doubt.
Valerie Young, an expert on the subject of imposter syndrome, identified five imposter subgroups. She created them to apply to the work persona, but I think each of these rings true for writers. I’ve created the writer version of each subgroup below. Which one of these do you associate with?
You can never complete a piece because you can’t decide whether or not to keep a comma in the third sentence. Comma in. Comma out. Comma in. Comma out. Taps fingers on desk. Looks up comma usage for the fourth time online. Comma in. Comma out.
We all want our work to be the best it can be. If you’re on your 9th draft, go ahead and fight with that comma. If in you’re in your first few, here’s what you should imagine: a loud voice coming from the Universe who says, “No one f*&^ing cares about your comma. Finish the damn piece and get on with it. And by the way, I think you’re amazing. Clooney would have totally married you if he hadn’t meet Amal.” Your Universe voice may close that conversation differently than mine, but you get the idea.
Convinced you’re a phony among your writing peers? You decide to overcome it by sheer grit. You spend hours grinding out content and leave claw marks on your desk whenever anyone tries to pull you away for anything other the bottom tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Will Smith tells a story about persistence, “But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple, right?”
No one wants to pry your cold, dead hands from your keyboard. While writing is important, so are your family and friends. Your pets. Life outside of the screen and keyboard. Your book will be there when you get back. It won’t run away. So chill out. Do something fun. Your life away from the page will make the lives you create on the page that much richer.
The Natural Genius
The natural genius, according to Young, bases their success on their abilities and not on their efforts. It’s the opposite of Superwoman. So let’s say you go to your read and critique group. There’s one member who always brings beautiful work, week after week. You look at her work. You look at your own. The doubt creeps in. You look down at your first draft and picture the flies circling it because it suddenly looks like a pile of shit.
I’ve written before about the fact that first drafts are always crappy—but crappy with a cape. Too often we look around at beautiful pieces of work and compare our writing, negatively, to the talent we see on the page. In some cases, it’s because we haven’t been behind that writer’s curtain to watch them wrestle with their words. Or to see them completely overhaul four different drafts of the same piece before we see it in group. Other writers simply have more mastery. I read “The Bright Hour” by Nina Riggs and was so awed, I almost hucked my manuscript in the trash. Better to use other people’s writing as a guide and a learning tool, not as a way to discredit your own work.
You have no idea how to fix your character arc that isn’t quite arcing, but you just sit at your desk by the hour. Staring at the screen. At your dog. At the squirrel outside your window. You’re past the point of working it out on your own, because you’re too close to it. But there you sit. Not asking for help. Because then people would know that you’re not a “real writer” because a “real writer” would know how to fix the issue.
I have three words of advice. Get. Over. Yourself. There is not one person on this planet with all the answers. Not one. And yes, there is glory and valor and satisfaction in working stuff out on your own, but sometimes you’re just wasting your own valuable writing time. Ask a writer friend. Post in a forum. Do anything, but know you don’t have to go it alone.
You feel like you’ve tricked your read and critique group leader into accepting you. You think your story won an award based on sheer luck. You obsess about the fact you don’t have an MFA, or that you started writing later in life, or that you haven’t ever taken a formal writing class. You wonder if everyone can tell you don’t have all the writing credentials you “should” have.
Yes, more experience is always helpful. We should all aspire to be lifetime learners. But you know who changed the course of history without having all the fancy titles and degrees? Abe Lincoln. Anne Frank. Susan B. Anthony. Bill Gates. Plenty of famous writers who never studied writing. Harper Lee. Kurt Vonnegut. JK Rowling. Barbara Kingsolver.
All of us feel like imposters some time. Even writers who have been at this for most of their lives. So the next time you hear that voice in your mind, your inner critic telling you you’re not good enough, that you really are an imposter, take a deep breath. Settle into your writing chair. Tell your critic to shut his or her pie hole. And write.
Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/2695269/
I once wrote a short piece about the writer, Harriet Doerr, whom I consider my muse. I think that was about 2008, when I was 63, still teaching but nearing retirement. I was taking creative writing classes and entertaining ideas about a possible memoir about my 20 years living in Peru.
I discovered Ms. Doerr’s beautiful short novel, Stones for Ibarra, on the table in the teacher’s lounge one day after school. Enthralled, I read it three times: once as a reader, once as an American with some experience in Mexico, and once as an aspiring writer. Based on her experiences living with her American husband in northern Mexico as he oversaw the revival of his family’s mining business, this prize-winning first novel was published in 1984, when Ms. Doerr was 73.
That gives me 10 years to get my first work published, I remember thinking. I may never achieve the natural beauty of her sparse, clear prose or the perfect voice of her Mexican characters, but I may be able to convey my love for my own adopted country and make Peru come alive to readers the way she makes us fall in love with northern Mexico–by the time I am 73.
When I learned that she published a second novel, Consider This, Señora, also set in Mexico, when she was 83, she became my muse.
With that impetus, I began to call myself a Writer. To non-writers, that doesn’t sound like the big step it is. Taking oneself seriously in a professional sense takes more courage than the uninitiated imagine. I had written for children and pitched my work at writers conferences with no success. At the same time, I had taken two classes in writing personal narrative, but with my self-imposed age deadline looming, I pushed myself to take three consecutive classes on memoir at UCSD Extension and kept writing.
In 2011, when I retired from full-time teaching, I joined a read and critique group with the express purpose of combining my collection of personal essays into a memoir. With only six years to go before my seventy-third birthday, it was time to get serious.
In 2013, with the encouragement of my fellow writers, I submitted two pieces to the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and kept on writing.
On March 22, 2017, I turned 73, still unpublished. After multiple revisions, my memoir was finished and had gone out to and been rejected by multiple agents. Still without a contract, I acknowledged that I had failed to achieve my goal of matching Harriet Doerr’s inspiring example. I hadn’t given up, and I kept on writing, but the year ended on a note of regret.
Then, a few days ago on Thursday, March 8, the International Day of the Woman, while I was still 73, I was sitting at my writing group when an email showed up in my inbox from…Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman.
Congratulations, it read. Your story, Lighting Fires, has been selected from thousands of submissions to be published in this edition! The book is on its way to the printers and will be in bookstores on May 1, 2018. Your check will be mailed to you about a month later.
Being published is a goal; getting paid is validation.
So Harriet, it’s not a whole book, and I don’t have an agent, a contract for the memoir, or even a very good title, but this totally counts: I am still 73 and my story will be published this year, I will get paid, and you will remain my muse.
New Goal: Publish two memoirs by the time I’m 83. Only 10 years to go.
Nancy has been a member of the San Diego writing community for the past seventeen years, taking multiple courses at UCSD Extension as well as attending Marni Freedman’s ThursdayRead and Critique group in Encinitas. She lives in Carlsbad with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Coco.
Welcome to a new, regular column here on Feisty. Let’s dive right in. So, why are the books on my floor, you might wonder, and not on the bookshelf?
But all of this insanity can benefit you, my adorable reader. Because I want to introduce you to these books on my floor, one at a time, in the hopes that you will fall in love as I have.
The Book: May Cause Miracles: A 40 Day Guidebook of Subtle Shifts for Radical Change and Unlimited Happiness by Gabrielle Bernstein.
For our first book, I am picking, May Cause Miracles. Let me be straight about this—I didn’t want to like this book. At All. And now my son and I are doing the 40-day program.
A Smidge About the Book: It’s a simple, 40-day plan for practicing the thinking in A Course in Miracles by Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford. In Bernstein’s book, each day includes a topic inspired by A Course in Miracles, a morning reflection, journaling questions, affirmations and an evening reflection. It helps you to keep focused on the miracle-minded topic for most of your day, even if it’s just dancing around your subconscious.
Question: Hey, Marni—What the hell is A Course In Miracles?
Answer: A Course in Miracles is a book that was first published in 1975. It has slowly-then-rapidly drawn a following for its powerful message. If you go to the ACIM website, they describe it as a “unique, universal, self-study spiritual thought system that teaches that the way to love and inner peace is through forgiveness.” To learn more go to: https://www.acim.org/
Why I Didn’t Think I Would Like it: I thought I would find it annoying, as in too-sweet-and-too-good-to-be-true type of annoying. I don’t know why, but I just thought—she’s not for real. Plus, it seemed like a rip-off of Marianne Williamson’s book A Return To Love—which I love and highly recommend. Williamson’s book is basically the same premise, reflecting on her thoughts about A Course in Miracles and her ten years of teaching it.
But since I am writing a book for female thought leaders who want to write their own books, I have been fiercely and ferociously studying successful books by female thought leaders. So, there I was studying it. And then I started liking it. And then I started doing it. And then I got my son involved. And then we decided to do it together. And we are kind of loving it.
Why I Love It: If I had to boil down the message of the book I would say that we humans travel between two places in our minds: love and fear. The book asks you to think about this concept in various ways, every day, and to consciously choose love. Now I know this lesson. Or I feel like I should. So why do I forget it day after day? This book is basically a really good daily reset.
An Observation: One thing I noticed while reading the book and doing the work—it wasn’t that miracles were happening out of nowhere. It was just that I was actually allowing myself to create more miracles. Or I was allowing them to arrive. Before doing the work in the book I hadn’t realized that I had been sinking back into old lack and martyr thinking, which basically goes something like this: “Well, I can’t have that because…” The reminders in the book started to kick that old thinking in the ass. And I found a door that I thought was sealed shut started opening.
In fact, the experience has been so powerful that I am thinking of doing a 6-week class called “Journaling Through A Course in Miracles” based on Gabby’s book. I can call her Gabby now, ’cause we’re old friends.
What are you reading that is rattling your bones, challenging your thinking or making you smile? Please share in the comments—I’d love to hear from you.
See you in the next edition of The Books on Marni’s floor 😉
Photo courtesy of Marni Freedman
Six years ago, I lost my job right around the same time I became an empty nester. Adrift without direction and needing inspiration, I decided to sign up for the TedX San Diego conference. I was surprised to learn there was an application form to be turned in before being accepted as a participant. Among […]Continue...
You’ve got a story. Your protagonist wants something, and somebody else intends to stop them. Whether your protagonist succeeds or fails, there will be consequences: something is at stake. Sometimes this means the world ends if they fail, or sometimes what’s at stake is a deeply personal gain or loss. Right now, though, I want to […]Continue...
As 2017 drew to a close, the Internet lit up with posts boasting how many books people had read in the year. Some were photos of meticulously written lists, others just a blanket statement: “I read sixty-six books!” That was the one that got me: sixty-six books—in one year. Were these children’s books? I wondered. […]Continue...
I’ve been watching the cat lately with a little pissiness. Judgment. It annoys me that he stays so apparently healthy and slender and happy, even when he loafs around so much, rarely doing anything but lick fur (urgh, ginger furballs going down), sleep or eat with one spaz attack between 5 and 7 p.m. I […]Continue...
Most prospective clients who approach me about publicity are new authors who have never worked with a publicist before. Whether self- or traditionally published, the most common question is: What would you charge for promoting my book? My response is always the same: What is it you’re looking for? A book tour? Media coverage? Internet exposure? […]Continue...
I’d like you to settle down on the edge of your chair and close your eyes. Begin to consciously relax . . . Relax the muscles of your face. Take a deep breath, in through your nose and out through your nose or mouth. Scan your body for any tension. Are your shoulders hunched? Pay […]Continue...
The Power of AND When It Comes to Writing the People in Your Life I’m going to write a sentence that shocks even me: My father was both a racist and not a racist. When I go to write about him, I find I can’t write one without the other. Writing about one would […]Continue...
Sometimes putting words on the page feels impossible. Like “I’m going to make out with Chris Pine” impossible. No idea why a kick in the ass is necessary, but the sad truth is, for some reason I need to get psyched up to do something I love doing. Despite this mysterious quirk, I try to […]Continue...
I’m working on a newish project. I’ve got characters, most of a plot, and a few dozen thousand words down. It’s enough to hang onto and wrestle with, and oh God is it better than the blankness of waiting for a new idea. But it’s not fully there. I want to fall in love with […]Continue...
I moved to Los Angeles when I was barely eighteen after living in a town where my high school was within walking distance. This, of course, meant that I didn’t have much driving experience before I arrived in a city infamous for its traffic, road rage, and expansive grid system which tapers off into narrow, […]Continue...
As our family stood huddled in sweat pants before a karaoke program as it played synthesized Christmas songs over our home computer, it occurred to me that this was not the family Christmas caroling scene it once might have been. Before my thoughts launched into despair over the commercialism, glitz and high technology of Christmas […]Continue...
What a frenzied time of year. With the holiday parties, performances, deadlines, gift-buying, baking, planning and thanking, I have no uninterrupted time to think, let alone wr Photo by Jad Limcaco on UnsplashContinue...
Writers take heed: The time is upon us. After a busy year of great excuses for why we haven’t been writing much, at last, the mother lode writing opportunity (including a captive audience) presents itself—clear, unpretentious, a ghost of past, present and future reaching out a scrawny finger, beckoning: Come. It’s time. Perhaps you are […]Continue...
Do you ever wonder what to give your favorite feisty writer? It’s that time of year, and some of our awesome contributors have made gift suggestions any scribe is sure to love: Marni’s Writer Gift Ideas: 1. Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2018 is the only resource you need to get your short stories, novellas, […]Continue...
I’m going there—quoting a writer I admire enormously, who I can’t hope to replicate, who falls into the group of male, helplessly gifted, entitled by birth-status, educational opportunities, and that thing I seek—the early recognition and assumption of greatness in literature. The teenage boy who walks into the university hall knowing he is one of […]Continue...
Three of us were on our way to play paintball. My husband suggested that instead of playing with paint we play with rubber bullets. We were about to head into a room, which I understood would take us to the paintball field. Just before entering the room, my husband turned to me and said, “We […]Continue...
I’ve been sucked into a black hole. It’s almost impossible to get out, unless one can find the wormhole to the other side. It’s a black hole called The Internet. But when I find myself swimming in that black hole of nothingness, I visit these places to at least make me feel like I’m finding […]Continue...
I recently spoke with a potential client who has written a nonfiction guide to help parents recognize the signs of late speech development in their children. Besides being articulate and able to clearly describe the book’s content and its audience, this author was particularly succinct about what she was looking for in the way of […]Continue...
It’s thefeistywriter.com’s first birthday, and what a year it’s been! So much fodder…. We are celebrating with a give-away: one free hour with esteemed writing coach, Marni Freedman, will go to a lucky new subscriber! Estimated value = $150! The deadline to subscribe and win is Wednesday, November 15th at midnight. To qualify for our […]Continue...
Not that type of climax, sheesh! This is a writing blog. These tricks are for fiction writers but are helpful to keep in mind for all of us who put words on a page. 1) This is my favorite climax trick, and it comes straight from the amazing John Vorhaus: take a situation that could […]Continue...