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Life, the Universe, and Everything 30: Feeling Fake

I attended this panel on "Imposter Syndrome" because I have many of the problems discussed here.  It reminds me of an incident several years ago.  At one point in time, the convention committee of a local science fiction/fantasy convention voted to have some people get memberships free perpetually.  Since I've had a fair number of stories published in pro venues, my name was included in this list.  One time I went up to get my badge at early registration (the night before the convention started), and the registration person looked at me like she had no idea who I was (even though we've known each other for years).  "Have you published anything lately?" she asked.  That hurt.  It really did.  And it fueled my feeling of being fake.  Yeah, I won the Gold Award at Writers of the Future.  Yeah, I've had nice things said about one of my stories in Publishers Weekly.  Yeah, I was a finalist for the Utah Speculative Fiction Award.  But that was last year, or last week, or some other time.  Right now, am I worth anything?  As it turned out, I could tell her I'd just had two stories published recently, and she gave me a badge.  But what if I hadn't been able to say that?  The fact that I still remember what she said, and the awful feeling it gave me, so many years later, means I still struggle with this problem.

9 February 2012, Life, the Universe, and Everything 30

Feeling Fake (What to Do about That Pervasive Feeling That Everyone Belongs in the Publishing World Except You)

Chris Weston (C. K. Edwards), Sandra Tayler, Ami Chopine, Stacy Whitman


"Imposter Syndrome"

According to Tracy Hickman, everyone in publishing is making it up as they go.

That feeling of knowing you don't know it all.

It's like when you turn 21.  You now have all the trappings of adulthood, but aren't ready for it.

Separation between internal picture of self, and external picture you want to project.

How can imposter syndrome hold you back?
    You hold back because you don't feel you're as good as others.

Tell yourself that you're doing it because you can.

Fear underlies it all.

Fear keeps us from doing what we can do.
    Fear of making a mistake
        You don't do it, even though if you make a mistake you can try again and make it better.
"Get it wrong and move on."

You may feel you are not qualified, but do it anyway.
    Others praise you for hard work, not for being smart.

Evidence that you are competent will pile up as you continue to plug along and work.

Actually do the things you hear will work!

Put on the clothes of the profession you aspire to, and keep on plugging.

Spectate your own thoughts when you start feeling negatively about yourself or your talent.  What is causing you to feel this way?

Perhaps you have the feeling that talent is tied to money--if you don't get paid for it, it's worthless.

Remind yourself what your goals are, and where you are along that path.  Everyone's path is not the same.

When you hit your goal, that's success.  Don't compare yourself to someone who has very different goals.

Have someone you trust to be your sanity checker.  When you're down, go to them and they'll show you where you are and what you have accomplished.

Ask questions so you don't get things wrong.
Learn how to learn.

Use Twitter to follow editors and discover other good editors.  It's "the water cooler of publishing."
Hashtag chat

Self perception is always skewed--others have a different view of you.  Gather evidence of your competence.


For me, the most valuable points of this panel were spectating your own thoughts, and gathering evidence of competence.  The "spectate your thoughts" thing happened to me at LTU&E.  There was a mass signing, and since all my latest stories are in anthologies, and I didn't think to assure the bookstore had any of those anthologies, I had nothing to sign.  I started ragging on myself that I wasn't worth much as a writer because I had no reason to be at the signing--and then stopped myself.  I could have been there, it was only because the bookstore didn't have the book for me to sign that I was not.  I sold the stories.  I spent the checks!  I bought myself a netbook!  Is that enough positive?  It was for that moment.

Physical reminders like the shelf full of books my stories are in, the "Service to SFWA" trophy, and the PW quote are my evidence of competence.  I just have to remember those things when I'm getting down on myself.


It's a shame that such folk as this wear blinders that prevent them from recognizing any writing not limited to fictional prose. Some people have had success in writing SF in other forms, such as poetry, song, film scripts, etc. My own most successful type of writing, in terms of making money, was making up slogans for buttons to sell at Star Trek conventions back in the 80s. One is now so pervasive that when I tell people it's one of mine, they don't believe me. I've actually been a success in filk fandom of sorts, but I've discovered that filk success means very little in non-filk fandom.

What I'm trying to say is, you ought to qualify on your songwriting alone, which is pretty amazing.
> What I'm trying to say is, you ought to qualify on your songwriting alone, which is pretty amazing.

Thank you! That's a great compliment, especially from one of the people I feel is one of the best wordsmiths in filking.
This feeling translates into any artistic venue. I know I feel like a fake all the time! I still doubt my talent every time I put a price tag on a necklace or a zibellino. I look at the piece and say to myself, "Sure, *I* like it, but will anyone else?" Now, how do I combat that feeling? I count how many *custom* orders I've made over the past year. Heck, over the past few months! If people are seeking me out to make items for them and are paying me good money, sometimes hundreds of dollars, I figure I must be doing something right! :)