Sunday, August 1, 2021

What We're Writing Week: Imposter Syndrome by Jenn McKinlay

Howdy! I'm currently writing a book that is due in September even though I haven't received the contract for it and I can't tell you anything about it since it isn't legally locked down (that pesky contract thing) yet. Shortest blog post ever, am I right?

I'm sure there are authors out there clutching their pearls and wondering why I would write a book when I haven't signed the contract yet but the truth is I do this all the time. Last year, I wrote two books before I received the contract (pandemic issues). But I'm a speedy writer and I figure if the worst case scenario happens and the offer blows up, meaning the publisher changes their mind, I will have a completed book to shop elsewhere or publish on my own, so I don't consider it a big deal. But it is a little weird. I can admit that. 

I am also writing a lot of blog posts and interviews to promote my upcoming August 10 release WAIT FOR IT




It has been the recipient of a very lovely starred review from Booklist, which reads in part: 



I have to be honest, that sort of high praise gives me an itchy case of Imposter Syndrome, like, was it a fluke? Did I just get lucky with this book? Can I keep it up in the next book? I think being a writer is 75% self doubt and 25% ignoring said doubt and writing anyway. At least it is for me.

So, what can I share with you? How about a snippet from today's work in progress for Writer's Digest? It's called Say What? Five tips for Writing Authentic Dialogue. Here's tip number one:

1. Listen to people. I am the worst dining companion in the world because I will spend the entire meal listening to the conversations of the diners around me rather than converse with those who are with me. So rude, I know. Then I report back to my tablemates, who generally roll their eyes unless it’s something really good like an argument or a breakup. 


It's so important to listen to people talking in real life, not on television (scripted) or online (edited) but actual people living their daily lives. People do not speak like robots. If your dialogue reads like a conversation between C3PO and a Stepford wife, I am out and your book has probably taken flight and is tongue-kissing a wall somewhere. In real conversations, there are starts and stops, ums and ahs, interruptions, swears, and slang. All of those traits need to lightly season your characters’ dialogue and give it a rhythm or cadence that engages the reader as if they're listening to a real conversation. So, listen, listen, listen. 


Of course, writing think pieces about writing for other authors also gives me a scorching case of, you guessed it, Imposter Syndrome. This is ridiculous given that I have fifty books under my belt but there it is. Even after all of those books, every manuscript is a new challenge, a new K2 to climb, and I never feel fully prepared and yet somehow, by putting one word after another, I finish the book aaaaaand I still feel like a fraud. I think the condition might be chronic. LOL.


Sure, no pressure.

So, how about you, Reds and Readers, do you ever suffer from Imposter Syndrome? When? 
Why? How do you manage it?






62 comments:

  1. Imposter Syndrome and I are old friends, mostly because I tend to have little confidence in my own ability to do things well even though everything always seems to work out okay. I’ve never found a productive way to deal with it; I just fret and worry . . . .

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    1. Fret and worry - my long lost feral pets! I hear you, Joan!

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  2. oh boy can I relate to this! I remember getting my SAT scores and feeling as if I must have cheated (of course I didn't). I think it's not a bad thing. Keeps you from getting a swelled head, because with the accomplishments you have under your belt, Jenn, you'd have a hard time getting through doorways(!)

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    1. Hallie, I can see you reacting that way! LOL. As for me, luckily there are plenty of bad reviews to keep me grounded.

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  3. Every. Single. Book. I'm up to thirty, including two still without a contract, and it never changes. What also doesn't change is that I keep slugging away, keeping writing my stories, keeping hoping somebody somewhere will want to read them. So far they have! And they obviously will for you, too, Jenn. I know I will.

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    1. I'm out here waiting for your books all the time. You keep writing them and I'll keep reading them!

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    2. I think you just explained the secret to success, Edith!

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  4. Jenn, I totally love the conversations in your books. IMO, you have a gift for making them real, no matter whether we are going for heartfelt, for silly, or for sensual. At this point I have read all of the books you've published in your own name and listened to all the Audible of Hat Shop and now the Bookstore romances. Your dialog rocks.

    I guess there are lots of times when I feel like an imposter. Women of my generation frequently were not taken seriously. Sometimes they were ignored. Sometimes they were ridiculed. So, to have a Congressman or US Senator listen carefully before responding can be one of those moments where you feel like you're seeing yourself from the outside, going, "Wow.".

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    1. Oh, that is a perfect example, Judy! Feeling heard really makes the self doubt vanish.

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  5. Ditto on the compliments for your characters' conversations, Jenn. That is truly your gift.

    I'm with Judy on this kind of thing being gender-fueled, sometimes. My first experience with Impostor Syndrome (I have always spelled it with no "e") was in the early 1990's when I interviewed 140 people for my first book. They all had sewing-related businesses, and about 5% of them were men. Many of the women, including some with amazingly successful shops, were so humble and felt almost as if they were continuing a hobby, instead of running a company with 15 employees and half a million in annual sales. While the men, even ones who had only begun sewing little time before, had confident attitudes that they could not help but succeed. I'll never forget one woman, brilliant, with a Master's in math, and a thriving business (that continues today), telling me she only wanted to make enough to take her kids to McDonald's a couple times a week. She could not bear to think of herself as a success, as if that would make it all go away.

    My two youngest daughters have discussed Impostor Syndrome, too. They both studied and now work in competitive and traditionally male-dominated industries, and initially struggled, in different ways, to make themselves believe they'd earned the right to be where they are. Their support of one another, much like the authors on this blog, has helped a lot.

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    1. PS The short clip of the book cover is great fun, Jenn!

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    2. I think it’s so interesting that you mention women turning a hobby into a business because that’s what writing was for me and I think that might explain why I feel like a fraud. That and I never studied writing. I studied literature and library science so maybe not having a degree makes me feel less valid…hmmm.

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    3. Jenn, you definitely have hit on something--feeling like a fraud when all these other writers, poets, have graduate degrees from writing programs at Yale or Harvard or impressive writing workshops (Iowa, anyone?). It's hard not to compare yourself and come up short.

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    4. Jenn, isn't that also what most musicians have done? Loads of popular musicians have no formal training in music, yet they are wildly successful and prolific.

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    5. Shades of Oz here: heart, brain, courage anyone?

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  6. I'm confident in my abilities to string words together to form a review for a book or CD.

    If I experience Imposter Syndrome it is when the review goes up and someone actually likes/appreciates what I have to say. But like others, I just keep plugging away at it and try not to worry all that much about what happens after I hit the SEND button.

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  7. There have been many times when I have felt like an imposter. Probably the most ridiculous when I was 8 months pregnant and in labor. I wasn't concerned they would tell me it was too early; I was convinced they would laugh their heads off and tell me I wasn't even pregnant and how could I possible imagine such a thing! Never mind that I didn't feel that way all through my pre-natal appointments. But I actually did have a real, if small, baby boy that afternoon.

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    1. Judi - I can absolutely relate. I pushed out a Hooligan and felt like I’d stolen him. Surely, they weren’t going to let me take him? LOL.

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  8. Congrats on your upcoming release!

    I know what I've accomplished and I have realistic expectations for the future. Instead of nagging doubts, I have "friends" who take me down. "How's your writing hobby? Sold anything lately? If only I had the time to write little mysteries."

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    1. Oh yes, Margaret, the not-so-subtle put-down: "I have a great idea for a (fill-in-the-blank) novel, but I just don't have time right now (my job, my family, my important life keeps getting in the way), but one of these days...."

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    2. Or those friends who never have time to read what you have written? It make you feel like your work is unimportant to them, but I don't think that's what's actually going on. If they read it, and it's good, they have to take you seriously, and they don't want to do that. We all need better friends.

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    3. I love your stories, Gigi. I'll be your friend.

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    4. Ah, yes, I know those friends.

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    5. Thank you, Judy. You're totally on my street team next time.

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  9. JENN,

    Congratulations on finishing your novel without a contract. It will be ready by the time the contract arrives, right?

    Interesting about listening to conversations. I remember being with a friend at a cafe and we were signing. Someone at the other table was watching us and they understood Sign Language! LOL.

    Speaking of Imposter Syndrome, why does this image of Martin Landau from Mission Impossible appear in my mind? I have heard of Imposter Syndrome though I am not sure I fully comprehend the meaning. I remember a university class where our Instructor (not full Professor) and He said that he was a humble person pretending to be a Teacher. I thought it was a joke. After reading the comments above, I wonder now.

    Never thought of whether it was a gender thing.

    Question:

    How do we know the difference between self confidence and arrogance?

    On another note, look forward to reading your novel WAIT FOR IT!

    Diana

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    1. Diana, excellent question! In my opinion, self-confidence is built in part from having failed and overcome the challenges to succeed in your effort(s), while arrogance is born of the belief that you cannot fail, have never failed (if something failed, it was never your fault).

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    2. Great question! I think confidence allows room for others’ success but arrogance doesn’t.

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    3. Flora and Jenn, thank you!

      Diana

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  10. As a baker, this kicks in for me every time I have a complicated cake design or something new. Self-doubt is a frequent companion. Jenn, you keep writing and I’ll keep reading them. The realness and relatability of your characters are what draws me in.

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    1. I’ve seen your baking skills - you are amazing!

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  11. Jenn, I do know the feeling! Every time I start a new book I look at those Agatha teapots on the shelf and a voice says “this one will never live up to those. You are doomed. They’ll want the teapots back! “
    And one more thing to add to dialogue. People don’t stay still when they talk. They look around, fiddle with things, take a swig if a drink. It breaks the dialogue nicely!

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    1. Yes!!! Movement is part of dialogue. And I’m so glad you have self doubt, too. Phew!

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  12. Jenn, do a little Zen thinking--those negative thoughts drift in, you sit with them, acknowledge them, and let them drift right on out again (as you keep on writing your books!). While reviews and teapots and rewards are good, they're also transient. You sit with them, you enjoy the moment, then you keep on writing (and that's how you stay humble and don't get the bighead). You Jungle Reds are inspiring!!

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  13. Every day. Every single day. I try to read and I reassure myself that it’s because I am trying to write a better book, and when you try harder, it actually is harder! Have you ever heard of an author who doesn’t feel this way? Seriously?

    Congratulations on the fabulous amazing wonderful wise review. That is not a fluke. That is reality. It is not dangerous to celebrate, it is not a jinx. You’re allowed to, You have well earned it!

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    1. Thank you, Hank! It is every day, isn’t it? Ugh!

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  14. Jenn, you are brilliant, and if you are an imposter, you're the most convincing imposter ever. See? You're even brilliant at being a fraud! Except, of course, you're not a fraud.

    I think I gave up my imposter syndrome sometime in my 30s, because I realized I'd already been around a block or two, and actually did have some experience that counted toward my next goal. I might have been faking it 'til I made it back in my 20s, but by 30? 35? Yeah, I'd plowed the field and harvested at least one crop.

    Being daunted by a new task, a new job, a sudden life change is not the same as being an imposter. You might not know how to deal with -this-, but you know how to deal in general. You've built up a toolkit for dealing, so now you just need to break down the -this- into its various components and deal with them, one at a time. And you know you can do it because you're a pro. That's what pros do. Give that quaking imposter girl a cupcake and shove her out the door. You've got this.

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    1. Thank you, Gigi! I'll definitely have a cupcake!

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  15. Yesterday I mentioned to a friend "I failed the Wisdom Initiative". She replied, "There is no failure in Buddhism" paraphrasing A League of Their Own - but reminding me I still don't believe the reality of me. Which thoughts are more helpful: 1."I am filled with doubt and must succeed?" or "I am aware I have the ability to do this task successfully?" YMMV the happier thought works for me.
    Looking forward to reading the unnamed treasure to come.

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  16. Jenn, you are so brilliant at dialogue--we all should take lessons from you.

    Imposter Syndrome, absolutely, with every book. The only cure I know is to write--the next word, the next paragraph, the next page. Then usually by the time a book is finished I don't think it's so bad.

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  17. Oh, I’m sitting here with a nice big case right now.

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    1. It's the pits, isn't? t least you know you're not alone, Donis!

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  18. Back again. I find this topic and the responses so amazing. All of you are so successful. That imposter Syndrome is a real thing for you ....is the negative voice the motivator? Is this severe inner critic part of what makes the best artists successful? Dear hearts, you are published! You are winners in my world.

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  19. Jenn, that Booklist starred review and the excerpt from it are spectacular praise. Congratulations!

    I've had imposter syndrome my whole life--through my valedictorian graduation from high school, from my 3.92 graduation from college, and my 4.0 Master's degree. I always thought someone would figure out that I wasn't the real deal at some point. Every time I write a review, I know that I can no longer live up to reviews of the past, and, of course, at the time those reviews were lousy, too. Somehow I've managed to muddle through all the self doubt and not buckle under it, but I would much prefer to go through life with more confidence.

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  20. Imposter Syndrome is so different from wishing/dreaming/believing and then being denied. To believe you MIGHT be an imposter is to actually succeed. It must also drive you to continue.

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  21. I can completely understand your imposter syndrome. You've only published 50 books. It will completely go away when book 51 comes out. ;)

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  22. I always kind of blamed my junior high school teachers who told us we should only get A's and B's since we were in the top sections. So if I did well, I felt it was expected but not doing well was my fault. Even though I did well in school and work and learned new things at an older age, I still feel uncertain about doing new things. Your books are wonderful. Just keep writing.

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  24. Some years ago, it came up in conversation with a friend that I thought of myself as selfish. She looked at me weirdly and said, Really? I don't see you that way. And then she asked, "What does thinking that you're selfish do for you?" This was such an odd idea that it took a long time for me to come up with an answer. Finally, I realized it connected to my mother, who had often told me that I was selfish. So this negative thing I believed about myself actually had positive psychic value (it kept me attached to my mother ... which at bottom probably most of us want). (TMI?) Anyway, sometimes when I'm shackled by anxiety, the best thing I can do is ask myself, What is this (ostensibly negative) anxiety doing for me? Like many here, I've felt like an impostor. (My first book wasn't even a print book ... it was an ebook.) So here's my question for myself: What would it mean to let go of the impostor syndrome? And my answer is: If I abandoned this syndrome, and thought of myself as a real writer, I fear I'd stop trying, laze about, stop learning, and then I'd fail. There's its value for me, and why it's hard for me to let it go. Does this make sense? All that said, I appreciate hearing that I am not alone in this ... and I love Jenn's books too :) Right now I wish (real) Paris seemed like a good idea ...

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    1. That is a fascinating take! I like how you can view it as a positive motivator. Brilliant!

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