“I don’t believe anyone ever suspects how completely unsure I am of my work and myself and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of others has always given me.”
It may surprise you to learn that this quote is from none other than Thomas “Tennessee” Lanier Williams the 3rd, one of the most celebrated playwrites and authors of the twentieth century. Self doubt is the author’s constant companion, and if that example isn’t proof enough that even the greatest literary minds of our times are afflicted by its cold, clammy grip, then I don’t know what is.
If you haven’t guessed it yet, then yes — I’ve been mired in self-doubt lately. Or, I should say, moreso than usual. The question that keeps popping up in my head is, “Am I really an author? I mean, really? Or am I just a wannabe? An imposter? A phony?” This despite (or perhaps because of) the recent release of my first novel with a digital publisher.
To answer this question for myself, I took to the Internet in search of what a “real” author is. In the process, I found a post called Ten Signs You’re a Real Writer by Pro Blog Service. Interested to find out if I qualified for that coveted title, I considered each point one by one … and the results were worrisome …
- You have been “vetted,” meaning you have submitted something to perfect strangers and been accepted or rejected.
An embarrassing number of rejections and only one acceptance (well, two, since the second acceptance came from the sequel to my first acceptance) … so … Check, I guess?
- Have a designated writing space in your home.
Space in my home … sorry, I don’t understand the concept …
- Approach your tools of the trade with a seriousness and dedication.
Check … ish. If you don’t count that my son often commandeers my laptop to play Minecraft.
- Carry a notebook or notecards with you everywhere because you’re constantly being struck with new ideas.
Check, because I draft by hand. But not Check, because I don’t write down my new ideas. They stay in my head.
- Feel compelled to write even when no one is asking you to (as if it’s something you must do).
Check. But what writer, “real” or “not,” doesn’t?
- Spend most of your professional work day writing.
Don’t I wish …
- Regularly study the nuts and bolts of writing through books and workshops.
I read … does that count as “studying?”
- Got published for the first time in a real print publication – Uuummm … more on this one later …
- You have a regular practice and schedule of writing.
Don’t I wish … did I say that already?
- You wrote today.
Does this blog post count?
Well, all right then. So according to Pro Blog Service, it sounds like I’m not a real writer. What a blow to my confidence.
Oh God … there it is … that self-doubt …
Does that mean that, because I haven’t been published in a real print publication, I’m not a real writer? My publisher, Boroughs Publishing Group, is a digital publisher. Does that mean my royalties don’t count as “real” royalties, and my readers aren’t “real” readers? And what of self-publishing? Even though I’ve signed with a digital publisher, I have no plans to give that avenue up. In fact, I fully intend to release my current work-in-progress, The Ghosts of Tullybrae House, independently. Will it not be a “real” book? Are self-published authors not “real” authors?
Oh, that agonizing mire …
Many will argue that it is the mindset of the writer that determines whether he or she is “real.” And they would be right – especially in this, the age of self-publishing. Journalist and crime writer Christina Larmer says, “Give me a self-published author over one from a traditional publisher any day.” And when Michael Kozlowski, Editor-in-Chief of Good-e-Reader, dared to suggest that “Self-Publishers Should Not Be Called Authors,” most of the 971 comments left in response tore him the proverbial “new one.”
Take this lovely example from John Davis, who argues that, “As a self-published author who now writes full-time and has written a bestseller, I have to say that this is the most ignorant thing I’ve ever read. You’re stuck in the mindset of 20 years ago. The moment that a person truly believes they are an author, that’s when it’s official. That’s the beauty of writing in 2015. The very moment that we saw our first self-published author sell a million books, your argument became outdated.”
A solid argument. Yet still, stuck in the mire of self-doubt as I currently am, this a truth I’m finding difficult to cling to.
After much soul searching, what I decided my takeaway would be from all this exploration into what a “real” author is, was this: Don’t go to the Internet in search of an answer. It’s not there. And to counteract that nagging voice of self-doubt, I’m no longer trying to find affirmations from others, nor even to repeat those affirmations to myself, even though I know them to be true.
No, what I’m doing is trying a new technique (and yes, I know the following is totally a stereotype, but I’m going to say it anyway). I picture that piece of self-doubt inside of me, with my voice and my face, as another person. She’s one of those over-makeupped, overdressed, Real Wives of Beverly Hills-type personas. She’s standing in my brain with her hands on her Oscar de la Renta-clad hips, tossing her perfectly flat-ironed extensions over her shoulders, and berating me for thinking I could ever make it as an author. I know, it’s a bit of a clichéd image, but it works for me. That voice is no longer the voice of self-doubt, it’s the voice of someone else. I push past her, laugh a little at her ridiculously expensive Christian Louboutin boots, and keep on writing.
Dan Pearce, author of Single Dad Laughing, said it best: “It doesn’t matter if I’m off the beat. It doesn’t matter if I’m snapping to the rhythm. It doesn’t matter if I look like a complete goon when I dance. It is my dance. It is my moment. It is mine. And dance I will. Try and stop me. You’ll probably get kicked in the face.”
What about you? What, in your mind, makes a “real” writer? What do you do when facing that awful hiccup of self-doubt? Tips and suggestions more than welcome!