Guest Post: Research and the Imposter Monster by Elle Cosimano

Amie here first: Today I have Elle Cosimano with a motivational post about overcoming the imposter syndrome.

9780803739260_NearlyGone_CAT.inddYou’re a writer.

So why is it so hard to say it out loud? Why is it that every new person who walks through the door of my local writers’ group introduces herself, and then immediately disqualifies her attendance by adding, “But I’m not really a writer”?

Some refer to it as the Imposter Monster, and it took a big nasty bite out of my confidence early in my writing journey. Hell, it still does if we’re all being honest. I’m guessing we all suffer from Imposter Syndrome at some point, whether it’s because we don’t yet have any published titles in our sig, or because we’re uncertain if we’ll ever have another.

I first faced-down my monster when I was conducting research for a book, before the release of my debut. It was a crime thriller, and I had no background in law enforcement. Books and blogs were helpful, but limiting, leaving big gaps in my research that felt flat on the page. I was lacking the richness and depth of experience, and I would only get that from hands-on, interactive research – the kind that required me to get out of my writing chair. And this meant introducing myself.I had to make phone calls and send emails, and I put off this step for a long, long time. Not because I was afraid of the research. But because I was afraid to say it out loud…

NearlyFoundOfficialCover“I’m a writer, and I’m conducting research for a book.” I could have stopped there. After all, this was all the qualification I needed. And yet, I had to fight the urge to add, “… a book I haven’t written yet. And no, I am not published.”

Turns out, all that time, the only real gatekeeper between me and better research was the Imposter Monster inside my own head. Before my first book published, I toured a forensics lab, conducted a ride-along with a sheriff’s deputy, played a part in a firearm simulation, took classes on evidence collection, searched a mock-prison cell for contraband with a correctional officer, and interviewed a defense attorney. Not one single person asked for a bibliography or a resume as a prerequisite. And no one declined to help me when I told them I was not yet published. To my surprise, they were all more than willing to share their knowledge and time. People like to talk about things they’re passionate about, and you are a captive audience.

Hands-on face-to-face research opportunities are available to all of us, but the first step to getting through the door is giving yourself permission to try.

Here are a few research sources open to all of us that you might not have considered before.

  • Audit a class through your local university, trade school, or community college. Or ask to interview a professor as an expert in their field.
  • Visit a museum. Call ahead or send a letter and ask to meet with a curator or museum expert while you’re there. They might offer an interview, or a personalized tour. Not near a museum? Try a local Historical Society.
  • Call or email the Public Relations Department. Many corporations, governmental agencies, and public service offices offer tours, or opportunities for the public to learn more about them. (Note: there will be some that are off-limits to the public. I was turned away by juvenile correction centers due to the ages of the inmates and their legal rights to privacy. I was also denied access to a medical examiner’s office and the autopsy suite. Don’t let these minor setbacks deter you. There are always alternative sources for the information you need. Interviews with industry experts can give you a unique snapshot behind the curtain.)
  • Sign up for a workshop. Your local chapter of a larger professional writing organization may offer a variety of guest speakers, panels, and workshops featuring experts in various fields, and catering to a particular genre. Most workshops are open to the public for a reasonable fee.
  • Offer to volunteer and get your hands dirty, in exchange for the experience to shadow a resource for a day.
  • Ask friends and colleagues for referrals. You know that old saying about 6 degrees of separation? Chances are, someone you know knows someone who knows a whole lot about something you want to learn! Facebook and LinkedIn are great resources for identifying people who can offer you a warm hand-off to an expert in a specific field.

Now get out there and say it!

You’re a writer. And you have a lot of research to do.

twilight writer

IvyWallMediumELLE COSIMANO writes YA mysteries and thrillers. Her acclaimed debut, Nearly Gone, was recently nominated for an Edgar Award. The sequel, Nearly Gone, releases on June 2. Elle lives in a grass hut on the Riviera Maya with her husband and two sons. For more information, follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or visit her website.


10 Responses to Guest Post: Research and the Imposter Monster by Elle Cosimano

  1. Julie Jun 3 2015 at 9:10 am #

    Hi Elle! Great post! I felt something so similar to what you describe here before I started writing fiction, when I was getting ready to shoot a short film. It was a period story, and I needed antique cars for the shoot. At the last minute, the person who was providing the cars backed out, and I had to pick up the phone. I have the most vivid memory of that day, because it was so hard to say, “I’m a filmmaker,” (Even though this was my 2nd film!) In the end, my experience was much like yours–so many people wanted to help me! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. And congrats on your Edgar nomination!

    • Elle Cosimano Jun 3 2015 at 2:00 pm #

      Thanks, Julie! So funny, how saying it makes it very real, and I think that fear is a very powerful deterrent to our own success sometimes. And interesting that this seems to transcend writing. I’d be curious to hear from professionals in other fields, to know if they experienced the same fear of self-identifying as a professional early on in their careers.

  2. Abby Jun 3 2015 at 10:31 am #

    Great suggestions! I struggled with this feeling all throughout writing my first book (and wrote a recent blog post about it, too!). I didn’t feel legitimate enough to ask for guidance and expert advice because I hadn’t been published yet. But when I got my agent, I had to do some fact-checking, and that meant emailing an expert in the Manx language to ask for phrasing suggestions. It was hard to say “I’m a writer,” but the result? He was totally happy to help. Like you mentioned in your post, it can be scary to call ourselves writers. But in the end, most people would love to share their expertise.

    • Elle Cosimano Jun 3 2015 at 2:02 pm #

      Exactly, Abby! I was floored by how helpful and supportive people were. In hindsight, I’m not sure what kind of reaction I had expected from people. But in the end, everyone was excited. The focus was on them, and their area of expertise, and that took a lot of the pressure off me to have to prove myself, if that makes sense.

  3. Rowenna Jun 3 2015 at 4:04 pm #

    It’s so true! I repeat “writers write, writers write” as a little mantra to myself as a reminder that, yeah, I’m a writer 🙂

    One more for the research-resource you may not have thought of–you’re writing historical of any kind, seek out living historians, reenactors, costumers, or other enthusiasts (dance, architecture, motorists..) for the period you’re looking into. They’re passionate, they want to get good information out there, and they’re probably really in-tune to the practical and tactile information you’re looking for. There are websites and Facebook groups aplenty. Just don’t be surprised if you’re invited to come out and participate (which is also an AWESOME research strategy…that can turn into a great hobby 🙂 !

    • Elle Cosimano Jun 3 2015 at 8:54 pm #

      That’s a great suggestion, Rowenna! Thanks for sharing it. And I love your mantra.

  4. Evolet Jun 3 2015 at 7:27 pm #

    I think research is the easy part. I’m a newbie in the adult romance field and my first book (which I’m writing during Camp NaNoWriMo next month) is Book One in a series I plan to write. For my in-person research, I attended two professional male revue performances (Chippendales in 2014 and Thunder From Down Under last month), interviewed a mixed media artist who works on fiberglass mannequin torsos, watched a documentary about a male revue in Texas, and interviewed the VP of Missions and Foreign Operations from Operation Underground Railroad–a nonprofit that runs missions into foreign countries to save children from sex traffickers. I also need to check out the business lounge in a local hotel and a local nonprofit that uses art to heal. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE research, especially when I get to actually meet or talk to someone. Writing the story is what’s going to be hard. And I’m scared shitless, but I need to get this character on paper so she’ll stop bugging me! LOL

    • Elle Cosimano Jun 3 2015 at 8:55 pm #

      WOW! Your research sounds awesome. And I agree, it’s always the fun part. Don’t stress on the writing. Just remember Rowenna’s mantra… writers write!

  5. Jordon Jun 7 2015 at 11:05 pm #

    That’s so cool that people are open to letting you interview them or show you around, explain things to you etc for research! I love the authors go ahead and do that in depth research to make their books so much more realistic! I feel like it adds so much more depth in a story when it’s realistic like that because you can draw on personal experience.

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