Thursday, October 7, 2010
A Writer's Enemy : Feeling Like a Fraud by Bob Mayer
We get paid to invent stories. How cool is that? We invent something from just our imaginations. Amazing.
So why are writers squirming masses of insecurity?
A lot of it is external: little validation, an uncertain business, isolation, bears.
But deep inside almost ever writer is this feeling that what we do, what we produce, isn’t real. That we are perpetuating a fraud on the world. That we’re ‘fooling’ everyone. We believe we got where we are via luck and contacts.
When I teach Warrior Writer, the #1 fear of writers is feeling like a fraud. The word just keeps coming up, over and over.
I was sitting at an outdoor café in Denver years ago. It was a weekday lunch and I was watching all these people sharply dressed in business outfits walking by (I bought my first suit last year—sales woman said I was the easiest sale she’d ever had: I said I need a suit. She gave me one. I need a tie. Socks. Shoes. Belt. I bought it all). I turned to the person I was with and said “I feel like a fraud. These people are leading ‘real’ lives, and I’m living in this weird, alternate reality where I sat at home and write stories for a living.” She turned to me and said: “Most of these men, if they knew what you’ve done and achieved in your life, they’d wish they were sitting in your chair with those experiences.” It was a real moment of enlightenment for me. I have not led a boring life and for those of you who are self-employed, you know how difficult that is to maintain for 20 years.
How To Deal With Feeling Like A Fraud.
Writers aren’t the only creative people who experience these feelings of being a fraud or concerned the world will found out they are an imposter.
“I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented. I’m not very good. It’s all been a big sham.” Michelle Pfeiffer
“Sometimes I wake up before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this; I’m a fraud. They’re going to fire me. I’m fat. I’m ugly . . .” Kate Winslet.
It’s important to realize everyone has doubts. What’s debilitating is if you feel like you are the only one. You’re not. Studies of people who are identified as feeling like frauds range in percentage, but the overall number is high. In fact, studies show that many of the most successful people feel it the most. The higher up the ladder one goes, the greater the fear is of ‘being found out’. The higher the stakes become. The more people are watching. And, honestly, the more people who want to see you fail. Thus those magazines at the checkout counters in supermarkets. The headlines don’t scream: Actress Has Great Day And Loves Husband.
Doubts can be good: they can inspire you to become better. If you combine your doubt with your passion, it can motivate you to great success. Studies have shown that women who score high in the area of feeling like a fraud tend to compete harder to compensate for their doubts. Interestingly, men who scored high on feeling like a fraud, tend to avoid areas where they feel vulnerable to avoid looking bad.
There is a thing called The Imposter Syndrome. It’s when you difficulty internalizing your accomplishments. All those things they’ve achieved: degrees, promotions, publication, best-seller lists, etc. are thrown out. The more you agree with the following statements, the higher your Imposter Syndrome:
I can give the impression I am more competent than I really am.
I often compare myself to those around me and consider them more intelligent than I am.
I get discouraged if I’m not the ‘best’ in an endeavor.
I hate being evaluated by others.
If someone gives me praise for something I’ve accomplished, it makes me fear that I won’t live up to his or her expectations in the future.
I’ve achieved my current position via luck and/or being in the right place at the right time.
When I think back to the past, incidents where I made mistakes or failed come more readily to mind than times when I was successful.
When I finish a manuscript, I usually feel like I could have done so much better.
When someone complements me, I feel uncomfortable.
I’m afraid others will find out my lack of knowledge/expertise.
When I start a new manuscript, I’m afraid I won’t be able to finish it, even though I’ve already finished X number of manuscripts.
If I’ve been successful at something, I often doubt I can do it again successfully.
If my agent tells me I’m going to get an offer on a book, I don’t tell anyone until the contract is actually in hand.
Women who feel like imposters tend to seek favorable comparisons with their peers.
Men who feel like imposters tend to avoid comparisons with their peers. Often, they work hard so other people won’t think them incapable or dumb. It’s called spinning your wheels faster even though you aren’t going anywhere.
People who feel like imposters are constantly judging their success against the achievements of others rather than viewing what they do as an end in itself. For writers, this can be very dangerous, because there will always be someone who is doing ‘it better’ or ‘is more successful’. I’ve seen bestselling authors fall into this trap.
A technique to fight feeling like a fraud is to use a version of my Warrior Writer HALO concept on yourself. HALO stands for High Altitude Low Opening parachuting. The technique is to start from way out, and work your way in with an open attitude to try to see things differently. Most of us see thing from our inside out. Reverse it. When I approach a company or team where I know nothing about what they do, the HALO concept allows me to see what they’re doing very differently from the way they see it.
Basically, the HALO approach starts from way outside yourself, diving in until you can see things clearly. Step outside and view things as if you are a stranger to yourself.. Look at your resume. Look at what you’ve accomplished in life. Ask yourself what kind of person would have achieved these things? Could a fraud have done this? When I query a conference to teach or apply to lead workshops or do keynotes, I have to send my bio. Sometimes I stop and read it and ask myself: what would I think of this person, if I didn’t know them, but just read this?
Focus on positive feedback. However, don’t ignore constructive negative feedback. The key is not to let the negative overwhelm you. I don’t look at Amazon reviews or rankings any more. First, you have to realize that only a certain segment of the population posts reviews on Amazons. It’s not a true sample of the population. Also, the motives for posting reviews often have nothing to do with your book.
One way of dealing with ‘feeling like a fraud’ is to internalize more of your accomplishments via real, external symbols. In the military, we always joked that everyone had a “Look At Where I’ve Been And What I’ve Done” wall in their home, covered with photos, plaques, flags, etc. Those walls serve a purpose, though. (In our A-Team room, we had to wire down all the knives, hatchets, edged weapons that were usually on the plaques because people might start using them after a few beers.)
I have all my published books in my office on the top of two bookcases, all lined up. The row is over three feet wide. I look at it sometimes to fight the feeling that I can’t write another book, that I can’t get published again.
“Talent is less important in film-making than patience. If you really want your films to say something that you hope is unique, then patience and stamina, thick skin and a kind of stupidity, a mule-like stupidity, is what you really need.” Terry Gilliam
You’ve got to actively work on building that tough outer shell around your creative self. Have a bizarre belief in yourself even in the face of apparent reality. You’re being bombarded with negative messages about publishing. It’s so hard. The odds are against you.
You have to believe in yourself. If you’re unpublished, walk into the bookstores and don’t let all those published authors overwhelm you. Use them to motivate you. Tell yourself you belong there. I always look and say: “Hey, these people got published, why can’t I?”
List your accomplishments. They can range from a picture of your family, degrees achieved, awards won, whatever. Put them where you write. Use them to remind yourself that you are not a fraud.
YOU ARE REAL.
NY Times bestselling author Bob Mayer has over 40 books published. He has over three million books in print and is in demand as a team-building, life-change, and leadership speaker and consultant. Bob graduated from West Point and served in the military as a Special Forces A-Team leader and a teacher at the JFK Special Warfare Center & School. His latest books are Warrior Writer: From Writer to Published Author and Chasing The Ghost. He teaches novel writing and improving the author via his Warrior-Writer program. He is the Co-Creator of Who Dares Wins Publishing. He lives on an island off Seattle. For more information see www.bobmayer.org or www.WhoDaresWinsPublishing.com
Today in Seekerville we're giving away two of Bob's books, Who Dares Wins and his latest release, Warrior Writer. Leave a comment for a chance to win. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.
On behalf of the Seekers and our friends, thanks so much for taking time out your busy (have you seen this man's schedule?) to be with us in Seekerville today, Bob.