Thursday, April 12, 2007

A problem for Authors - The Impostor Syndrome

Some friends were talking recently and a subject came up that is near and dear to most of us authors (and others) out there, but is rarely talked about - The Impostor Syndrome.

This is the feeling deep inside that you aren't at all good, that you have no right to be up there on that panel talking to fledgling writers, that your publisher is crazy for ever having agreed to publish your book. No matter how much actual success you gain, you just can't reconcile yourself to the fact your talents did that! It must be luck, or a coincidence, or someone helping you out - no way could it actually be you.

At home, safe and sound, this feeling of being a fraud is not so strong. It mostly rears its ugly head when you are out there, in front of con goers, other writers (especially if you admire their work), or anyone else who approaches you that has heard you are a writer. For some, the feelings of being a fake and the guilt at daring to put themselves out there as something they know they are surely not can be extremely depressing, and actually paralyzing, keeping them from presenting themselves to others - the biggest fear being that someone somewhere will figure out their shame and expose them to all.

I did a Yahoo search on "Impostor Syndrome" just wondering what I would find. There were a lot of hits. Talentdevelop.com has the names of several major actors and actresses who have suffered from this - Nicole Kidman, Jodie Foster, Don Cheadle, and more. Caltech and Cornell both have a section on the syndrome at their site. Numerous psychologists have done papers on the subject.

One interesting fact I noticed is that this syndrome seems to be most prevalent in women. (Dang it!)

Okay, so now that you're nodding your heads knowing what I am talking about and some of you feeling you have this thing, what can you do about it? Hey, don't look at me! I have this too! And I am no expert. But...

To me, some of the feelings generated by the syndrome stem almost into the realm of phobias. I know some definite facets of it reflect in my shyness, my inability to toot my own horn, my embarrassment when others do it for me, and my not wanting to force people to buy my books but rather entice them into it so it's is their own decision.

But what I have done (and it sort of works for me), and what others I know are so good at you would never ever think they doubt themselves or their relevance, is to create an Author Persona. Basically what it comes down to is making a professional copy of yourself, one that gets down to business and has no doubts. You don't have to reinvent yourself! Just think of a more outgoing more confident you (even if by just a little) and give yourself some props to help you slide into the role.

In my case, I have clothes that I specifically use when I am the "writer". They are fancier than my usual fare (Tomboy here! Tomboy!) and they make me look professional (I hope) - like I might actually know something. Others I know dress more casually, but still have something to set them aside from their everyday facade -- they use things like funky vests, costumes (some even dress like their characters), neat hats, buttons, what have you.

Mind you, this professional alter-ego in no way makes any of the fears of feeling like a fraud disappear, but it can help you put enough of a lid on them to manage and do what you are there to do - whether it be a panel, a signing, a chat, sitting behind a dealer's table and smiling, whatever. And of course, like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

If we're very lucky, maybe even that feeling of being a fake will go away too someday. (Right...) :P

But it will let you function. And functioning before the fans and our peers as an author is something we must do! So go get 'em! We rock! Don't ever forget that!




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