Do you suffer from imposter syndrome(, too)?

I was going to write about meaningless texts. No, not political speeches, but blogs, editorials and what not, that fill page after page without ever saying anything. But alas, the imposter syndrome came up again, and I figured I’d focus on this instead. It’s more in tune with my writing on Mondays. Last Friday, I finally heard back from my publisher and editor, the first feedback on my coming novel. I’d been waiting for it for weeks and weeks, and it’s been like sitting on nails, waiting to hear whether the book was “good enough” to be published or not.

Disease, the cover, a novel by Hans M Hirschi

Disease, the cover, a novel by Hans M Hirschi

Seems I’m not the only author suffering from imposter syndrome: even one of the people I admire the most, Maya Angelou is quoted to have said:

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'”

Funny, my coming novel is my eleventh, too. It’s weird, because my emotions have changed a great deal since I wrote my first two novels, and published them virtually at the same time. Back then, in 2013, my biggest fear was that I wasn’t good, period. When you’ve never written fiction before, you can’t know whether you’re good or not. So you wait. You wait for the verdict from the experts: publishers and editors. At the time I didn’t have a publisher. I self-published. My editors were external and well regarded. I was extremely relieved when they gave me two thumbs-up for my writing.

Something changed after the initial success. I received “a lot” (it’s all relative, I know) of favorable reviews, and when the publication of my third novel loomed, fear set in: “will it hold up?”, “is it as good as the first two?”, and for the first time, “will people see through the pretense, the fake? Will they see me as the fraud I really am?”

Because here’s the thing for any artist, any professional (I hope): for every project, every book, painting, symphony we create, tackle, we want to improve. We want to better ourselves, fewer mistakes, fewer typos and grammatical errors for the editor to plow through, fewer plot holes, a tighter plot, more artistic build-up etc. A better product, a better work of art. We increase the pressure on ourselves.

The writer of this post suffers from Imposter Syndrome. Photo: Alina Oswald.

That was 2013. Four years later, arriving at novel eleven, book fifteen, I’m a nervous wreck. Disease isn’t just a departure from much of what I’ve done before: first person narrative, diary style, with a commentary from a second first person. I’ve never done that before, and there’s no way for my narrator to interject, add commentary. It’s just two people talking, into the pages of a diary never aimed at being read, or was it? I’m still not 100% sure of Hunter’s intentions with his decision to write things down. I doubt he intended for people to read it… It is one of the dilemmas his partner, Ethan, has to deal with.

I’ve written short stories in a first person narrative, but it’s a risky endeavor. Far from all readers like it. I worked harder on this manuscript than any previous book. Simply because of my worries about its quality. I sent it to my publisher on June 28th. I’ve been waiting for any sort of “sign” since then. I know, two months, right? That’s nothing… Well, to me it seemed like an eternity. A crippling, completely disabling eternity, because when you think you’re about to be caught with your pants around your ankles, you don’t dare to move a muscle… Finally, last Friday, six words released me from my agony:

“it’s really good, by the way.”

Six words in an e-mail about something else entirely. Alas, the best six words I’d hear in a long time. Now the thing with imposter syndrome is that I’m not off the hook. Needless to say, that I will go through this again with my next book, and I know that it gets worse, for every manuscript I send off. What is it like for you? Do you feel the same? How do you deal with the anxiety?

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Thanks,

Hans

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