I’ve spent the last nine months working on my first novel. And as an aspiring writer, I often feel like an imposter.
Stringing words together, i.e. writing, is something we all do every day. Like most people, I never thought my grocery lists, texts, emails or online searches were “writing”. My distinction between writing and being a writer comes down to whether my imagination is invited along. Before this infamous year, I hadn’t devoted time nor effort for tapping my imagination to find words. Anne Lamott in her fabulous book on writing, Bird by Bird, describes writing as “telling the truth. Plug your nose and jump in.” Well, I can say with certainty that this year, many a foul phrase has come from my fingertips to shockingly appear on my laptop screen. (Sorry, still learning to avoid adverbs.)
I stopped calling myself a writer shortly after I earned my Journalism MA in the last century. That diploma now languishes in a moldy basement storage container with other relics, like business cards, floppy disks and VHS tapes. When asked what I am, I use snappy job descriptions like communications expert, professional storyteller, culture builder, and rabble rouser but not writer.
Writers are magicians and conjurers. They take an ordinary experience and elevate it until you catch your breath and sigh with recognition and appreciation.
To find my writer’s voice, I now consider the value of words.
Do I really mean “languishing” when “desintegrating” better describes my confidence? Am I really “procrastinating “ or merely “dillydallying” during an unproductive day? Out of necessity, I’ve become a “trickster” as my gal pal Elizabeth Gilbert recommends.
So that’s how it started for me - not in a creative writing course or an online writers circle but just doing it. With the help of my underappreciated writing partner, Ms. Google, I have learned from Mark Twain that 1000 words a day is a good goal for a writer. With no measure of what that would feel or look like, I started. With my laptop on a Canadian Tire wooden card table in my messy bedroom, I wrote five days every week, for almost seven months, churning out 1000 words a day. I started at 9am every day (unless I was diverted by my three onlining children).
Days became weeks which became months. A story started to form which was half planned and half concocted in the moment. I’m embarrassed to say that I wrote more than half of my 260 page first draft before I found my dramatic turning point.
Found is the right word to describe how I stumbled upon the climax in my story. One day, an idea popped into my head, with the help of my wise, 12 year old son. Then another idea joined the first and a row of concepts appeared like a line of neat bowling balls returning to the ball rack. Adrenaline poured through me that day.
My joy is two-fold. I really enjoy the act of writing and I’m falling in love with the characters in my book. Tentatively, I refer to my story as “the Brain Link”. It’s set in the year, 2100 and it’s about a spectacularly successful online celebrity who is forced to escape her glamorous life and runs away to a remote lakefront cottage where she meets a geeky tech inventor who has developed a highly unusual Brain Link., transporting the user into the memories of people from the past. Our hero then travels back into different time periods to fix wrongs while finding herself along the way.
I love time travel stories so I’m following Mr. Stephen King’s advice which is to write for yourself, first, not for other people, but alas, that’s where Imposter Syndrome sneaks in.
For most of this past year, I’ve been afraid to talk about it because I feel like an imposter. How can I think I’m smart enough or imaginative enough to create a novel? Who would want to read my choppy narrative style? Writers are revered because they’re good. There’s no way I’m good or more importantly, good enough.
That’s the gremlins talking. Sheila Goldgrab, Toronto based executive coach taught me about these monsters. They are the voices in your head that tell you how much you disappoint other people; how you’re not up to standard and are fake. I think women fill their heads with them, especially.
When I read a well crafted book that sweeps me away from this COVID nightmare, I feel energized but also anxious. I worry that I don’t have the same facility to take an idea in my head and conjure it on the page.
I can empathize with the fakers out there - because we are all fakers, until we become makers.
I want to be a maker. Now that I’ve penned 83, 656 short hackneyed misplaced words will I stop feeling like an imposter? Hell yes. Or at least until future editors and publishers tell me otherwise. But even then, I own the words.
I like what Sheryl Sandburg suggests you ask yourself, “what would I do if I wasn’t afraid and then go do it.”
Well, in my case, that would be writing.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Ps. Check out my SheRocks! colleague and inspirational go-getter Nupur Khandelwal on Imposter Syndrome.