Imposter Syndrome (and Books that are Good)

Beneath the Floor - July 2020
Hero dark forest

At the start of June, I started reading ‘The Name of the Wind’ again, and noticed two things.

One; this is still a damn good book. I’m still noticing clever little things hidden away under the story, all tying back in with the theme of names and how those names can shape people, legends and the world at large.

Two; once again, it makes my own writing feel like sloppy poo-poo-turds that make God and all his angels very embarrassed.

I’ve now read this book three times, and each time it’s had the same effect. WOW, it makes me say. I’M A FRAUD, it makes me think. Writing can be a grappling mud-wrestle with self-doubt at the best of times, and mostly that challenge makes you a stronger person. But when you find a book that truly resonates with you, a book that impresses you with almost every page, it can land a crippling blow to your output as a writer.

Now, I’m not saying The Name of the Wind is a perfect book. It lulls in places, some of the dialogue can be a little pretentious at times, and some may even say the prose is too flowery; but me, personally - I think it’s my favourite thing I’ve ever read. The characters, the world, the mystery, the magic system, the sheer attention to detail, and the beautiful, poetic prose. I love it. I’m sure we all have a book like that. A book that blows us away and steals a special place within our heart.

But all three times, at the same time as enjoying it, my own writing has run headlong into a wall and passed out with concussion. I try to write daily, but NOTW always makes me stumble. I gave myself a big-ass-break™ in June. Two weeks to just clear my plate at work, finish jobs around the house, catch up with friends and family, and play some games. It was quite nice actually. I dusted off Xcom 2 and finally helped humanity shed the shackles of their alien oppressors. We’re not quite free yet, but now that Last of Us 2 is out, I’m afraid humanity is going to have to wait.

Imposter Syndrome is a strange thing really. Of course I don’t measure up to Patrick Rothfuss. He is a multi-millionaire author, who took years to hone his craft to a mirror polish, then years more to write his novels. I’m an amateur who started doing this for fun, and have been doing it for three years or so, when I can find the time around my full time job and full time life. There’s a key element in there that I sometimes lose sight of. Can you see it?

Fun. I write for fun. I write because I enjoy it. Because I love telling stories, love losing myself in a world I made and because there is a part of my soul that needs to make things. I first started writing properly because of another author - Brandon Sanderson. A single quote from his online lectures convinced me to start. Going to paraphrase here, but… “People play basketball without expecting to play in the NBAs. What makes writing any different?”

My last short story, The Reverse Voodoo Doll, was a joy to write. I was really happy with it, really proud of it. And other people seemed to enjoy it too. One amazing stranger messaged me to say it was the best story she’d ever read on NoSleep. I’m going to repeat that for my future self - the best she’d ever read.

It made my day at the time. But it’s amazing how quickly and how enthusiastically our brains skew negative. Despite physical evidence that someone enjoyed my story, reading someone else’s convinced me I should stop trying.

Most authors won’t be a stranger to this sort of self-doubt. I think it’s part of the package. Maybe it helps keep us grounded, and stops us from thinking we fart rose petals. It’ll flare up, and we either fight it and grow stronger, or we give up and lose the war.

And if two weeks of XCom has taught me anything… It’s that humanity never surrenders.

Now, if you’ll all excuse me, I’m off to write a short story about a fax machine that prints the future. Hey, you know what? That sounds kinda fun, doesn’t it...

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