When I got my first contract with a big New York publishing house, I decided it was time to act like a “real author”. I had the guest bedroom upstairs repainted and set a big desk in the middle of the room. I bought a new computer and had business cards printed. I got a big external monitor and hooked it to my laptop because I saw that other authors did that.
And then I forgot how to write.
See, when I signed my first contract, along with the victory, came the imposter’s syndrome. Who the hell am I to have a dream come true? Oh, and also, great, everyone’s about to figure out I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.
The next year was very painful. I wrote a draft of book two (the first book was done when I got the offer) and turned it in. My editor called and said it was … I don’t remember what she said it was, but what I heard was, “You failed.”
She told me to rewrite it and I told her in my most confident voice that I got this. It’ll be great.
So I rewrote it and turned it in again. And it sucked. Again.
We had a big talk about my process and what was going on. She and my agent both told me that I should have come to them with my worries. Meanwhile, I’d been having nightmares that I got dumped by my agent and lost my contract—just like everyone expected would happen.
I thought, “But I have this nice office, I have this big contract, I have an agent and fancy author friends—I shouldn’t be feeling like an imposter!”
Later, I realized all of those trappings of success were actually making things harder. The nice office reminded me that there were big things at stake—my new career, my future, my ego.
I thought if I acted like a big author I’d be one.
Now, I’m better about all of this. I’m older now, too. I just turned 45. I’ve been around the publishing block a few times. I’ve had books bomb and contracts get canceled and have lived to tell the tale.
I always think back to something Stephen King said in On Writing:
“Life is not a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”
These days I work from an old dining room table in a room downstairs where I’m closer to coffee and more down to the earth. My laptop is five years old and I got rid of that big extra monitor because I wanted more room to make a creative mess on my desk.
But the imposter still whispers in my ear. She tells me that maybe my best days are behind me. She sees announcements by my colleagues of movie deals and multi-book contracts and tells me that I blew it. She tells me that I need to spend time looking at fancy journals and pens online because with the right tools I’ll get the magic back.
Like I said, I’m older now. I realized that the voice isn’t really ever going away. What’s different now is I know what’s happening. When I catch myself obsessively scouring pen sites for the perfect pen (despite the TWO large containers of pens on my desk), I catch myself and try to pinpoint what’s making me feel anxious.
I guess my point is that a lot of new writers think that at some magical point in the future writing will get easy and the honey of confidence will sweeten all of life’s decisions.
Sweeties, let me save you some time. It doesn’t go away, it doesn’t get easier. You just get better at getting over your own bullshit. You don’t need fancy this or that. You need to pay attention to what’s really going on. You need to have a support system. You need to be able hear the voice of the imposter and write anyway.
Trust me, I know it’s way easier to say than do. Don’t ask me how many hours I’ve spent in the last week looking at pens. But now I know that the obsessive scrolling for the magical token is a sign of avoiding the hard work of doing hard work.
I’m not saying you can’t buy yourself nice things or that writing tools don’t make life easier. But if you’re spending more time buying the trappings of success than doing the work, it might be time to have a chat with your imposter.