I have a poem in the final issue (#10) of Black Lantern Publishing. You can download a FREE pdf of the journal!
On Saturday I went to a party celebrating a friend who had recently defended his thesis and earned his PhD. “How does it feel to be a doctor?” I asked him as we drank some of the weird lambic beer he’d brewed himself and opened for the occasion.
“Sometimes I get terrified,” he said. “I have this fear they’ll realize I don’t actually know anything at all and they’ll take my PhD away.”
So after years of work and hundreds upon hundreds of hours of study and research and writing, he worries that he doesn’t deserve what he got…
* * *
Last week, I was walking around at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference, wearing a special blue faculty badge, and feeling like I was tricking everyone into thinking I was something that I’m not. I worried I didn’t have enough experience or knowledge to teach a class about getting published in literary magazines. In fact, I never would have put in a proposal to teach at the conference except that my friend Tawni encouraged me, saying that if they let her teach a class, they’d let me teach one, too.
“Wow, you guys are faculty this year, huh?” our friend Christine asked me and Tawni the first day of the conference. We were all sitting outside by the hotel pool, drinking wine before the opening address.
“Yeah, but it’s only because I know some of the people who organize the conference,” I said.“There’s no way I would have gotten in otherwise.”
“Same here,” Tawni agreed. “I feel like a fraud.’”
We asked Christine what she’d been up to, and she told us she’d recently gotten an agent for her memoir. “It’s dumb luck,” she said. “I keep worrying he’s going to change his mind.”
This is when Tawni slapped her hand on the table. “Listen to us,” she said. “We’re sitting here saying we don’t deserve the good things that have happened to us.”
She said it was “imposter syndrome,” a psychological phenomenon in which people can never accept their own accomplishments. Tawni said it’s a largely female problem. When men have success, they embrace it – they internalize that it’s because they’re smart and worked hard and deserve it, but when women have success they don’t own it. They think it was circumstantial, that it didn’t have to do with them.
Of course, now I realize this isn’t solely a female problem.
“We’re saying it’s luck, or because we know people, or that it shouldn’t have happened,” Tawni said, swinging her wine glass passionately. “No. We deserve these good things because we worked hard and we’re awesome.”
As a faculty member, I got to sit in on other workshops, and one of them was “How to Go from Blog to Book Deal.” The woman teaching the class was an intense ex-journalist who was the leading “expert” on blogging a book.
Blogging a book, she said, means that as you write your book, you blog sections of it, so that by the time you’re done writing the book, you already have a following of people who want to read it, and because of this, you can convince someone to give you a book deal. I’m not sure how well this works for fiction, but it’s an interesting concept.
The way that the woman became an expert in blogging a book is interesting, too. She noticed that there were no books or website about blogging books, so she started writing a book called How to Blog a Book, and she posted sections of it on a blog by the same name. By the time she finished blogging the book, she had gained number one google status for the search term “how to blog a book,” and therefore, she was the leading expert on the subject, and therefore she got a book deal.
“So basically,” she said, “I blogged a book, and in doing so, I made myself the expert on blogging books.” Fake it ’til you make it, I guess.
In fact, there were lots of signs at the conference that faking it was a perfectly acceptable way to get started in the writing business. An author of a series of books about Nashville musicians told us she got interviews with Stevie Ray Vaughn and Willie Nelson after concerts because she didn’t realize that she couldn’t. “I didn’t know it wasn’t done, and so I did it, and it worked out.”
And then, of course, there was my workshop. It went great. Even though I felt like an imposter with my blue badge, people told me my class was incredibly helpful and inspiring and one of the best workshops at the conference. So maybe I wasn’t an imposter after all.
A lot of times I worry that I’m not a “real” writer because I don’t have a published novel or a number one google status. But once I get a novel published, might I feel like it was dumb luck and I’m still a fraud? What exactly will it take to make me believe in my own accomplishments?
I guess I’ll keep faking it, and one day it’ll dawn on me that I was the real thing all along.