Impostor Syndrome: A Navigational Toolkit

https://www.flickr.com/photos/el_cajon_yacht_club/9335126935

Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things. On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.” And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.” And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.

-Neil Gaiman
From http://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/160603396711/hi-i-read-that-youve-dealt-with-with-impostor

That anecdote illustrates just how pervasive impostor syndrome is, and that it even affects people outside of creative spheres. Both Gaiman & Armstrong are widely celebrated for achievements in their respective fields, so if they feel like impostors, it’s fair to say that nearly everyone falls victim to it at one point or another, no matter where you are in your career, no matter the industry. I’ll direct you to the insights of people much wiser and more experienced than myself, and hopefully this post will serve as a toolbox that you can pull from to hammer, chisel, drill, dynamite, or scream your way out of impostor syndrome episodes whenever they strike!

If you’re still not sure about what exactly impostor syndrome consists of, or have questions about its validity, this piece from Time Magazine is the perfect launchpad. Abigail Abrams runs through its origins and evolutions, references the psychology behind it, and pinpoints the personality types most likely to be affected. http://time.com/5312483/how-to-deal-with-impostor-syndrome/

Kirsten Weir conducted a thorough examination of impostor syndrome in graduate students for the American Psychological Association. While its primary focus is academia, this piece is loaded with information that can be applied regardless of the disciplines, industries, or institutions that have you feeling like an outsider. https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud

This essay by Alicia Liu caught my eye because of a brilliant accompanying graphic, but the text surrounding it is just as exceptional. Liu details her experiences in programming, and has even written follow-ups (linked at the end of the original) to help guide others through the entire arc of impostor syndrome, including moving beyond it! https://medium.com/counter-intuition/overcoming-impostor-syndrome-bdae04e46ec5


https://medium.com/counter-intuition/overcoming-impostor-syndrome-bdae04e46ec5

Sometimes you feel like an impostor when things get more difficult, but Mary Robinette Kowal has a theory that might just set you back on track! http://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/impostor-syndrome/

Unfortunately, impostor syndrome can strike twice for people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ and gender non-conforming people, and other marginalized folks. It’s an ugly truth that many establishments have a default of straight-white-cis-het-able-bodied-male rather than qualified. Mario Montoya runs down what it’s like to be othered in an already anxiety-inducing MFA program. http://bmr.unm.edu/2018/11/07/double-impostor-syndrome-being-of-color-in-an-mfa-program/

Afrofuturism! Music! Academia! The power of imagination! What do these things have to do with impostor syndrome? Inda Lauryn lays it all out in this transformative personal essay at The Toast. http://the-toast.net/2014/11/19/afrofuturism-imagination-impostor-syndrome/

Working behind the scenes at Simon & Schuster, Janelle Milanes saw that the reality of publishing wasn’t as daunting as it often appears. In this interview with Vivian Nunez, she discusses impostor syndrome, her Latinx heritage, and how to create a space for your work. https://www.forbes.com/sites/viviannunez/2018/12/14/this-latina-young-adult-author-shares-how-she-navigates-impostor-syndrome/#16752ed9135d

Sci-Fi writer John Scalzi maps out the other side of the coin: a potentially infuriating glimpse into the life of a successful writer who’s never experienced impostor syndrome. He explores the privileges that carried him along the way, but also acknowledges that when you are a writer, you are a writer, no matter what anyone else’s perceptions or opinions may be. https://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/01/30/impostor-syndrome-or-not/

Still need a boost to get you out of the impostor bog? Sonia Thompson is here with motivation, understanding, and a little help from Maya Angelou, Seth Godin, and Tina Fey. https://writetodone.com/how-to-keep-writing-2/

If that wasn’t your speed, try this shouty, sweary explosion of impostor syndrome-checking inspirational hellfire in that only Chuck Wendig could conjure! http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/03/01/please-let-me-motivate-you-with-my-gesticulations-and-screams/

Last but not least, a gift from Kythryne Aisling to take with you on your journey.https://wyrdingstudios.com/blogs/news/83774788-fighting-impostor-syndrome-or-how-to-be-a-real-artist

Dear creative person, go forth and create!

You’re Not Alone: NaNoWriMo Support

Embarking on NaNoWriMo is daunting from the jump, but fear not! There are plenty of resources for everyone from first timers to seasoned vets, and there are more popping up each year. No matter how far along you are or what’s holding you up, there’s a solution out there to get you to the finish line.

NaNoWriMo.org

This is home base for NaNo warriors, chock full of resources that you may already be aware of, but there’s so much here that some of the essentials can get lost in the shuffle. Here are some direct links:

Pep Talks – Pep talks written by well-known authors delivered right to your inbox.
Regions – Meet other like-minded participants in your area to help each other through.
Word-Count Helpers – Track your progress and share milestones.
Forums – Everything from motivators to a place to unwind, be sure not to spend more time chatting than writing!

Camp NaNoWriMo

Camp NaNoWriMo is the very definition of community for NaNo participants, featuring counselors and coaches, forums, and badges to celebrate your milestones. Use your nanowrimo.org account to sign in!

@NaNoWordSprints

For something a little different, pop over to Twitter and join a scheduled word sprint run by NaNo volunteers.

The LetterWorks

While you’re here, we’ve written a handful of NaNo help guides on a variety of subjects:

November Events
Making The Most of NaNoWriMo
30 Days in the Trenches: Staying Motivated During NaNoWriMo
Writing Past the Wall
Let it Rest.

WikiWriMo

Have a question about anything NaNo related? Chances are you’ll find your answer here.

 

With these resources at your disposal, you can win NaNoWriMo!

30 Days in the Trenches: Staying Motivated During NaNoWriMo by Josh Smith

Now that we’re a few days into NaNoWriMo, you may be starting to question whether or not you can actually pull this off. You may not have even started yet if you plan on word-sprinting through the weekends, but that fear might already linger. Make no mistake, this is a massive undertaking, but it is far from impossible. The first step is preparation. At this point, you should have a game plan, but if you still need some pointers, Melissa has you covered right here: Making the Most of NaNoWriMo.

Once you have yourself sequestered in your sacred writer’s cave with a head full of characters and a clear direction you’ll lead them in, nothing can stop you, right? Well … you’re going to experience some fatigue. It may not be today, tomorrow, or even next week, but your brain is going through the wringer this month and you need to stay limber if you’re going to reach the finish line. Here are some insights from previous NaNo participants to keep the words flowing!

Set Goals, stay on schedule
The 50,000 word finish line can easily be broken down into manageable chunks, such as 2,000 per day or 12,500 per weekend. These regular goals can be tailored to your schedule, and when you keep track of your word counts at https://nanowrimo.org, you will earn badges that act not only as trail markers but confidence boosters as well! There will likely be times that you fall behind, but as long as you don’t stray too far from your target, you’ll be able to catch up without exhausting yourself.

Remember why you’re participating
Those word count gaps can strike terror into the heart of even the most seasoned NaNo vet, so when that fear creeps into your periphery, when your text isn’t living up to your expectations, or if you’re just flat out tired and unable to focus, remember why you signed on in the first place. Whether you feel like this is an important step in growing as a writer, or you’ve always wanted to complete a novel, or maybe you just want to prove to yourself that you can do it. As long as you honestly care about your motivation, it will be an effective fuel!

Don’t let you physical or mental health slip
There’s a good chance you’ll notice a boost in your caffeine intake and a decrease in your physical activity and non-workplace human interactions. The quality of your meals might deteriorate as you hijack every possible minute to reach your goals. These situations may be unavoidable for most, but try to strike a balance. Your health is very important to both creativity and productivity, so it’s worth sacrificing a little time to go outside and enjoy the brisk autumn air, play a game with friends or family, or get a little exercise. Sometimes these short breaks can even clear your mind of clutter and help you work through troublesome patches in the novel. However, hunkering down over the leftover Halloween candy and seeing how much sugar you can pack into your body in one sitting is not an ideal break. You’re going to need snacks, and while a little candy here and there can be a nice treat, you should stock up on trail mix, fruits, or even energy bars. I’m not saying you need to go to Whole Foods and go wild on chia seeds and dried kale (unless that’s what you like), but be mindful of your snacking and try to take it easy on the caffeine. If you need a break from coffee, try brewed cocoa or new flavors of tea and always have water nearby!

Remember: 50,000 raw words
Don’t stop to edit yourself or second guess a decision. If you start questioning what’s hitting the page, make a note and write through it. There will be plenty of time to edit later. When your writing begins to feel sluggish, go wild! Use these moments as opportunities to explore situations you wouldn’t typically consider. Use your instincts and let the characters guide you. If you need to catapult someone into the sun or reveal that someone’s been an agent of the antagonist the whole time to get the pace of the story back on track, so be it. You have plenty of time to edit once NaNo ends, so don’t let any second-guessing throw you off track. You are a warrior, this is your battle, so get in there and slay that word count!

Special thanks to NaNo vets Nancy Moran, Judy Hopkins, and our own Melissa Heiselt for all the excellent info that went into this post. Be sure to check out next week’s NaNo blog as Melissa squares off with THE WALL!

Stop Aspiring to be an Author by Amanda Wayne

Are you an aspiring author? It’s time to stop aspiring and start writing! We live in a busy world. There are only so many hours in the day, and life demands we fill those hours with such tedium as food, sleep, and social interaction. All of those obligations can really take a toll on the aspirations of an author. There are a lucky few people who have the resources to simply sit at a laptop for hours a day and just write with no distractions, no obligations, and no excuses. For the rest of us, there is laundry to fold, hours to work, children to raise, and any number of other things that demand our immediate attention. Fitting a thousand words a day into that can be quite difficult. As with any dream or resolution, achieving success is a matter of planning and execution.

In order to successfully write, you must have the discipline to schedule your keyboard time in around the rest of life. Then, of course, you have to follow through with that schedule. Having carved out those minutes or hours, you must protect them and treat them as a precious, necessary item. Perhaps you write best in the morning. Set your alarm for an hour earlier, pour yourself a large cup of coffee and write. If you thrive in the late hours of the night, put your house to rest and settle in for a few hours of uninterrupted writing time. If neither of those are an option, perhaps you could write during a morning carpool, on the bus, or on a lunch break. You could schedule a block of time every Saturday morning, Thursday during soccer practice, or Sunday after The Walking Dead. It bears repeating that you must protect that time. Don’t short yourself the time you need to be successful. If this is important to you, you must make it happen.

A support system is crucial for writing. There is a reason so many first novels are dedicated to children and spouses. Let your family know that you need their support and their tough love. It can be a powerful motivator to have a spouse who is willing to tell you that you should be writing instead of surfing social media for cute cats or funny videos. Have your children ask how many pages you wrote today and give them a truthful answer. Their excitement or disappointment can be critical. Let your friends into your literary world. Involve them as Alpha readers or bounce story ideas off of them. Not only will their advice be helpful, but it can also give you something new to discuss over coffee or wine.    A plot twist or character arc can really add some life into otherwise dull and rote conversations. Perhaps pick a friend’s brain about how they would handle the issues that your characters face. Inspiration can be found in the most unlikely places.

When writer’s block strikes and you simply cannot get yourself to express even a single sentence, it is time for something new. Change which story you are working on. Find a quick prompt to get the words flowing. Take your laptop to a coffee shop and journal about the patrons there. Try jotting phrases free hand instead of on your computer. Compose a poem about falling leaves or the scent of coffee. Construct a dating site profile for your main character. Blog about what you ate for dinner last night. The important part isn’t the words, it is the communication of ideas into something concrete. The act of writing gets your brain into the mindset of writing. Even if you keep nothing from these efforts, you still put pen to paper, and that is a far better use of your time than “liking” pictures of your best friend’s cat.

In the end, it is unlikely that anyone in the world cares about your dreams more than you do. If you can’t find the time or discipline to write, you will never be a writer. Your stories will suffocate in the dark of your mind. They will stay locked inside of that place in you where fictional characters live before they are born of ink and word.  Free them from the confines of “could have been”.  Make time to write. Make yourself accountable.  Be a writer. Not an aspiring writer.