There was an inauguration yesterday. The United States of America swore in a new president.
But. This is a writing blog, so let’s talk about writing.
I may have complained some about how my space fantasy story that I started during NaNoWriMo went off the rails and I wasn’t sure where it was going. I might have been getting words in, but I have been struggling to advance the plot.
This weekend, I took a drive, thought about my story, and realized the problem.
When a story is fighting you, the problem just might be that you’re going the wrong direction. Sometimes, you’re writing the wrong story.
Types of Stories
We’re all familiar with the different types of stories, even if we don’t have the lists memorized. While different people split them up differently, let’s go with this subset of six categories of stories.
“Human versus human” – Someone is standing in your way, blocking you from achieving your goals.
“Human versus nature” – A survival tale.
“Human versus machine” – Technology, at whatever level, might be your undoing.
“Human versus fate” – Can you fight the gods and/or destiny?
“Human versus society” – Where you’re fighting ‘the man’, the system, the government, the corporation…
“Human versus self” – When you really are your own worst enemy
What Was Wrong In Morgan’s Story
For me, I typically write “human versus society”, where the problem is social expectations, or a corrupt government, that sort of thing. That’s my – for lack of a better term – comfort zone.
Which is a bit silly, because in my personal life, I’m the sort that is comfortable being a cog in the wheel. I can rationalize a lot, and I typically go along with authority unless I have a clear reason to fight back. Which doesn’t happen often.
With my space fantasy, I was trying to base the story structure on classic fairy tales… while still having the enemy be a nebulous corporation — or at least a debt to them.
But fairytales thrive on conflict. Well, all stories do. But fairytales thrive specifically on interpersonal conflict.
I was driving down that tree-lined highway in the mountains, thinking about my story and how to get it from where it was to the ending I needed, when the solution dawned on me.
I need an enemy, one close at hand, with motivations and reasons all their own. And I knew exactly who it was, who I’d been trying to reform since the very beginning. That was my mistake.
Not all antagonists can be swayed to the side of the main character. Some are just in it for themselves.
Welcome to Part 5 of my WorldCon, CoNZealand panel write ups.
The panelists for the titular panel were: Cassie Hart as moderator, Curtis Chen, Ash Charlton, Margot Atwell, and Grant Stone.
I know, I know, I’ve dealt with impostor syndrome before, I’ve even hit panels on imposter syndrome before, but every con I go to is full of amateurs and professionals suffering. (Google just reassured me that I can end imposter with an -er or an -or and be correct. But never -ure.)
This panel didn’t have a description, but the title pretty much says it all.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Before we get started, we should make sure we’re all working off the same definition.
Impostor syndrome, according to wikipedia, (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
I.E. Me. Right now.
In other words? The feeling that people think you’re better than you know you are. That you don’t deserve to be where you are.
In the writing world, no matter which path you take, you can always feel not-good-enough.
For the writer-wanna-be, just finishing your first manuscript can seem like that step that will make you feel like a ‘real writer’. For the querying writer, getting that agent. For the writer out on submission, getting that publisher to sign. For the writer publishing either way (traditional or indie), holding that first copy where the book is real. Then getting that first sale, then getting the next sale, then earning those big bucks. Then winning that award!
There’s always something bigger to strive for, before you feel you can call yourself a ‘real’ writer, or a successful author.
Things That Can Trigger Imposter Syndrome
Confession, the start of this panel was kinda… hilarious. When you attend a panel, the first thing the panelists do is introduce themselves and discuss their credentials to be on the panel.
How does one list one’s accomplishments to prove they do belong there, without disproving their own imposter status? It proved for many of them a rather strong cognitive dissonance – holding two opposing beliefs in your head is hard.
Proving you belong on an impostor syndrome panel (am I an imposter at being an imposter)
Sharing your work with others. (they could judge it)
External validation from people you know. (they’re just being kind)
One panelist used to feel like an imposter because he is gay, now he feels like an imposter because he’s a cis, white, man
Starting to write a new book (what if last time was a fluke? What if you’ve lost the touch.)
Comparing oneself to others in the room
That last one can be the most insidious, especially in this day-and-age of social media. One of the things it is best to remember is that most people share their wins, their successes, and even their struggles are sanitized or framed in a “look-what-I-overcame” sort of way.
You’re comparing your real life, your real self, with alls it’s ups and downs and playing phone games ’til 5 in the morning, comparing that you, to others on their best day — when they’re all ready for it, with their best dress on, and face all made up.
So many of those ‘overnight successes’ have been working hard, hustling, and practicing their craft for a decade or more.
Ways To Mitigate Imposter Syndrome
When applying for jobs, studies have found that men apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the listed skills, women when they meet 100%. The best way to reach the moon is to shoot for the stars and miss.
This list is long, so hopefully something in here will resonate for you.
Meeting and interacting with the people you’re comparing yourself to
You find out they’re real people, with their own foils and foibles
Remind yourself why you’re in their company and what your qualifications are
Ask yourself, who taught you that you weren’t as good as the others? Are they someone whose judgement you trust?
As an author, 95% of the authors around you are there, or have been there, and are sweet and friendly and helpful and welcoming.
While we all think we’re nobody next to somebody, we’re all somebody to someone.
Remember: the way you see yourself is not how people see you, (and in this day and age, remember that text communication isn’t the same as video, isn’t the same as in person. Someone who seems terse and judgey just might stink at texting, or have bad bandwidth, or screaming neighbors…)
There’s always someone ahead of you… but there’s always someone behind you. You need to consider which axis you’re judging and remember that your path to success isn’t necessarily linear. A writer-career bingo is better than a line, because no two paths are the same.
Play to your own strengths, don’t chase someone else’s success.
While external validation can help… it’s very unhealthy and co-dependent. Finding joy in your work helps. What lights you up and makes you want to do it?
When all else fails? Power poses! Literally. They can stimulate your brain in helpful ways.
Try finding a song that resets or recenters your brain, not necessarily ones that peps you up.
Dress in a way that makes you look confident: snazzy bow ties, bright hair, business geek.
If you use a pen name, channel that alter ego and make it all the best parts of yourself — still you, but just the aspects that you want the world to see.
Remember to separate who you are from what you do. Just being you makes you worthwhile… without accolades.
Think about the expectations and next steps or goals, and see if they’re actually things you want — or just what seemed like the next step. If you want them? If you want something else entirely? Figure out the steps to get you there and take them.
When you step out of your comfort zone, acknowledge it and give yourself credit for trying.
Have friends and family who encourage and support you, and push you to grow. If you don’t have anyone that supportive, find better friends!
You can opt to the pressure to make your hobby a hustle! Write for yourself and enjoy the hobby. Share it as you like.
In the day-job world, there’s a spot, usually about 3-months into a job, where many people know exactly how much they don’t know and they’re struggling. Pushing past it, you often find that you’re good at the job. With writing, you keep promoting yourself and you’re going to struggle every time you advance. Be patient and work through it.
Be your own friend. (This one gets a little recursive) Tons of people are far more empathetic with others than they are with themselves. And be empathetic with yourself if you’re not good at this at first. It takes practice, and you wouldn’t write off a friend for being bad at this…
Set your goals as things you can control, not things reliant on someone else: how much you work rather than whether or not you get rejections.
If all else fails? Own it!Pretend to be the person they think you are, or fake it ’til you make it!
“I am worthy. I am worthy. I am worthy.”
“Ground yourself in things that fill you up.”
“You have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” (Hamilton)
“F*ck you honey, you’re lucky to have me here.”
If you’re going to put yourself out there, you have to be ready for feedback — and rejection is a form of feedback… but it’s also a form of progress.
You’ve had the idea and you’ve put it on paper.
Maybe you’ve finished the piece and sent it out? When you get that rejection, you can be ready to send it again, (to someone else). They’re not always saying ‘no’. Often, they’re saying ‘not right, now. But keep going.”
Don’t self reject. If you work hard and keep at it, you’re going to keep getting better, and keep getting closer to that next stage in your career, however you define it.
If you’ve fought with impostor syndrome, share how you’ve overcome it.Or at least fought it back.
I first started writing because I wanted to tell a story.
Wait. That’s wrong.
I first started writing because I wanted to read a story that didn’t exist, except in pieces in my head.
The only way for me to find out who exactly these characters were, what exactly happened to them, and WHY — was to write it until the story rang true.
I know that’s not how writing works for everyone. However. With my conceptual imagination? That’s still how it works for me.
But when I started writing, I was writing alone.
The stereotype of the writer is the heavy drinking — or maybe tea-drinking loner with dozens of cats for company. With a feel that truly great art — great writing — only comes from pain.
Well? I know that it depends on what you like to write, and what you like to read, and what brought you to where you are today. However, that stereotypical writer life doesn’t sound very healthy to me.
Be you an introvert, an extrovert, or something in-between, most of us thrive in supportive environments, that push us to achieve something greater.
In this day and age of the internet, supportive writing communities can be found everywhere.
Maybe you like the challenge of NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month, where you pledge to write 50,000 words in one month. But, NaNoWriMo is more than just a website account where you update your daily word count. NaNoWriMo has forums, twitter hashtags, and facebook groups. Plus? They support local writing groups with liaisons running in-person (and, in these days, virtual) meetups and write-ins and overnighters.
You can be active year round, or only touch a pen during November and you’re still just as valid a member of the community. You can be a 15 year champion (hitting the word count goal every year), or average 500 words every November and you still count.
Maybe twitter is your jam. Sharing your updates on the #5amWritersClub, joining the different hashtag chats and sharing writing memes and progress posts.
You might be the type of writer who joins those twitter pitch contests: #pitMad, #sffPit, #dvPit, where you tweet a short pitch for your polished manuscript and hope a literary agent from a respectable agency likes your tweet. If so, it’s an invitation to query, where you typically get moved to the top of their inbox.
For the low-key writer who loves a good aesthetic, #authorsOfInstagram may be for you. Cover reveals, office set ups, and quotes from favorite books abound for authors on Instagram. While less centralized than other social medias, it’s a great place to connect one-on-one.
If you’re a facebook user, there are groups for all sorts of genre writers and all ranges. There are professional groups and critique circle groups. There’s the Sub-It-Club and the Insecure Writers Group. I personally run several support groups for PitchWarrior hopefuls, and admin a few others.
Social Media In General
Social media, in general, is a good way to connect. Reddit, tumblr, MeWe, or wherever you hang out, is likely to have a group or ten for writers. Take a look.
Speaking of PitchWars — for those of you who don’t know, PitchWars is an online mentorship opportunity, where you query mentors like you would an agent. If you are accepted, you work with them to revise your full manuscript, and at the end, all of the re-worked manuscripts are showcased, with reputable agents invited to visit and make offers. Some books get into bidding wars, and some still don’t find an agent, but in either case, you get a more-polished manuscript.
While I’ve never been a mentee, I’ve found plenty of critique partners and supportive friends from the community — it’s full of writers with finished and polished manuscripts, ready to query — exactly the same stage of writing career that I’m at.
PitchWars is very active on twitter, it has its own forums, not to mention, of course, the facebook support groups.
Local Writing Groups
Outside of your local NaNoWriMo group, many cities and regions have their own writing groups — some are critique circles, some are open mic nights, some are support groups, some are accountability groups, and some are all-of-the above. Know what sort of group you’d prefer, hit the internet, and see what you can find!
My local NaNoWriMo group has its own group on discord servers, with easy-add-in sprint bots, and rooms to discuss plot issues.
My local writing groups and the cons I’ve worked? They also have their own discord servers. These are just chat rooms where you can share images, files, and more.
An Archive Of Their Own, Wattpad, and more
Some writing communities form around the works themselves. On AO3, Wattpad, and more, writers share their works (often in chapter style increments), get feedback, and often learn to improve their writing.
It’s not unheard of for major successes to end up getting traditional publishing deals (but it’s not an avenue for success I would recommend, because the odds are not with you.
Conventions and Book Fairs
Then, there are your conventions and book fairs. Some are focused on professional development, some on the joy of reading, some celebrate certain genres. While you can get a lot of of them, it typically takes about 3 visits to a particular event to really get comfortable and familiar with an event. After that? Networking becomes easier.
There’s no right way to attend a convention, but a few of the methods are:
hanging out at the bar to network (colloquially called “BarCon”)
attending workshops and panels, either casually, or hitting 30 panels in 3 days, and filling a notebook with tips
wandering around, absorbing the sights and talking to whomever you meet. Collecting all the freebies and giveaways
strategically attending panels or pitch-sessions and actively trying to network — approaching it like a professional development conference
working the convention
Do you want to run lights? Register people? Help with the website? Are you an EMT and want to help with First aid? Do you want to run the disability services so that everyone can have the right accommodations? Maybe you want to help with programming — making sure there are events you want to see or be a liaison for the speakers? There are jobs, big and small, for almost anyone.
Some of us writers love to talk about what we do, we like to write with friends anywhere, and don’t mind (or want to become comfortable with) video taping ourselves and putting it out there. Authortube is a youtube hashtag community, by authors, for authors.
The authortube community hosts live-streamed write ins, workshops, writing vlogs, progress posts, and just about anything you can think of that’s writing related. A fair number are self-published. While a few #authorTubers are here for the drama — sharing ‘did you hear what just happened’ reaction videos, we also have book-bloggers, talking about what they read and liked — or hated, journalers, and more. Most of us are there for the community.
While many people keep crashing into the toxic side of the internet, I usually only hear about most drama second-hand. Instead, I just keep making new friends who share my passion.
The writing community takes as many forms as there are writers. If you are out there, if you are writing alone, without support, without a network, you don’t have to go it alone.
If you want a connection: no matter the format, no matter the scale, there is a writers community out there for you.
And if there isn’t?
Build it and they will come.
Is there a community you’ve found that I’ve left off?
While some of it is corona-related and some of it is saying ‘yes’ to running social media for Balticon, (less than two months out from the actual event, before they had a virtual plan), the rest is just me.
Hi, my name is Morgan and I have executive dysfunction.
As a kid?
It meant I read five books for fun, instead of the one book I needed to write a book-report on.
It meant doing homework during lunch, for the class right after lunch.
It meant waking up in the night, to make sure I’d done my math homework this time, because my teacher was gonna call my mom if I missed turning it in. Again. (Mom, if you’re reading. I only hit that point once. I promise.)
As an adult?
I’ve learned coping mechanisms.
I find planning and obsessing over the details for big, or even life-changing events keeps me busy and keeps me from panicking until it’s done, and there’s nothing left to be done.
I use online project management tools and artificial deadlines.
I use my joy of momentum of having not broken a streak to pressure myself into doing things – like this blog. And my vlog. And… well. You get the point.
But, right now?
I’m picking off the low-hanging fruit. The tasks I can knock out in an hour or less, where I know what I’m doing and I don’t need to ask for help.
I’m staying up late when I hit the immovable deadlines and making sure I do enough. If only just.
I’ve been sending out author spotlight interviews, when I should be posting them.
I’ve been scheduling tweets 2 weeks away for that convention, instead of chores or things due tomorrow.
I’ve been missing meetings, losing notes, and I’m struggling to stay focused on larger tasks unless I’m actively participating in a collaborative working meeting. Or running the meeting.
And my dayjob is suffering, too. I’m in the meetings. I’m doing the small, easy tasks. And letting those fill my time, instead of the larger projects.
I keep reminding myself that if I break the big stuff into smaller projects, they turn into the easy stuff.
Tips To Help
I’ve struggled before. I’ve been trying to remind myself of my coping tricks.
I keep reminding myself of my “just-5-minutes” approach, where if I make myself focus for that long, I’ll usually keep going until it’s done.
When I added the link, it said 15 minutes. Maybe THAT’S my problem. I’m expecting to hit my groove too soon.
Sometimes, I trick myself into being productive by doing it after my bedtime — i.e. I can stay up, but only if I get that task done. I know I’m the one setting my bedtime, but somehow it still works. A little.
Maybe I have taken on too much.
Maybe I just need to force myself to focus.
But I’m struggling right now.
Do you have executive dysfunction?
I know stress makes things worse, but what other coping mechanisms do you have?
Thank you for reading. Please, share if you can relate, if you found this post helpful.
There are writers who take feedback well, but there are plenty who don’t. Try not to make these mistakes.
1. Take it personally
When you look at the rest of this list? Most of these clearly come from the same place: the real reason a writer will lash out — is when we take critiques personally.
They say “this chapter needs some work” and we hear “you’re a bad writer.” We know intellectually they don’t usually mean that, but in our hearts-of-hearts, it feels like that.
This is why you should sit on feedback. Let it percolate in your brain. Don’t kneejerk react and lash out.
2. Argue with them
Don’t send them a detailed letter countering and justifying why every last suggestion they gave you was wrong, and why you were right in the first place.
Honestly? Don’t argue in their DMs, via Text, on the phone, or in person either. Don’t harass them. Let them be/
3. Tell them they gave you the wrong feedback!
If you don’t tell your critiquer what you’re looking for (pacing, characterization, world building, line edits, what-have-you), and all of their feedback in concentrated in areas you don’t care about right now? It can be frustrating.
Make sure you’re responding to what they actually said!
Always reread to be sure you understood what they were saying and the context. Sometimes, you can read too fast or while fixated on something, and misconstrue the whole thing.
5. Question their grasp on the [English] language
Don’t ask them if [English] is their first language, if they’re dyslexic, or if they grew up speaking the ‘wrong’ dialect.
6. Ignore their feedback
I know I’ve said this before, even if you think a beta is going in the wrong direction, they often are pointing out things that need to be changed, or at least clarified or better justified in the text.
Now, this isn’t saying that you have to agree with them. Especially the critiquers who think they should be rewriting your piece the way they would have written it. This is why getting a single chapter critique before commiting to a full manuscript review can be crucial.
But, if someone has taken the time to read your work and critique it, and you’ve publicly thanked them? While leaving in all the typos and plot holes and things that they pointed out to you?
It can make them look bad, unprofessional, and if they’re paid editors? Lose business.
7. Don’t repay them
Sure, there are awesome people out there who are critiquing your work out of the goodness of their hearts, or a desire to give back, but that’s not usually the case.
Even if you don’t like the advice, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay them, or critique THEIR work in return, whatever you agreed to. You should be a writer of your word.
8. Slam their work
It hurts when someone tells you your writing needs work — especially when they say that your writing needs a LOT of work. But, that doesn’t mean you should trash their writing — be it while critiquing their drafts, bad mouthing them, or 1-starring their published works. don’t do it.
9. Expect the critiquer to know how to fix everything
On the flip side, some writers expect the critiquer to fix everything, and that their novel will be done as soon as they get the feedback. They don’t understand why they would need to edit after clicking ‘accept all the changes’…
Edits are often clunky. Even after I incorporate feedback, I always do a final ‘polishing’ pass over the chapter, just to verify the flow, check the line edits, and make sure that my voice is consistent.
Also, they don’t know your character, your world, and your story as well as you do. Remember their suggestions are merely that. Suggestions. You might want to fix everything they point out — but you don’t have to fix it the way they suggested. Make sure your story stays true to itself.
10. Assume the Edits Guarantee A Contract
Contracts and sales are 10% hard work and 90% timing and luck. No matter how good of a writer you are, nor how good your editor is, there is no way to guarantee a sale — whether you’re going traditional publishing or indie.
11. Don’t Thank Them
Reading someone else’s work, thinking of ways to improve it, and being brave enough to share your thoughts with someone is time consuming, and sometimes emotionally draining.
This person has done work for you. Always thank them. Make sure you’re a writer people want to work with again.
Have you ever had a writer respond poorly to your critiques? Share your horror stories! Or? Share stories of writers who did it *right*!