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Impostor Syndrome

Posted on Jun 28, 2010 in Publishing, Writing | Comments Off on Impostor Syndrome

Some nights I feel like a fraud.  It usually happens after 1am when it’s difficult to get perspective on most things.  I’ll revisit bits of the book in my head and think “Christ, that’s awful.”  I’ll often wince at the recollection, feeling simultaneously arrogant and naive.  Who the hell do I think I am is the implied question.  I haven’t got an MFA and I’ve never finished anything before.  Who the hell am I to try this?

I’ve vowed not to delve into the manuscript until I get feedback from my readers, except to copy and paste parts for specific query letters.  It’s driving me nuts, because, in my most paranoid moments, I know there are terrible parts and I need to fix them.

Then sometimes I remember a character and like them, and know that I did a good job repping for them.  Or I’ll recall a particular scene that I just really love, and then I don’t feel too much of a jack-ass amateur.

I’m afraid that I’ve lost perspective completely.

Which is why I’ve given the ms to 6 readers.  I’m trying not to think about it too much or else it would make me queasy.  My critical brain tells me there’s nothing to worry about, while the rest of me pleads for amnesty. I chose them carefully based on a couple of things:

  1. I consider them all “readers.”  They’re book people who understand the value of a good story.  I think they have a sense of what is satisfying and right.  While they may have critical eyes for detail, they can also speak to the overall quality of the book as a piece of entertainment.
  2. They are all writers of some kind, but for the most part not fiction or long-form fiction.  So, they understand the craft, but aren’t necessarily parsing it out for themselves right now.
  3. I trust their taste.  Each of them has a terrific critical eye. I like they way they look at art and entertainment, and I appreciate their individual tastes and perspectives.
  4. Most of all, I like all of their communication skills.  I trust not only their assessments, but their ability to communicate their opinions to me in a constructive manner.  They’re taking this responsibility seriously, and I feel safe that they will share with me their experiences in an authentic and enriching manner.

Ultimately, I didn’t have to go searching for these people – each was already in my community and was a clear choice when I decided to hand the ms off to some readers for some perspective and critique.
Interestingly, only one of these readers is within what I consider to be my target demographic for the book.  I’m not quite sure if that’s a good thing, but I’m excited to get varying perspectives.

I’ve asked them to be finished by August 1st, which leaves July for figuring out my next steps.  Secretly, i’m terrified it will be horrible- not just because it would confirm my worst nightmares that I’m terrible at something I want to be great at.  More importantly is if it’s terrible, I know I will fix it.  And depending on how terrible it is, is how long it will take to fix it.  I’m not sure if I could handle another year of writing this thing.  I honestly don’t see how some novelists do it, wrestling with a manuscript for years on end.
I love my book and I want to work with my book- but I want to work with it by marketing it and talking about it and continuing to polish the scuffs- not gut the thing and start from scratch.

I think what I’m most worried about is how ‘bad’ the bad parts are.  What are readers willing to put up with?  Some authors have built entire careers trying to test the limits of their readers- measuring how much crap they can serve until the reader walks out.  I wonder if the bits that irritate me about the book will irritate my readers, and likewise whether they’ll enjoy the same parts I do.  This is what may be the most exciting part of having a troupe of readers- getting to see where things line up- where my version of good and bad overlaps or contradicts the others.  I need to see just how mental this whole process has made me, and whether or not my sense of reality is shared by those around me.


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