It’s true. Even if you’ve known me for years, I’ve been successfully deceiving you this entire time.
I am not a real writer. I’m not that smart. I was never any good at my job. I am not remotely together. I am, to quote one of my favorite movies, The Philadelphia Story, an “unholy mess of a girl.” And I always have been. Anyone who thinks otherwise has just been fooled by my cleverly-constructed façade.
Any of that sound familiar? If so, then you either have heard of, or are suffering from, impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is when you attribute any success to have to luck, or fooling people into believing you’re better than you are. And I have done both. A lot. Now, I will admit, I have been deeply, deeply fortunate in my writing career. Luck is a part of any writer’s career, and most of them will tell you so. But it’s easy for me to discount the work I’ve done, and the skill that I’ve developed, and those are just as important, if not more. After all, the luck doesn’t matter if the work isn’t there.
But I have to remind myself of that often. And it’s been the case as long as I can remember. I was lucky that I did well in school. I was only fooling people into believing I was a good employee or a good friend or a good person, even.
But it isn’t true for me, and it isn’t true for you either.
In a weird way, living in a world that’s so dominated by social media made my impostor syndrome easier to understand, as did my experience with learning to write. In both cases, what we see is a carefully curated image of someone’s life—or a final draft, in the case of writers. We don’t see the messy first drafts and the hair-pulling and the rewrites. We don’t see the pile of dishes out of frame of that gorgeous dinner picture on Instagram, or the toddler meltdown that showed up right after that perfectly adorable Facebook photo. That helped me realize everyone has a mess of some sort inside their heads. We just never see it, because usually we don’t show each other our messes—sometimes not even our closest friends. (Seriously, I may be open about a lot of things, but if you get to see how truly messy my brain is, it’s because I trust you with it.)
But the mess is there. Impostor syndrome is comparing your first draft to everyone else’s polished and edited final draft. I would argue, actually, that the bigger your mess, the more impressive it is that you still manage to have a polished “final draft” at all. That you should even more get credit for being together, not less—because you’ve taken that interior mess and polished it into something successful and good. How on earth could that be something to be ashamed of? Embrace your mess! Not only is it a part of you, but it’s the raw material you need to make the “you” that everyone around you sees.
(And in exciting news that should really kick my impostor syndrome to the curb: Vessel will be a Featured Alternate Selection for the Science Fiction Book Club this summer! And if you haven’t had a chance to check out the new front page of the site yet, Kirkus Reviews has called it “a welcome SF debut.”)