Masters and Impostors
Perhaps more than other artists (I really don't know), authors experience impostor syndrome. The idea that our ideas are worth the money, time and effort it takes to read, is mind boggling to me. It's a wonder any author makes any money at all from their writing.
I think my stories are great.
A few friends and acquaintances have enjoyed reading them.
A few strangers have been kind enough to leave positive reviews.
But do any of those count? How do I know that my stories, the worlds and people I've created, or the concepts I've iterated are any good at all?
It's all so subjective... and therein is the answer.
Now, to be clear, impostor syndrome is the idea that any professional feels like he or she doesn't belong in the field of their expertise. The stress and anxiety of failure, potential failure and the contrasting success of others in the same field can lead one to believe one just doesn't have what it takes and it's only a matter of time before the whole world knows this too.
The ego I must have to assume that anyone else, especially those otherwise unacquainted personally, should pay money to read my work... it's astounding when you stop and think about it. Yet, just as you pay for food at a restaurant, clothes from a tailor (with or without a retailer as intermediary), or even a mechanic to repair a car- you pay an author for time and effort put in to his or her work.
In fact, when you realize that bookstores won't kick you out for reading their books, most authors can (should) be found in a public library, and even online book retailers provide free previews, buying an author's work should be easier. How many restaurants allow you to eat an entire meal before deciding to pay? How many clothing retailers allow you to take an outfit home, wear it for a couple weeks and then return it? If you took your car in for service, is the mechanic going to be okay with you driving it around for while before deciding to pay him?
We authors are desperate for validation on our work. We need to know that someone- anyone- likes what we've created. Unlike viewing a film, looking at a painting or photograph, or admiring a sculpture, reading takes effort.
However, as much as I want that validation, I am loath to ask for it. What if you tell me I'm no good at this? That my stories are crap? Or that I just got lucky, but I don't really deserve the recognition?
These are doubts that plague many authors. I suppose there are one or two so oblivious that they can't recognize their own weaknesses. Yet, this goes beyond humility. How can I pour my heart and soul into this, conduct hours of research to make sure one small part of my story rings true, or even throw weeks, months of work away and start again with renewed vigor, having no doubts?
One of my college professors said (about teaching) to "fake it 'til you make it".
Ernest Hemingway is credited with saying, "We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master."
Or this one from Edgar Rice Burroughs: "I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly."
Or something closer to home, "Science fiction writers, I am sorry to say, really do not know anything." - Philip K. Dick
These are the masters of my craft. These are the authors I look up to. If they felt like impostors, then surely I'm way out of my league.
Yet, writing, like all art, is subjective. Just because my friends tell me they enjoy my writing, doesn't mean they're being disingenuous. Just because someone else tells me my work is crap doesn't mean someone else won't think it's brilliant. Yes, there are common standards used by many to determine how good or bad a piece of art is. However, much of what I've learned in my continuing journey to become an author, leads me to believe that I'm no more an impostor in this field than anyone else.
I respect my fellow writers and hope to earn their respect in return. I seek the approval of my readers, but never to the point of pandering to their whims. I write what I think is good and let the world cast their judgments.
As the great John Steinbeck said, "I have written a great many stories and I still don't know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances."