Thursday, September 24, 2009

Validation and Imposter Syndrome

Here’s what I’m supposed to want. I’m supposed to want an agent. I’m supposed to want a publishing contract. That’s the only way for an author to prove that he’s worth anything. It’s about validation. I’m convinced that I’m brilliant, but only a publishing contract will tell me whether I’m right or I’m delusional. That’s the story the publishing industry is pushing anyway. Everyone from publishers to agents to authors are pushing it.

But what if I don’t want to buy into that? I don’t really want to make my living as a writer. I like my day job—not all the time, but I’m not anxious to give it up. The average “successful” author makes $31,000 a year. I make more than that. Then there’s those agents and publishers you have to mess with and there’s so much stuff you have to do just to get the $31,000. I’m not sure I want that. Writing as a hobby? That’s great. Writing for a little extra spending money? Excellent. Writing as a career? I’m not so sure.

Then there’s Imposter Syndrome to contend with. For that matter, that may be why so many people hunger for validation to begin with. Imposter Syndrome is when someone is afraid to internalize his accomplishments. For writers, it works like this. The writer gets a publishing contract. Finally, he has the validation he craves, but it doesn’t turn out that way. He submits his work to the publisher and he dreads getting a response because he knows they are going to write back and tell him that they made a mistake. His writing isn’t as good as they thought it was. His book makes it into the bookstores and now he is afraid that it won’t sell. He may have fooled the publisher, but the buying public knows what’s good and what isn’t. The publisher is going to regret that advance. The book does pretty well, but the author knows its just a fluke. He gets a second contract, but he knows the book is going to stink. He knows he’s an imposter and it won’t be long before other people know too.

We seek validation, hoping it will prove we aren’t imposters, but it never will. Imposter Syndrome is an internal thing. Validation won’t overcome it. Only we can do that. If we could reduce our need for validation, it might free us to consider what we really want out of this gig. If we didn’t care if people discovered we are imposters, then we would be free to ignore what other people tell us the successful author looks like and define our own measure of success. If what you are hoping for is a life of touring the country doing book signings and speaking engagements to sell more books, then maybe it’s the same as how the industry defines success, but maybe that isn’t what you want. And maybe, just maybe, validation is keeping you from getting what you really want.