Yesterday, I found myself struggling with my writing. As one does. The scene wasn’t coming together; the characters didn’t want to behave; the emotions felt flat on the page, and I started to ask myself whether or not I was headed in the right path, whether the scene I’d chosen wasn’t just a shortcut to the quicksand swamp that separated me from the Mountain of Endgoal. I was at 26,000 words. Yup, typical writing block time: the dreaded Middle.
It’s always comforting to know that other writers feel the same way, but as Libba Bray says in her brilliant and heartfelt post (thanks JJ!), taking comfort in the idea that others feel this way does not make the hardship any less personal. I tend to think, “It’s so nice to know that others feel the same way I do, but they don’t really. Because they are Real Writers. And I am not.” On writing days like yesterday, I convince myself thoroughly that I am an imposter writer. That this is the book where I will be revealed for the fraud that I am, that I’m fake, and that the last three books I wrote were complete anomalies that will never happen again.
There is, of course, the Imposter Syndrome, a real syndrome psychiatrists diagnose many women—particularly successful women—with. According to Wikipedia, the Imposter Syndrome is: “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”
This probably sounds very familiar to many women (and men, too!)—but I imagine it’s particularly prevalent among the creative types (i.e. us writers). As a woman, I have felt the above every single day of my life: if I fail at something, it’s because of my own lack of talent or intelligence, and if I succeed, it is because of outside luck, outside help, and elements out of my control. I feel as if my accomplishments can be swept away at any moment simply because I am having a bad writing day, or I said something stupid in a conversation, or because I made a single wrong choice. I am not expected to succeed. If I do, it’s because the universe smiled randomly at me.
I think many writers, too, feel this sense of insecurity with each new project that they take on. You hit that dreaded middle (or opening, or ending, or whatever gives you the most trouble). You become absolutely convinced that this is the last book anyone will ever pay you to write. I’ll start to imagine the scenario where I have to tell my editor the bad news, that I just can’t do it. I imagine returning my advance and canceling my contract. I picture myself trying to go back to the game industry after three years outside of it, whether or not they’ll take me back as an intern in something or other.
It’s scary, this self-doubt. I don’t think any particular thing will make it go away. We’re asked how we cope with writer’s block and I always want to say that I can coast smoothly past it by stepping away from the writing for a while (which does work sometimes), or indulging in some other form of creative media (which also sometimes works), or just “fixing what’s wrong with the chapter” (it’s so easy! Right?). But, you know, more often than not I just end up putting my head down on my desk and admitting to myself that I am a failure at writing. Sometimes it takes me a couple of hours to get over my whining. Sometimes it takes weeks.
But you know what? You will always get over it. It may take a while, but at some point, the urge to write will overwhelm the looming insecurity. You feel that creative spark, and suddenly the blank page will fill with words again, and you’ll feel like you’ve taken a deep breath. You’ll squick your foot out of that quicksand swamp and onto the paved road that leads to the Mountain of Endgoal.
So when you feel that Imposter Syndrome creeping forward, recognize it for what it really is. You’re not alone in feeling it, even if you’re absolutely convinced you are, and know that eventually….this too shall pass.