What if I’m not good enough? What if I am?
I’m on my way toward becoming a professional writer, an author. I know this because I’ve measured success one rejection letter at a time. Slowly—oh so slowly—the responses to my queries went from no reply to form reply to personalized rejection to editorial feedback. And then, I arrived in that magical place where agents and editors wanted to read my first three chapters. Some time later—a long time later—publishing professionals wanted to read whole manuscripts. The rejections kept arriving, but they were encouraging. They said things like “excellent writing, just didn’t love the story.”
At this magical moment in time, three agents are reading full versions of my latest manuscript. Two of them have given feedback and asked for rewrites. I’ve had a phone conference with one of them where we discussed what goals I had for my writing career and where I was going with the book and series I am working on.
I feel like I’m on the cusp of something big, but can’t quite grasp the final prize. I don’t know how to cope with the waiting, the anticipation. Thinking about what may happen, my mood swings violently from exaltation to despair. It’s like a manic teeter-totter, success and failure bounces up and down, never quite balancing in the middle. Whichever one wins, I’m terrified.
What if none of the agents want to sign me? What if the increasingly encouraging rejections and the request for my writing were a total fluke?
What if one of them does want to represent me? What do I do then? What if the manuscript they read is a fluke and I produce nothing but garbage from here?
No matter what I accomplish, I have a hard time taking credit for it, a hard time believing it wasn’t just a fluke that I succeeded. Secretly, I believe I’m a fraud and it’s just a matter of time before everyone figures this out. There’s a word for this, Imposter Syndrome. This psychological phenomenon affects many women (and a few men), usually high achievers.
In 1978, Dr. Pauline Rose Clance defined the syndrome as:
“The psychological experience of believing that one’s accomplishments came about not through genuine ability, but as a result of having been lucky, having worked harder than others, or having manipulated other people’s impressions….”
An amazing writer and friend recently shared with me that after she sold her first book, she kept on waiting for the publisher to call and say, “Oh, we didn’t want this book. There’s been a mistake.”
The Imposter Syndrome is common among creative people. Amazing writer Maya Angelo who once said:
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”
Even someone as talented and successful as Meryl Streep suffers from the syndrome:
“You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”
At the root of my fear of failure and my fear of success lies the same thing: the terror of being found out a fraud. If I fail, my worry that my success so far was all a fluke proves true. If I succeed, I just haven’t been found out yet.
I have an excellent support network of friends and equally neurotic writers who prop me up, no matter which way my emotional teeter-totter swings. And all that pent up anxiety does wonder for my creativity. When I feel like the pressure cooker of worry is about to burst, I sit down to write and let my fear flow into characters who are much braver and much less afraid than I am.
Most of the time this works, but sometimes I can’t keep the angst away and I check my email every 20 seconds. Waiting for a rejection, meaning I have been found out. Waiting for an acceptance, meaning I’ll be a fraud for a little while longer.
Do you have a twinge of the imposter syndrome? What do you do to relieve fears, anxiety, and stress?
Join the discussion below for a chance to win a signed copy of the suspense anthology THE UNQUIET. J.D. Robb, Mary Blayney, and Ruth Ryan Langan have all signed it. Celebrate Halloween month with their and two other author’s chilling tales of suspense. I’ll pick a winner on the 31st at 8 pm PST.