On Imposter Syndrome, Brokeness, and Beauty

I am, to date, my most successful at querying since I started at 22, so from 2015-2017 at a ripe old 24 years of age I’ve learned a few tricks.  I have three fulls out right now with stellar agents and three partials with top notch, six-figure-and-above dealmakers that would be dreams to work with.  If any were to offer, it would make my life, though the chances of course are slim.

It’s only been nine days since I queried my top batch of agents and I got three requests so far, with dozens more who have yet to respond.  I have never, in two whole years, ever been this successful.  Still, I wonder – am I imagining this?  Am I an imposter?  Does my writing, well, suck?

I know I’m young.  I’m barely out of college, still in grad school, and still developing my voice, or voices, seeing as I seem to have Multiple Persona Disorder when it comes to writing..  Agents have given me great feedback, but many times, they tell me they love the premise, or that I have a great concept, but that something just didn’t work.  The execution was rough.  I need more characterization.  The writing was lush and evocative, but I’m not quite there yet.  Needs more background, less background, more exposition, more action, less detail, more detail – rarely do two agents think alike!

My Firebird retelling has truly been a labor of love, and I look back at my ten paragraph queries from two years ago and the teensy awful 50,000 word manuscript it used to be and think, how could I have been so damn naive and unsavvy!  And oh god, how could I have sent this off to those patient as saints agents???

I’m not a natural at this, I’m basically a stick in the mud, who only learns when she gets hits on the head a lot.  Agents made my manuscript what it is today, and they made it that way through suggestion and rejection.  It’s the best it’s been, and while it’s not the best thing I’ve ever written (those projects are still unfinished 😉 ) it’s pretty damn solid by my own meager standards.  Which are probably not enough to get published at this rate, but at least I’m creative.

And still, I always think I suck.  That I got these requests on accident.  That agents loathe my writing and think what I create is trash.  That out of the seven requests I have out right now, they will all end in scathing rejections, even though that has never in my life happened.  Agents have only ever, at worst, given form rejects.

I’m just so used to being broken mentally, I think my writing is broken too.  That there is some piece of storytelling craft that I am missing because hey, I have OCD, manic depression, psychosis, and a host of other disorders, and under a CT scan my brain would have a shrunken prefrontal cortex and scars from manic and depressive episodes.

It ties into my extremely bad anxiety and panic disorder, bolstered by mixed episodes that combine the loveliness of suicidality with depression and crippling panic attacks/obsessive thinking and intrusive thoughts to self harm and mutilate, or just jump in front of that car, and the truth is, querying and putting myself out there is not mentally healthy for me.  It makes me unstable.  I’m managing a brand new job, a new townhouse with great roommates, a disorder where I can’t even look at alcohol, have to be in bed by 10 pm, not even drink frigging grapefruit juice, which I love, and one that ends with 1 in 4 people committing suicide.  Chances are high I won’t live past 25, and that was the date I set in my mind at the ripe old age of 15 when I realized life as a mentally ill person with snowflake diagnoses was, well, hell.

But I’m over exaggerating, and rambling, and because I’m broken, sometimes I can’t see beauty.

I’m as stable as I’ve ever been, making a great salary in a great city with a great boyfriend, working for an organization that is amazing and saves so many of my favorite animals and aids communities around the world, doing amazing work that helps people, when I may not ever be able to help myself, at least I stopped rhino poachers or saved endangered lemurs and birds or gave people with no livelihoods hope.

I am whole in so many ways, and because of that, I think it’s okay to take a break from this whole publishing quest.  I have half a mind to rescind all my full and partials and just become a hermit like the Tarot card, but I know that’s just a kneejerk reaction that is from my impulsive self-destructive craving for death and mayhem.  I have a huge Thanatos drive.  I have wanted to die so many times that perhaps a part of me has died already.  I die a bit every time I finish a story, it’s like another piece of my heart has been taken from me and eaten.  I serve my heart up on a plate for onlookers who judge its merits, when really, they’re judging my soul.  And it sometimes hurts.

I know you’re not supposed to take literary rejection personally, and I usually don’t, but sometimes, in my moments of weakness, I circle back to the thought that I’m a shit writer.  That all my successes, however small, so far have been flukes.  That my poetry is trash.  That I am trash.  I have such a low opinion of myself that sometimes I think I’d be bettering the world if I dove headfirst into the subway.  I have to stand far away from the oncoming trains, because almost every time, I have the urge to jump, even when everything is going right in my life.

Maybe it was the stress of my dad being hospitalized this weekend that made me reevaluate my creative aspirations, the thought that the person I hold dearest besides my mom could be ripped away from me by something as cruel as death, that spurred me to feel unstable.  Usually I’m the first to put myself out there, first to volunteer, to lead a class discussion or group project, I reach for the stars, and figure hey, if I fail, at least I can say I tried.

But it always circles back to the imposter syndrome.  I was trying to enjoy Girls last night, one of my favorite shows, when Hannah Horvath was interviewing a female writer, and part of it just made me cry.  All my efforts felt futile – Hannah is a struggling writer, always reaching so high but failing, not realizing what she already has, and maybe a part of me felt like I was, in a sense, this TV character I loathed.  Maybe I always see the glass half-empty.  And my mood swings be damned, I’m elated one second and terrified or a soul sucking black hole the next, even though I’m on five different medications, see a therapist once a week, abstain from even Mike’s Hards, have never so much as smoked or toked once, live a straitlaced boring existence where I do everything right, break and break and break again as I try to appear stable and sane, when inside I am mad.

Inside, I will always be damaged, but in ruin is beauty, and the cracks in my mind let the light slip through.  So persevere on I do, and no, I will never give up.

Only a sane person would.

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6 thoughts on “On Imposter Syndrome, Brokeness, and Beauty

  1. I really admire how you’ve sent your stuff out. I’ve sat on my writing for too long and don’t really know where to start now. Is finding an agent the priority? Is that just a case of mining the Writers’ Handbook?

    • Hi Ben! Thanks so much for your support, that means a lot. The best free resources are agentquery.com, query shark, where you can have your query critiqued, Chuck Sambuchino’s blog, and the holy grail Querytracker, which has a bunch of info on agents. A great place to start looking for agents is Manuscript Wishlist, where agents highlight what they want, and if you can afford it, a subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace where you can see the movers and shakers of the industry and analyze what kind of deals they make. Another great resource is establishing a Twitter presence and participating in manuscript contests and Twitter Pitch Parties, which give you ideas of who to submit to and requests. Finally, the Absolute Write Forum is indispensable to know who and who is not a good agent. I know this is an info dump but I hope it helps. I would say finding an agent is your best starting point, but depending on your genre, a lot of publishers take direct submissions. Best of luck!

  2. A while ago I read an article about the impostor syndrome and that there are a lot of women out there who suffer from it. But to me it’s only valid for things like pretending you’ve done a task when you have just pushed a file beneath a pile of files, swept the dust under a carpet or something like that. For a finished thing, like a novel or a restaurant dish or something similar, it doesn’t count, it’s out there and the work can be sampled and judged (unless the ones sampling are all true impostors :/). Maybe it’s just me, but I feel a lot of men get away more easily with ‘true imposting’, probably because they care less.

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