Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome. We all have it, don’t we? That feeling of “who the hell am I, to be calling myself a writer? Who the hell am I, to think I can write [whatever genre you write]?”

I have this in a bad way.

First, it was “who the hell am I to write gay romance? I’m not a gay man.”

Then I discovered that 90% of readers and writers of gay romance are women.

So it turned into “who the hell am I, a straight white chick writing about queer characters?”

Then I realized I’m queer AF.

So it turned into “who the hell am I to think I’m a writer? I don’t have anything published.”

Then I got something published.

So my brain says, “Yeah but that’s not good enough. Look at that guy. He’s got all kinds of books published. Look at her, she’s self-publishing like crazy. You’re over here with one little story, claiming you’ve been writing for years.”

You all know exactly how this feels. I guarantee it. There’s only one writer I know of who claims he never feels this way, and that’s Stephen King (and I still don’t really buy it). We all feel like we’re just stumbling along, clueless, faking it, hiding our inadequacies and hoping no one will ever find out that we have no idea what we’re doing.

How do we cope with imposter syndrome?

Just keep doing the thing you feel you can’t do. Keep writing. If you’re a straight white woman and you want to write about two guys fucking, do it. If you’re a 30-something man and you want to write a YA book with a 15-year-old girl MC, do it. If you’re a cis person and you want to write a trans character, do it. Be respectful and realistic, do your due diligence as an author, do research, and go for it.

Because here’s the thing, in my opinion: The fact that you are questioning your abilities and questioning your self-worth means that you are able and worthy. There’s this cool thing in psychology called the Dunning-Kruger effect and I think it comes into play here. Basically, people who are of “lower cognitive ability” suffer from an “illusory superiority”–in other words, people who can’t do things/aren’t good at things, think they can/are. They have no idea of their inadequacy.

If you are conscious of the fact that you need to improve, the fact that you may not “fit the bill,” then you are already on the right track. I want to write a transgender character. Though I am non-binary and therefore transgender, I am terrified of writing harmful rep or just writing something dumb because I don’t understand 100% what it’s like to feel wrong in your own body. Who am I to try to write that?

The trick is to kick imposter syndrome in the face and put in the work so that the imposter syndrome is invalid. Who am I to try to write a trans character? Well, I’m a writer, and I want to write a trans character. Boom. That’s all you need to get started. That, and the knowledge that you must do it well. I have trans friends, thanks to Twitter. I have the internet. I have other books. Imposter syndrome can nay-say me all it wants, but I can bury myself in research. I can make myself the type of person who is able to write what I want to write.

Try to look at imposter syndrome as a challenge to overcome. When you hear yourself asking “who am I, to do this thing?” remind yourself exactly who you are. You are a writer. You want to do this thing. The fact that you think you can’t or shouldn’t, is actually a sign that you’re already a step ahead of the pack. You can. You should. It will take work, but nothing worth doing is easy.

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My Asexual WIPs

It is Asexual (Ace) Awareness Week!

To celebrate, I’m going to talk a bit about my ace guys and why I’m writing them.

I currently have two novels in progress with asexual characters. The first one, tentatively named Trustfall, is a contemporary romance and features an asexual submissive gay man entering his first serious Dom/sub relationship. He is willing to have sex with his Dom to please him and to gain relief from sexual arousal (which, even without sexual attraction, CAN happen). This novel will portray a kinky relationship without sex. It is important to acknowledge that kink isn’t inherently sexual, and aceness doesn’t preclude kink.

The second, No Wrong Man (again, title may change), features an asexual man who does not have sex. Ever. This one is urban fantasy. Magic is real and commonplace, and the relationship between the ace guy and his boyfriend entails toys, masturbation, and (consensual) magical mind games, but never physical sex. This one ends up with polyamory, which will be fun and difficult to write.

To me, it is vital to have asexual characters appear in fiction. Since realizing my own asexuality, I’ve been incredibly motivated to write ace characters. It turns out I’ve been writing ace characters all along but never knew it. Those guys who just “don’t care about sex” or “haven’t had sex in years”… Turns out they’re ace. There are characters in other fiction who “don’t have sex” or whatever, but they’re rarely/never labeled asexual–whether because the writers don’t know the term exists/don’t understand it, or because the writers just don’t want to assign that term to a character, I don’t know. Maybe the author knows the character is ace but can’t figure out how to work that into the plot/dialogue. Maybe the author doesn’t know asexuality exists. Whatever the reason for the scarcity of ace characters, I don’t like it and I want it to change.

Romance–the genre I assign myself to–is often very sex-focused, as if a healthy sex life is the absolute most important part of every single relationship. That is not true. Everyone’s needs and desires vary, and I want to portray functional relationships that don’t hinge on sexual attraction. I want other people to portray them, too. I think realizing I’m asexual saved me from a potential huge mistake in my life, and I hope by writing ace characters I can help others reach the realization that being sexually attracted to a person isn’t the ultimate goal to aspire to in life.

A Ray of Sunshine

THINGS have been happening in my brain and in my life lately, and I’m going to babble a little bit here about how I plan to proceed.

I created a Ko-fi and a Patreon (links at end of this post). I changed my name. I am starting a vlog. I changed my logo and kind of re-branded my entire online existence.

When I first got started online, less than a year ago, I was just trying to find a writing community and accept myself as a straight female writer of gay romance. I’ve been marketing myself as a “m/m romance writer and reader” on all my social media and such. But over the past six months, I have learned a number of things that form the basis for my new online presence:

  1. I’m not straight. Don’t ask me what I am. I don’t know.
  2. I’m asexual.
  3. I’m not exactly “female.” I’m some degree of non-binary. I go with “female-ish.” Technical term, there.
  4. THERE ARE SO MANY GENDER IDENTITIES AND ORIENTATIONS THAT I DID NOT EVEN KNOW ABOUT. I WANT TO HELP OTHER PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THEM.
  5. Anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses are insanely prevalent. You don’t realize it IRL much because people don’t talk about it as openly as they do online.

So with those things in mind, I re-branded. I’m now Leigh M. Lorien, queer romance author–I am both a queer author, and an author of queer romance, so the tagline can be read both ways.

My most popular blog post so far has been the one I wrote about depression. So many people said “Thank you for writing this.” It crushed my heart. I am both glad I am not alone, and so very sad that so many other people feel the way I feel. It’s awful.

I want to do more of that, though. More of the things that people need. I want to address things that so many people feel, but perhaps cannot put into words.

That being said, I’m not going to blindside you all with sudden shouting about issues and cisnormativity and heteronormativity and all of that. That’s not my thing. That’s not me. No one fucking knows what those words mean, anyway.

I’m just going to talk. I’m not going to lecture or argue. I’m going to pick a topic–a book, a feeling, an event, something–and ramble and swear and get excited about it, because I am an excitable person. I am, hopefully, going to make you laugh. I’m going to create “adventure recap” videos for my patrons–I posted the first one publicly on my YouTube channel (video at the end of the post).

I just wanna be a goddamn ray of sunshine, you guys.  Remember my post from waaaaaaaaaaaay back ’round election time when I said Let’s Not Talk About Politics? Let’s focus on being lights.

That’s my goal. I just want to be a fucking sunbeam. I am a depressed and anxious mess but I am going to keep fucking going and I’m going to keep creating and I’m going to keep sharing, because people need voices who are willing to talk about the tough things.

My Patreon

My Ko-fi

Binge & Purge

Oh man you guys, I finished my draft. Holy shit. Hot damn. It’s done. It’s absolute trash, but it’s done. (I’m kidding, I really love some parts. Just the last 1/3 or so kinda went to shit because I was so tired of writing it I just wanted the suffering to end)

The process of writing this draft has made me realize that I operate in a series of binges and purges. Intakes and outputs.

Since the end of April, I’ve been writing this draft. So for two months, I’ve been purging. I’ve been on “output” mode. I’ve read one book in that time. I haven’t watched any TV or played any video games, I’ve watched maybe three movies, and I’ve been listening to the same handful of bands on loop until I hate them. I’ve purchased SO MANY BOOKS in the past two months, but I haven’t read a word of them. I’ve been getting anxious because I want to do other things, but I just couldn’t stop writing. Some people might advise “take a break and do some of the other things!” but if I did other things, I would be anxious because I wasn’t writing.

It’s a vicious cycle.

When I wrote the last word of this draft, I sat staring at it for a minute, thinking, “Well… I’m not happy with this ending, but this is the ending. I have no further ideas for this draft. I have written all of the ideas. I guess… that’s it. It’s done.”

It’s like stumbling out of a desert into a lush field of wildflowers. I’M DONE. I’M FREE! SO MANY OPTIONS FOR HOW TO SPEND MY TIME! SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES! SO MANY THINGS TO TRY. I CAN FINALLY RELAX!

So I will now roll around in the wildflowers for a while. It’s binge time. I will read some books. I will watch some movies. Maybe I’ll finally finish Yuri on Ice. I will load my brain up with SO MUCH STUFF after draining it clean of ideas with the single-minded focus I’ve had on my current WIP. I need to refresh my brain. I need to intake. I will devour all the media. All the ideas I can access. I will do new research. I will spend time outside.

I have declared on Twitter that I will take two weeks off from writing. That’s hilarious and untrue, but I will take at least two weeks off from this particular draft. I have a short story that needs to be revised and sent out to publishers. I had people beta read it for me a month ago and haven’t read their feedback yet because I didn’t want to split my focus off my novel draft. I have another short story that needs to be revised and sent to betas. I still have my NaNoWriMo novel from last year waiting to be revised.

But I am taking time off. I need to regroup. Maybe I won’t take two weeks off, but I’ve accumulated a seriously large number of books I need to read, so I’ll be starting on those. Plus there are a few authors I’ve befriended online and I’d like to read every book they’ve ever written. Plus I have things to beta.

How do you guys split up your “intake” vs. your “output” when it comes to writing? Do you intake and output a bit every day? Every week? Or are you a crazy person like me and you split intake/output periods over months? Leave me a comment!

Trust Your Broccoli

If you are a writer and you’ve never read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, GO DO IT NOW. I read that book in college and it literally changed my life. I’ll wait.

2000 years later

All right, so there’s a chapter in Bird by Bird called Broccoli. In it, Lamott cites a quote from a Mel Brooks skit: “Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.

What does this mean? Well, in the context of writing, it means “Listen to your story, and your story will tell you how to write it.” In other words, listen to your intuition. Listen to your gut. Writing is a very heart-and-soul driven process, and if you try to over-think it, analyze it, make it a science, it’s not going to work.

That’s the gist of the piece, but I highly recommend you read it for yourself. That one and “Shitty First Drafts.”  “Shitty First Drafts” is the reason I finished my first novel instead of letting it waste away half-finished somewhere on my hard drive.

ANYWAY.

I had my own “listen to your broccoli” moment this past week which kind of blew my mind. I’ve written before about how music ties into my writing process. For my current WIP, I’d been listening to Saul’s music — dark, sultry, heavy on piano and violin and angst. I was writing from Saul’s point of view, so listening to his music made sense.

I hit a turning point in the story and I started slowing down. I was getting stuck. I slogged through it with help from a friend, and then I got stuck again. My brain suddenly decided that I MUST LISTEN TO FOLK MUSIC. Folk music? Okay, I thought, this is Alex’s music. He’s a small rural town kinda guy, bluegrass and folk and country-esque music is prevalent there. So, we’re listening to Alex’s music now, like the flip of a switch. Saul’s is absolutely not acceptable anymore. Alex was reaching a turning point in his character arc, so that made sense I guess.

But I was still stuck. For days. I was fighting my way through, feeling that the writing was slow and boring. I couldn’t figure out how to make it interesting. I kept thinking, “It’s really hard to show this from Saul’s point of view.” and “I have no idea where this is going.”

And one night I just hit a wall. I couldn’t write. Nothing. It wasn’t happening. I didn’t know what was supposed to happen next. I had ideas in mind, but none of it seemed right. The pacing was off if I executed the vague plotline I had in mind. It just didn’t work. I was so, so stuck.

Of course, I took to Twitter, because Twitter is my people.

I had a bit of conversation, and then an epiphany.

And something tumbled loose in my brain, like there’d been a rock stuck in the gears and that idea knocked it loose, and I starting thinking “Yeah… this might work. This would solve a lot of problems. This would solve so many problems. THIS WOULD SOLVE LIKE ALL THE PROBLEMS.”

And the gears started turning again. Slowly. It takes a little while for the machinery to go from total standstill to functional again. I went to sleep that night with a thought. The gears clearly kept turning while I slept, because the next day, I woke up with ideas. I tossed them out on Twitter so I wouldn’t forget, and then I kept simmering on it during the first half of my work day. On my lunch break I sat down with a notebook, and the flood gates opened. The clouds parted and sunlight broke through. I put pen to paper and the entire ending of the book spilled out over my brain with drunken enthusiasm. The pieces clicked together easily and logically.

Here’s where I get to the point. Remember up there where I said my brain randomly decided that Saul’s music wasn’t working anymore and it was time to start listening to Alex’s music?

DAYS before I got stuck, DAYS before I thought of switching POVs, my broccoli knew.

It knew.

broccoli

Writing is hard. There’s all kinds of advice out there. Not all of it will work for you. Maybe your broccoli is a lying little shit… but I doubt it. Your broccoli is your heart, your muse, your innermost self. Trust yourself. When you’re writing and things get rough, try to get quiet. Tell the doubts to shut the fuck up. Ain’t no one got time for doubts and fears. Cuss and swear and scream and throw things if that helps, and then get quiet. Sit. Focus. Stop trying to force words, and listen. Somewhere in the back of your mind, there’s a little green sprout saying “Do this thing. This is the thing to do. Trust me.”

Trust the broccoli.

(if you hate broccoli, feel free to think of that little voice as something else. Muse. Subconscious. Tiny person standing in your brain cavity shouting at you. Whatever form it takes, let it exist and listen to it.)

 

“Write What You Know”

There’s loads of writing advice batted at writers, packaged down into short, easy absolutes: Show don’t tell. Don’t use adverbs. Write drunk, edit sober. Never use semicolons. Don’t use “very.” And, of course, “write what you know.”

Let me tell you something about these hackneyed tidbits of “advice”: they are often misinterpreted. I believe the most common interpretation of “write what you know” is  “write about your own life”. That can be very discouraging, because the average person does not lead a novel-worthy life–if I went with this interpretation, I would write about cats, dogs, gardening, writing, and libraries.

A more accurate tidbit of advice would be “use what you know” or “start with what you know.” No where in that four-word writing quip does it say “write ONLY what you know.”

Here’s the thing: You know a lot more than you think you do. You know pain, you know loss, you know anger, joy, happiness, confusion, stress. You know friendship and family, you know hunger and thirst, you know what it’s like to want something you cannot acquire.

That’s your base. Emotion is vital for any story. Maybe you’ve never had to watch your entire village get slaughtered or decide to let one person die to save twenty, but you have experienced strong emotions. Use those.

And here’s another fantastic thing about “what you know”: you can actively decide to change what you know. If you don’t know about something, find out. Do Your Goddamn Research.

but its hard

Yes, there is such a thing as “creative liberty” and “author’s prerogative.” These are especially pertinent in scifi and fantasy. When you start engaging magic and setting things 500 years in the future on another planet, creative liberty and author’s prerogative become all the more powerful.

BUT

You have to have truth and fact and reality at the core before you can take liberties. There has to be a seed of relatable knowledge there to help you create the beautiful sprout of a novel you plan to write. Your characters should express true, believable emotions.

There’s a highly pertinent quote I’ve seen credited to Pablo Picasso: “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” This applies to “write what you know” as well. Learn the facts like an expert so you can bend them for your novel.

But you have to start with what you know and be realistic. You have to start with that basis of truth, that honest emotion or basic fact. If you are writing something completely outside your realm of experience, sprinkle in pieces of what you know to lend a feeling of authenticity to your story–for example, I spent four years in college, so if I include a college campus as a setting, or a college professor as a character, I have plenty of knowledge I can use. Maybe the college campus is actually a huge summoning circle for the forces of evil, or the college professor is an alien. I don’t know anything about that from experience–but I do know the basics of dorm life, campus events, student attire, the kinds of conversation you might overhear on a campus, etc, and I can use that basis as a springboard for the rest of my idea to give it an authentic feel despite being about something utterly outside my realm of experience.

If you write an MC who has been raped or abused, who is instantly cured by falling in love with someone, you clearly have not put yourself in this MC’s position and bothered to lay down that foundation of truth, the kernel of realism from which your fiction can grow.

If you write a scifi novel and I read it and think, “Okay, this person has clearly never watched or read ANY scifi in their goddamn life,” then you’re doing something wrong.

No one expects you to become an expert on thermonuclear astrophysics overnight, but you should be doing research. You should have a list of resources you’ve consulted that you can go back to if you feel uncertain at any point. You should feel knowledgeable enough that if someone came to you and said, “Can you give me the basics on this topic?” you could spout off some knowledge and point them in the direction of some articles that you found helpful.

A writer’s job is to take threads of reality and weave them into something interesting, exciting, and entertaining. What you know–through research and experience–gives you the thread you need for your beautiful tapestry, but thread alone can’t make art. If you only “write what you know,” you’re basically just taking all those threads and hanging them up to flap in the breeze. Everyone will look at them and say “Huh, yeah, that’s thread all right.” If you don’t “write what you know” at all, you’re basically trying to weave a tapestry out of pure imagination. Everyone will look at your tapestry and go, “…oh. It’s uh… Very… uh, not really real.”

You have to use imagination AND thread to make a tapestry. What you know and what you don’t. “Write what you know” is good advice, as long as you know how to interpret it.

tapestries

For some other perspectives on this misunderstood piece of writing advice, check out The Most Misunderstood Piece of Good Advice Ever and Write What You Know – Helpful Advice or Idle Cliche?

What do you guys think? Is this much-repeated advice actually any good? What other frequently-uttered writing advice do you think we’re all interpreting wrong?

Saying vs. Doing, or, the Art of Psychologically Manipulating Yourself

How are those new year’s resolutions going? I hope you’re all clinging to yours like gum to the underside of a chair. (Ew, gross analogy, sorry)

Now that it’s nearly April, I assume most people who waxed poetic about “new year, new me” have long since fallen off the bandwagon and are back to their old habits. I, however, am 98% on track with my goals for this year so far. No one knows it but me, because I refuse to announce my goals and resolutions.

Why is that, you say? Why do you hate new year’s resolutions? Why don’t you tell anyone what yours are?

I don’t hate new year’s resolutions, I just can’t keep them if I announce them to anyone. If I tell anyone my goals, I won’t accomplish them. It’s a basic tenet of my personality. It’s actually a basic tenet of human nature. There have been numerous studies done on the topic. One study notes: “Other people’s taking notice of one’s identity-relevant intentions apparently engenders a premature sense of completeness regarding the identity goal.” (PDF here)
In English: Y’all tell people you’re gonna do something, and suddenly you feel like you’ve already accomplished your goal because other people know about it.
And then you don’t do it. Because you already feel accomplished.

As writers, we can’t afford to make this mistake. Writing is hard enough without human nature interfering with our goals.

Being a productive writer requires a stupid amount of discipline, and discipline requires self-awareness. You have to reflect on your own habits and behaviors. You have to be brutally honest with yourself and hold yourself accountable. No one else is going to, and if you claim that telling 172 people on Facebook that you intend to write a novel will help you write a novel, that’s just a lie you tell yourself to justify the feeling of false accomplishment described above. Aunt Sally on Facebook will not help you achieve your goals. Aunt Sally probably never even achieved her own goals. Don’t rely on Aunt Sally to keep you going on your writing. You are the only one who can do that.

Basically, being a writer requires you to be psychologically manipulative… to yourself.

You have to pay attention to yourself. Figure out how your own mind works – know what motivates and depresses your creativity, what time you’re most productive and under what circumstances, what you have to tell yourself in order to get results, what music helps and what doesn’t, know how other people can affect your productivity and adjust your interactions accordingly.

To me it’s almost a game.

You have to trick yourself, psychologically condition yourself like Pavlov and his dogs – ring a bell and the writer puts 100 words on the page! Tell yourself that if you don’t write every single day, the sky will fall, an army of vicious aliens will invade the planet, the sun will go supernova. Whatever works for you. But you have to figure it out. You have to pay attention to your own psychology. And talking about how much writing you’re going to accomplish does not help you accomplish it.

Here are a few things I’ve found that work for me:

  1. Self-talk. When I find myself dilly-dallying, especially out of some sense of anxiety (starting a new story, starting edits, avoiding a difficult-to-write scene), I have a little chat with myself – sometimes out loud, sometimes not. My self-talk is, erm, more along the lines of drill sergeant than encouraging momma. I have to be harsh with myself or I’ll take advantage of my own lenience. (i.e., “LISTEN, YOU STUPID BITCH. WRITE YOUR FUCKING STORY OR YOU WILL DROWN IN SELF-LOATHING, AND YOU WILL BE MISERABLE.” “ugh okay, you’re right, self”)
  2. Plan/Schedule. If you work a regular dayshift job, it’s easy to fall into a kind of slump in the evenings. You work all day, get home, you’re tired, you just kinda… meh, do whatever, watch TV or something. I tell myself every day, “I have to write tonight.” Or if you have something to do after work, “All right, I should be home around 9, I’ll write for half an hour and then watch an episode of whatever and then go to bed.” Work it into your daily schedule. It doesn’t have to be a huge time sink. If you write one sentence, you’re doing better than if you write nothing. But make it part of your daily schedule. If you want to take it seriously, treat it with as much responsibility as you do your actual paying day job.
  3. Frequent Small Goals + Reward System. Dangling a proverbial carrot in front of my own face does tend to work. I typically reward myself with food and breaks. I set small, daily goals in addition to my overall goals. That’s a tactic I learned from running for fun – when you think you can’t do it, pick a small landmark, a tree or pole or pot hole, and say, “I just need to get to that.” Once you get to that, pick a new one. Before you know it, you’ve run 3 miles. In a writing context, your overall goal may be to write a novel, but setting a small, achievable goal such as 500 words a day, or thirty minutes of writing, can help keep the sense of accomplishment alive so you don’t get discouraged. I like to set goals with rewards such as, “If I finish my short story tonight, I will make brownies tomorrow.” or “If I finish my novel draft by Friday, I will marathon the Lord of the Rings movies on Saturday.”

I will put a caveat here: As writers/bloggers/artists who maintain our own social media presence, sometimes we have to talk about our plans. You have to have content for your feeds, you have to keep your audience interested and updated on what you’re doing. I still advise you not to talk about what you’re going to do, but rather what you are doing and what you have done. Mentioning your future plans is okay occasionally as long as you still have actual content to share just as often (or more often).

Here are a few articles with interesting tips to trick your mind into being more productive and better focused. They are kind of generalized or intended for office work, but it can easily be applied to writing as well: Six Lazy Ways to Trick Your Brain into Being Productive, 5 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Being Productive When You’re Just Not Feeling It, and How to Trick Yourself Into Doing Tasks You Dread.

For more specific writing-related motivation, Camp NaNoWriMo starts this Saturday, April 1! Camp NaNoWriMo is kind of like normal NaNoWriMo, except that you can set your own goal, and you get to join a “cabin” of up to 19 other writers who will help encourage each other. If you’re not sure if you should participate, 1) yes you should, 2) maybe my blog post about NaNoWriMo will convince you.

Do you guys have any tips or tricks you use to keep yourself on task?