Friday, January 06, 2012

Will the imposter please stand up?

by Jennie Bentley

So y’all heard the news, right? Flipped Out hit the extended New York Times list at #33 back in October.

It’s no big deal, really. It’s just the extended list. It doesn’t really count until you get to the top 20. I mean, #33 is just two rankings from the bottom. After #35 you’re not on the list at all.

And it could happen to anyone, you know? I have a great publisher, who’s given me great cover art and a lot of visibility. Those things are so important. My publisher makes sure my books are close to the doors at Barnes and Noble all over the country. And it’s the fifth book in the series. I guess we just got to the tipping point, finally.

So really, it’s not that big a deal. Nothing to do with me, really. And it doesn’t mean much in the scheme of things, you know?


Three days after I got the call from my editor about the list placement – and yes, it is a big deal; she was so excited she almost cried, and I’m thrilled – I went to an all day workshop. The fabulous Bob Mayer was in Nashville to talk to our local chapter of RWA.

About midway through the day, he went over some of the trouble we as writers can run into. Some of the things that can trip us up. Fear of failure. Fear of success.

Imposter syndrome.

And a friend of mine, who sat on the front row while I sat in the back – I was late getting there; I got lost – turned and pointed at me. Pointedly.

Yup. I have imposter syndrome. Along with a whole lot of other people. Check out these quotes from some folks you may have heard of:

I still believe that at any time the no-talent police will come and arrest me.” -Mike Myers

I just never know if I’m going to pull it off. I have terrible, grave concerns about my own ability.” -Matt Damon

 I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented. I’m really not very good. It’s all been a big sham.” -Michelle Pfeiffer

My personal fave, from Valerie Young, PhD:

I was sitting in class one day when another student rose to present the findings of a study conducted by psychology professor Pauline Clance and psychologist Suzanne Imes called The Impostor Phenomenon Among High Achieving Women (1978).

In a nutshell, Clance and Imes found that many of their female clients seemed unable to internalize their accomplishments.

External proof of intelligence and ability in the form of academic excellence, degrees, recognition, promotions and the like was routinely dismissed.

Instead, success was attributed to contacts, luck, timing, perseverance, personality or otherwise having “fooled” others into thinking they were smarter and more capable than these women “knew” themselves to be. Rather than offering assurance, each new achievement and subsequent challenge only served to intensify the ever-present fear of being... found out!

And I thought, Oh my God, I've been unmasked!”

Sound familiar to anyone?

It’s familiar to me. Not that I’m afraid of being found out, because I did write the book, and nobody can take that away from me. But I am concerned that the world will realize that I don’t really deserve that NYT bestseller status. Because it wasn’t really anything I did that got me there, you know? It was all contacts, luck, timing, perseverance... you get the picture.

So what about you? Got any writerly hang-ups? Fear of failure? Fear of success? Imposter syndrome?


Joyce said...

Boy, do I have this. Big time!

You know how some writers expect every agent to love their book and get upset when they get rejections? Not me. I was always shocked to get requests. And when I got an offer from the agent I really, really wanted, deep down I was sure it had to be a mistake. Every time she tells me how much she loves my book, I still can't believe she's talking about what I wrote!

And for the record, you DO belong on that list!

Annette said...

Yes, yes, yes! Everything I write sucks. I'm always amazed when anyone reads my stuff and tells me it's any good. I figure they must be taking pity on me and are trying to humor me.

I never realized it was an actual syndrome, though. Thanks for enlightening us, Jennie. And I'm so tickled for you hitting the NYT list! Whoo hoo!

Anonymous said...

It helps to put a name on it. I'm definitely a member of the club.

Anonymous said...

I've suffered with "imposter syndrome" for most of my adult life(now that I know what it is that I've been afflicted with). I'm retired from a 25+ year career and the entire time, I thought that I was just an "imposter", not very good at my job, and that I would be "found out" at any moment for being inept. It's only now that I'm retired, that I realize that you don't manage to keep a job for that many years if you're lousy at what you do, and that I wasn't an imposter! If only I wouldn't have tortured myself for all of those years by my lack of confidence in my abilities.

Apparently I'm not the only one who has been afflicted with this disease! :-)

Let's hope that as writers we can all find the confidence in our abilities to enjoy our successes, however big or small!

Congrats, Jennie!!!!

Gina said...

What's up with blogger? Mine is the first comment labeled "Anonymous," even though I gave it my name like I always do. I'll try again now. Just in case it doesn't work, I'm Gina.

Bob said...

Thanks for the mention and congratulations on the bestseller list. It's for real.

Paula Matter said...

Count me in. Just this morning my FB status is "The words are flowing. I'm must be doing something wrong." And I was quite serious.

Congratulations! And yes you do belong on that list.

Meggan Connors said...

There's a name for what I have! Hooray?

Since my book came out, I've been convinced I can't write. I once thought that if I got published, it would be validation that my writing is, at least, good enough. Seems I was wrong about that.

I think I'm less secure now than I was before I got published!

This was such a great post! I'm so glad I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Ramona said...

Congratulations, Jennie! That's wonderful news. #33 is phenomenal!

One of my fears is pointing out my fears in public. If I keep them to myself, maybe they'll just go away!

Ramona Richards said...

Yep, yep. No matter what praise I receive, I always have this moment when I think they're lying, just to make me feel OK. But...I think having just a touch of this keeps us improving. And CONGRATS on the BSList...VERY real. As an editor, we snag any position to slap the front of our books with NYT Bestseller, because it does matter to the readers. Embrace it, put it everywhere you can!

Trisha Wilson said...

First of all, congrats on the NYT listing! That's awesome!! You DO deserve it!

Second, I'm glad I'm not the only one who has this awful disease! It follows me everywhere and I can't seem to shake it!

May God bless,
Trisha Wilson

Mary Sutton said...

First, congratulations on the NYT list.

Second, YES. I am always shocked when anyone reads my fiction and doesn't say, "Um, don't quit your day job," or "Perhaps you should look at other options." I was so relieved when I went to the Pgh SinC writers' retreat last October and nobody said my submission sucked!

But it's not just fiction. I'm a technical writer by day. I fell into this job because I couldn't get a teaching job. I've been doing it since 1998 and I'm still waiting for someone to unmask me as an "impostor"!

Anonymous said...

Loved the blog Bente! This is me to a T. I wonder sometimes if writing is for me. My group keeps telling me I have talent, but I sometimes feel they just tell me this to keep me in the group.

I have had no success and wonder if I ever will. More like self-doubt than imposter syndrome.

In college I wondered when everyone would figure out I didn't have a brain in my head, yet somehow I earned a Master's degree.

I've always felt like a imposter. Someone just smack me!

Kim G.

Angela Britnell said...

I'm right there with you - although unfortunately not on the NY times list!I think being English we're automatically in that group - modesty and self-deprecation are celebrated. hard to overcome!

NL Gassert said...

I'm with Meggan. Seems I'm less secure now than before my first book.


Jenna said...

Wow, thank's y'all! Looks like this one really struck a chord with a lot of us. Glad I'm not alone! xoxo

Lynn in Texas said...

Congrats, J/B! Wonderful news!

I have all 3 of those syndromes...what's up with that?! But, yikes, I'm also like Ramona, I hate to express my fears in public!