Imposter Syndrome and the Writing World

Posted By on April 3, 2012

Recently, I came across a few posts about Imposter Syndrome. Along with that link, there is a very good personal essay about one woman’s experience with it over on Geek Feminism.

The short definition is “Impostor syndrome describes a situation where someone feels like an imposter or fraud because they think that their accomplishments are nowhere near as good as those of the people around them. Usually, their accomplishments are just as good, and the person is being needlessly insecure.”[above link]

I was struck when I first started reading about this, because it absolutely describes the problems I have faced in trying to learn more about computer technology. I’ve wanted to learn various things, but feel that I’m not good enough, and I frequently find myself denying what I know I’m good at. I’m always second-guessing myself.

And then I realized that it’s not just the geeky stuff that it affects; it affects my writing, too.

If someone asks me about my writing achievements, I will certainly mention what I’ve done, but I’m quick follow up with “but.” “But I’m just e-published.” “But I haven’t sold much.” “But it’s not that good.” I don’t feel like I have made any huge accomplishments to be proud of, in part because I’m not published through a big New York house. Realistically, that is becoming less important every single year, and even if I were, I think I would still feel the same way.

It’s something I hear a lot from writers. I’ve been in a lot of writers’ groups, and it’s so very common that someone will get published, but still feel like they’re some kind of sham. That it’s not real. That they’re making it up. I suspect the “sophomore novel” blues that frequently are discussed have something to do with Imposter Syndrome — we have trouble believing that what we’ve done is real and valuable, and now that the whole world is looking at us, now they’re going to see what a farce we really are.

This year, I wanted to submit ideas for panels to my local SF convention. I went last year, and they had a wide range of panelists. Many people only had short story publications, and some were not even published, but had real life experience in what they were talking about. Despite having several e-published books, I couldn’t believe that anyone would take me seriously. I was convinced people would just laugh at me. That they’d see that I was some sort of fake, a fraud. And then came the shame, that, who the hell did I think I was, trying to present myself as some sort of expert? What the fuck was I thinking, that I had anything worthwhile to share?

All these things ran through my head, and my gut twisted and turned, and I just let the deadline pass, because deep-down, some part of me doesn’t believe that I have the credentials to speak on — well, any issue. And truthfully, I don’t think it would be any different if I were NY published. Because I have seen the same thing from NY published authors.

And it seems primarily a problem that affects women. We are so devalued by society that it is hard for us to believe that our ideas and experiences are worthwhile. It is hard to believe that there are those that would value our expertise when it is still common to run across people who tell you to shut up and demand to speak to a man instead. It’s something that is reiterated through all our lives, when as kids boys are called on more often in class to answer questions and rewarded more.

Even now, just writing this, my gut is twisting and I fear that I’ll be ridiculed for speaking about this with any sort of authority — because, after all, don’t others have it worse? Aren’t there other people better able to speak? Why should anyone believe me?

It’s part of what led to a breakdown the other night when I received a hurtful comment related to some of my writing. The comment came from someone I trusted, and the novel the commentary was about was one that I had some amount of confidence about. The end result being that I was completely torn up and questioning whether I should even keep at this thing, because, well, obviously I’m just a fake and not anywhere near as good as I think, and I should just give up and make way for Real Writers…

And I know that’s bullshit. I really do. And I suspect some people are going to be rolling their eyes here and thinking that I need to get some self-confidence. But it isn’t about that, really. It’s a cultural issue. Otherwise this wouldn’t be so common. Otherwise you would not see professional, published authors, some of them award-winning even, convinced that they suck.

It’s not generally talked about. I think it needs to be. I think that’s the only way that it will ever change — that we speak up about our fears and our doubts and these deep feelings that we aren’t good enough. Because, you know, I can’t put into words how it felt when I first read that article on Imposter Syndrome. I just about burst into tears, because, oh my gods, there was someone out there that was going through the same thing. It wasn’t just me. I wasn’t crazy.

And I’m writing this, and I’m convinced that I’m going to be told that I’m crazy, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that it isn’t that big a deal, that I need to suck it up, that I’m some kind of fraud, that I can’t speak about these issues, that this isn’t a real issue, that I’m just making it up. I’m scared to the point of my gut knotting and feeling like I’m going to throw up. But I have to write this, and get it out there, because if I feel this way, there have to be others. I know there are others.

This is a discussion that we need to have. Let’s start.

Women in Urban Fantasy, and Mistreatment Thereof

Posted By on March 29, 2012

I love urban fantasy. I have for years. I started out with Mercedes Lackey’s Diana Tregarde series, then discovered Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books, and longed for more. For a long while, it just didn’t exist. Annnnnd then it boomed.

Unfortunately, there’s a pattern in urban fantasy that I have a huge problem with and has been turning me off the genre more and more. And that’s the treatment of women in urban fantasy. You would think this wouldn’t be an issue. After all, most urban fantasy these days features a tough, competent, kickass heroine. What could go wrong? Well, a lot of things.

Most prevalent is the overwhelming tendency to completely defang women. Hear me out. Most modern urban fantasy has a heavy romantic subplot and borrows heavily from romance tropes. Being a writer myself, I follow a lot of writing circles, and I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say, “I have this awesome heroine, but she’s so capable, she does everything! And I need to make the hero sexy! And nobody will find the hero sexy if the heroine can do better than him!”

Ignoring the obvious solution of having the hero and heroine have completely different and complementary strengths, far too many writers go for the TSTL solution. If I had a penny for every time I saw a heroine do something completely out of character… *sigh*

Like, oh, storming off for no good reason and doing something utterly stupid that nobody competent in their field would do. Usually because, well, the hero suggested it, and thus he must be wrong. And if there was a good reason for the heroine to disagree, great! But that’s often not it at all. It’s a matter of cutting off her nose to spite her face. It’s a plot device to put the heroine in a position where the hero has to come to the rescue and save her from her own stupidity — and frankly, this is just insulting. And it’s common. Ridiculously common. And it’s lazy writing.

It’s one thing if, hey, the heroine runs into odds that she can’t beat, or an enemy that’s stronger than her, or gets outwitted by someone equally as capable. But that’s not what’s happening. These are situations the author is forcing the heroine into by making her act out of character for the purpose of giving the hero a moment to shine. Why not put the characters in situations where both their skills are needed? But, that wouldn’t allow the heroine to be the damsel in distress, now would it?

One of the other major issues in urban fantasy in regards to women is how the heroines relate to other women. In a genre that is so focused on strong female characters, it is pretty shocking how few heroines actually have relationships with other women. Often, other women are not friends and allies, but the enemy. Often, the heroine looks down on other women. And you see the same trope over and over again — the leather-clad dark and tortured gun-toting heroine whose strength is all physical or perhaps supernatural.

This is really just the whole “girl in the boy’s club” thing rearing its head. Femininity is derided while masculinity is put on a pedestal. Rarely do we see women who enjoy feminine things, and when we do, it’s usually a slight touch rather than an integral part of the character. Even Anita Blake, with her stuffed penguin collection, dismisses and derides other women. It’s been a long time since I read the books, admittedly, and I haven’t read the recent ones, but of the early series, all the characters that I recall her being close to were male.

(Mind, the problem is not that masculine-leaning heroines exist. The problem is that they are the sole archetype that we see commonly in urban fantasy heroines.[1])

Very few urban fantasies actually pass the Bechdel test (two women, who talk to each other, about something other than a man). For a genre that is supposedly woman-focused, that’s just sad. Where are all the relationships between women? Most of us have friends who are women, mothers, sisters, aunts, etc. Where are they?

So what’s the solution here? It comes down to writers being aware of the social implications their fiction will have. Because words have meanings, and stories have power. If they didn’t have power, Piers Anthony’s Mode books wouldn’t have helped me when I was a suicidal teen, and Mercedes Lackey’s books wouldn’t have helped me come to terms with my bisexuality.

When even supposedly strong heroines are undermined at every turn and cannot succeed without the aid of a man, the underlying message is that of Well, if $awesomecharacter can’t do it, why should I believe I can? Women are already at a disadvantage in society, with all the negative messages lobbed at us. We should be able to read fiction that empowers us, not reinforces that we are nothing without a man.

I am not saying that heroines should be all-powerful, because that would be boring. But if you’re writing about a top-notch FBI agent, you don’t have her forget basic gun safety. You don’t have her barging into trouble without thinking about it. You don’t have her so distracted by the hero’s good looks that she misses the villain’s move and gets trapped (and yes, I have read this). It sends a very negative message.

So how do you get around it when you need the heroine to screw up somewhere? Well, make it a believable screw-up, not something that a rookie would do (unless your character is a rookie, but most of the heroines I’ve seen in urban fantasy are purported to be some of the best at what they do). Or, hey, maybe she doesn’t have all the information, makes a decision on what she knows, and then finds out that she was missing a vital piece of the puzzle.

But you know what I’d love to see more of? I’d love to see more heroines who get themselves out of that pickle, rather than heroines who have to be rescued by the hero. But, how do I manage an alpha hero and heroine and their power struggle without having one or the other knuckle under? Not everything has to be a power struggle, although they can be fun to write. The best alpha heroes I’ve read have been adept in their own field but respected the heroine in hers and listened to her opinions. But what if they’re both experts in the same field? Well, hey, they’re probably going to argue — but the automatic reaction shouldn’t be for the heroine to be the one who’s wrong. Mix it up a little. Or hey! Maybe they’re both wrong.

There’s a lot of focus on alpha heroes in urban fantasy and a need to make them sexy. You know what? The sexiest heroes I’ve read aren’t the ones who are always rescuing the artificially created dumbass heroine — they’re the ones who respect the heroine, her abilities, her strengths, and love her for who she is. The ones who aren’t threatened by a strong woman. The ones who know when it’s appropriate to take a backseat. The ones who know when it’s time to stand their ground, and when it’s time to say, “Hey, you know more about this than I do”, or “I don’t agree, but let’s compromise.” It’s not an all or nothing situation.

I’d love to see more women who have relationships with other women, too. I’d also like to see a greater breadth of heroines — heroines of color, heroines with disabilities, queer heroines, etc! Or hey, maybe not the heroine but a lady friend who is one of the above, or someone deeply involved in the story. I’d love to see more focus on this, because the lone uber!heroine surrounded by a sausage-fest is getting old.

This is something that writers have the power to change. Let’s change it.

[1] I know there are exceptions to this. Please do not focus on them. This is a widespread issue, and the fact that there are exceptions does not negate that the overwhelming majority of urban fantasy heroines fits only one archetype.

Also…

Posted By on February 19, 2012

I really need to update this thing more often. I’ve been posting a lot on my LiveJournal, but it occurs to me that I really should write here, too. I’ve kept this mostly free of my personal life, but I’m beginning to wonder if that was the wisest decision. Due to my various illnesses, I have periods where I’m not actively writing and thus this blog gets awfully quiet.

Honestly, not sure anyone is reading this anymore. I only ever get comments from spammers. Iff’n y’all are still reading, gimme a poke, willya? 🙂

Working on the revision…

Posted By on February 19, 2012

Finished revision of Ch1 for Stronger. I’m quite pleased. The first scene didn’t need a whole lot of work except for smoothing out the voice, because it hadn’t changed a lot from the very original scene I wrote in 2002. My voice has evolved quite a lot since then, so it needed to be updated to match.

Other things were that I finally decided to change the city the book is set in. I’d been considering doing so for awhile but when I ended up swapping Alex from male to female — which resulted in most of the primary characters in the book being bi or gay — it made a lot more sense to set it in San Francisco rather than LA. Also, it helps that I actually know a lot of people who either live currently in SF or the surrounding area.

Also descriptions from friends, including some who have been to both, sounds like SF is pretty close to Seattle in tone, which I am familiar with, and LA… is decidedly a different creature altogether.

It’s interesting to see the number of things that change both subtly and not with Lex being a woman. There’s a part of the second scene where she and Aster are arguing about how when it came down to fighting against a rebellion, Lex had just lost a very dear friend in the fighting. Her response to this was to lock Aster in her room to keep her from fighting, because she didn’t want to lose her, too. The undertones are really incredibly different with the gender switch.

And other things have a different tone, too. The rivalry between her and Eric is different — there’s the jealousy that Eric wasn’t chosen to be their leader’s protege, but there’s also resentment there because Lex is a woman, and Latina at that. And there’s doubts that she can lead the Dark Court because she’s a woman.

I kinda expected there would be differences going back and revising, but I don’t think I quite realized how strong they would be! I think the original story was good, but there is a whole different level of depth here, and I’m quite pleased with it.

It’s done!

Posted By on October 17, 2011

Stronger than the Night is complete at 108k words. 😀

I am so stoked about this. This is the first full-length novel I’ve completed since 2006, when I finished A Passion Draconic. I had the novel sitting around 80k when I came back to it in mid-July. I didn’t do much on it from mid August to September because of an issue with POV in one scene (and instead of realizing it was POV, I kept attributing not working on it to other things), but… almost 30k in three months. Woohoo! That’s more than I’ve written in the past couple years!

I still have a lot of work to do. It needs a lot of editing. In part, I need to pare some scenes down, because I had this nervous twitch, so to speak, where every scene needed to be a certain length (because I was doing one scene per chapter vs. several scenes per chapter), and I think there are some that are artificially inflated. I also, obviously, have to complete the gender switch for A/Lex and that’s going to be a little more complicated than just changing pronouns. But I have faith it is going to be much more awesome because of it!

However, edits are going to wait! Because November is NaNoWriMo, and I will be doing it. Or at least attempting it. The suicide lesbian zombie story I have been planning on writing for, oh, ten years, is finally going to get written. I’m in the process of outlining it and have some 30-odd scenes. It’s going to be a different flavor of story than the rest of my work, but I’m hoping it will still be awesome. 😉