10:18. Restate my assumptions.
I’ve had a very bad week for impostor syndrome. Not worse than any other bad week for impostor syndrome I have had in the past; but on par with some of the worse weeks. We’re somewhere near the place where I think writing is a waste of time because I am so bad at it; I would be happier if I didn’t try to write anymore; I should give up and accept I will never be as good as the awesome writers I am reading. Most of the thoughts revolve around those three key tenets. This is pretty typical for my impostor syndrome, really; it starts as a tickle of doubt about my skills, grows from there into direct comparisons to writing I am impressed with, and ends up in me calculating exactly how many more video games I could complete if I wasn’t writing. (The answer is a lot, for those who are curious.)
I’m not writing this down to weave a sob-story for you, but more to harness a period of lucidity into some insight on what my impostor syndrome feels like, what common triggers are, and what I can do to fight out of those common triggers. So this is going to go from a little introspective to a lot introspective. Those who are not interested in taking a look at my thought processes…probably shouldn’t have been reading this blog in the first place? But, still. You have been warned this will be a richer mixture than most.
There are clear warning signs that impostor syndrome is coming. Typically, the first clue is me having to ask my wife, directly, if I suck at this writing thing. I may also direct that question to my beta-readers. Or just tweet that I am feeling down. Usually this means the wave has just started to crest on the horizon; after that, I’ll generally find myself reading or viewing an amazing piece of narrative craftsmanship/wordsmithing, and immediately after the first thought that it’s amazing will come a thought along the lines of “I will never write anything as [sad/funny/creative/poignant/sexy/whatever] as that.” That’s when I know my brain cells should be evacuating the beach.
But what do I do about it? How do I try to minimize it happening? And, if trying to minimize it does not prevent it — it’s a thought, after all, and so can openly be controlled so much — what do I do when the wave does come crashing down.
Well, that’s kind of where this post came from. This week, it has become increasingly obvious to me that there are also situations and behaviors that are likely to result in a bout of impostor syndrome. Call then increased risk factors, I guess. (Talking about impostor syndrome like it’s a viral infection is probably the best way I can categorize it, in terms of my own approach to it. An infection is something you can work to prevent, and something that, once you have it, everyone agrees it’s best if you treat it and try to let it heal itself.)
Naturally, I am at the highest risk for it after a rejection letter; and sometimes, beta-reader feedback can trigger the same thing. That doesn’t seem particularly odd — of course being told you have something to improve can spark a small flame of doubt! — but it’s worth saying because sometimes what’s prosaic to one person is arcane to another. And bviously, neither of these is a negotiable part of my writing experience, unless I suddenly become a cash-cow writer (and God, doesn’t that sound like the best possible nightmare?), so the best I can do there is try to remember the feelings these situations can enkindle and act accordingly.
But, there are other things that cause me trouble. They all go under roughly the same heading: putting myself in writing situations that will lead to writing being very difficult, or that put pressure on me to do something besides write. From least to most terrible, the ones I have identified are:
- writing with social media active (i.e., I don’t have to open a new tab or pick up a device to look at Facebook)
- writing when I have a time-sensitive problem or opportunity to address (e.g., I need to get a bill in the mail by 5pm)
- writing something on a self-imposed, specific schedule (e.g., every Friday)
- writing when I have a hard time limit on my time (e.g., on coffee breaks)
- writing while intoxicated
- writing while tired
All of these can be addressed, but all of these can also be a challenge to address. Well, not all; #1 is pretty easy for me to fix. (Though I am of course writing this with Twitter and Facebook open on either side of it. Yeugh.) #5 is also easy to avoid; it’s not like I get paid to be drunk. #6 can be handled with some lifestyle and habit changes, as can #3 (you’ve already seen that with my decision to excise mandated Friday blog posts). #4, though…dear God, #4.
I realized this week that I have not been making enough time in my schedule for writing. My current schedule has been that I get Friday and Saturday off, and write Sunday through Thursday. I have a minimum word count, doubled if I am on a deadline, doubled again for editing vs. writing new prose. I have a whole schedule worked out of what projects I am working on, with backup projects for days that a given literary pursuit or narrative voice is just too much for me to handle for whatever reason. The last two parts work great; the Sunday-Thursday schedule is not working so well, and for a very weird reason: more of my social life takes place on weeknights than weekends these days.
My friend’s Legend of the Five Rings game is on Mondays. My Wild Talents campaign is on whatever Tuesdays my players are available. Another pair of friends meet sort-of-weekly-ish on Wednesdays to try out a variety of games. Our only constant, standing engagement on weekends is an anime/Marvel Cinematic Universe night with one of our friends. All of the above of are of course not weekly in any sense, and all of the above can also tolerate having to skip a week or two when people have had bad days at work or kids are sick or what-have-you. But what this means is, my weeknights are very much not free most of the time, and my weekends tend to be busy with stuff that it is much easier to move around in my daily schedule. I need to catch up on grown-up stuff, but it’s OK if I do the dishes late at night, or if we run errands first thing in the morning. I can also find time for writing on weekends even when we have plans with friends — noon-time tabletop game? I can get up early and write, or write after I get home. WWE pay-per-view in the evening, possibly necessitating I be up late? Lunch and prose at the same time! God, even just writing that is filling me with joy.
I think the Friday-Saturday days off is an OK default, for weeks where I do not have significant weeknight obligations and so can write in the evenings; and in particular, having Friday off is a good idea most of the time, because five straight days of work can be draining and having a day where all I do is finish my day job and come home to rest can be valuable for my sanity. But for weeks like this upcoming one, where I may be out with friends for four of the seven nights available to me, I should really be considering the need to write on Saturday. Really, I am overjoyed at the thought of writing on Saturday, which is all the sign I need that I should be making it a default. I really think that this schedule — as rigid as the Progress Update schedule, in its way — was a byproduct of a different time in my life, when weekends tended to be the absolute busiest times and we were getting stuff done on weeknights. That is not this time, and the rush to get writing done on weekdays. during coffee breaks and such, is affecting both my day job focus and my writing focus, and increasing my bouts of impostor syndrome.
And when impostor syndrome does hit — and inevitably, it will hit sometimes, no matter what I do — what should I do about it?
Well, self-care, I guess. Work on writing that is “easier” for me, or that is just for me (for the time being), so I can avoid trying to feel so critical about it. Do writing exercises so I feel like I am working on improving myself. Drink lots of water. Eat my favorite salads. Drink a mango Gatorade. Play some Sentinels of the Multiverse. Read some Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl or Saga. Do things I love that do not take energy and refresh me and inspire me to write again. And if it really comes down to it…I guess take a few days off, and wait for the fire to rise in me again. Because it always does. That inexorable fact is the thing that always keeps me coming back to writing — I can tell from the way I react that regardless of profession success, writing and getting better at writing are things I absolutely need to do.
I had some thoughts about my quest for my writing voice, and my need to unleash my id a bit more in places; but those can go in a separate post, when I have not already written 1500 words and when I am feeling more focused on those concepts. For now, I think I have made some good changes, and gotten together a good list of problematic situations and behaviors. So, this coming week, I am going to let myself have some time off during the week itself — not every day, but a day or two; and then when the weekend comes, I can reap my word count in earnest. I may also give myself Friday off, but we will have to see. Putting things in stone is clearly not the best idea for me.
I hope reading through all this was helpful to someone; and I look forward to blogging at you again very, very soon.