To justify this feeling of not belonging I compare myself to others: what they do, where they are published, what they write, how often they write. In doing so I confirm, by my own set of warped principles, that I’m not worthy of keeping their company, much less have my work appear alongside theirs (even if some other impartial third-party thinks this—whether these third parties be editors or panels dispensing awards).
~ Shall I Compare Thee, 14.03.2011
This wasn’t what I set out to write in response to Paul Anderson’s all for the staff writers to conduct a skills’ audit in February and publish the results on Write Anything in March. The conversation among the other writers grew after one admitted to really struggling with writing their column and how they’d found the skills audit really difficult. I felt I was approaching the process in a rather shallow way if I wasn’t hurting, plagued by a thousand doubts. After all, really, how deep was I going to get just talking about dialogue and imagery (what I excel at and what I struggle with). You don’t grow and evolve by taking the easy path… even though the temptation is often overwhelming.
In the end I wrote about my bad habit of comparison and the underlying feeling of being unworthy of my position—which denies me any enjoyment of my accomplishments. Writing it felt like stripping myself naked in public! Did people really need to see this side of me—hell, did I need to see this side of me. The temptation to hit delete taunted me. You know, that easy path.
On the poise of meltdown and giving in to the delete key, I sent my article to Devin Watson. I just needed someone to tell me it was okay to say all these things, to think and feel this way. His response to me was—“Welcome to the club”—like I’d reached some special milestone. He also told me there was an actual condition called Imposter Syndrome.
Wiki defines it as:
The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud 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 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.
It turned out to be the validation I needed to post the article, rather than scuttle it and return to safer waters of a dissection of my dialogue and imagery skills.
What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming response of others to the column. It is a long time since something I wrote aroused such discussion. The writers who commented (who are some my nearest and dearest colleagues, as well as others who I look up to) admitted they too feel unworthy or fraudulent of their place and accomplishments; they feel insecure about themselves, they have had fallen into the habit to comparison and have had creativity and confidence undermined by the practise.
Not only do I feel less alone inside my psychoses and self-flagellation now, the real power of the commentary was the pearls of wisdom shared. I see a way out of this crappy habit now to enjoy where I am, what I do and have done.
I was feeling this way for a while. But I decided that maybe I am not a great writer. I am still learning everyday. But I am me. My writing is my voice. No one else writes like me. As long as I am doing the best I can than I am being true to myself. Honesty, hard work and less comparison is my motto. ~ Rebecca L Dobbie
So I thought about a personal writing credo. Something simple and actionable, even on the worst days. I’m tempted to spew forth an entire list of dot points, but when I think back across the last few months I’ve developed a credo organically (and why the hell reinvent the wheel):
- “write dangerously” and often
- give the best part of the day to writing
- write with others
- rinse and repeat
The Only Comparison Worthy
When I start to compare my progress to others around me, I try my best to shut it down. I usually distract myself by writing. Refocuses me on what matters.
There will always be someone achieving something you wish you could. Perhaps better to compare yourself to yourself a year ago. I’ve found looking at my writing from a year ago and my writing now gives me a sense of how I am doing, rather than how I am doing in relation to anyone else. ~ Dan Powell
A year ago I was hurting toward the first of my massive meltdowns. Writing was the last thing on my mind, my confidence mostly shot to pieces. The only real memory I have of my writing last year was how much I hated most of it… not just what I wrote but the actual process. The swoon long dead, it felt like something I ‘had to do’, like dragging myself in a daze through water.
I saw my stories printed in Dead Red Heart, Hope, Nothing But Flowers and Eighty Nine, and had another story accepted for publication in Sunday Snaps, The Shorts, but they were either reworkings of existing work, submissions from the previous year, something I wrote for Literary Mix Tapes. Then there were all the stories which were never finished, including a mid-November bail on NaNo.
I’m in a much, much better place this year, and just looking back fills me with confidence of what is achievable this year. Already, in the first two months of my creative year, I have already completed a month of haiku, the first five Form and Genre challenges (and won the readers’ choice twice), received my first acceptance (Vine Leaves Literary Journal – yes I finally got there) and I’m currently five weeks ahead of deadline on my first competition submission (ever!)
It doesn’t matter at the end of the day what anyone else is going. It only matters what I’m doing… and well, that I am doing, not just full of hollow good intentions.
It Doesn’t Mean the End of the World
The day you stop feeling insecure in your work is the day you don’t care any more. May that day never come. I’ve never met a writer yet who didn’t feel that way and work on despite it. ~ Alan Baxter
I’ve said the day I feel an internal air punch when I email edits back to an author is the day I give up editing. It will mean I have lost my humility, my ego running the show and I don’t ever want to edit from that space. The sense of nerves I feel returning edits is akin to the nerves I feel just before public speaking. The difference being, I use the nervous energy to infuse my speech with enthusiasm. It sounds counter-intuitive but it’s not. If I’m not nervous… I don’t really care.
This is what I need to do with the energy produced by my insecurities, let it fuel my writing, rather than set it up as a wrecking ball. Allow it to be a litmus test for how much I care about my work and myself as a writer. Let it inspire me to keep honest (not just in my writing, but with myself). Hallelujah!
We All Bleed Red
At the end of my original article I wrote:
As writers we all bleed in one way, shape or form for the stories we birth. In that way, all writers are equal.
I’d like to add, how very grateful I am for the company I keep, where my blood converts to ink.