Imposter Syndrome and the Author: the fear of being found out

They reckon that the ten greatest fears people have are:

  1. Flying (aviatophobia)
  2. Public speaking (glossophobia)
  3. Heights (acrophobia)
  4. The dark (lygophobia)
  5. Intimacy (aphenphosmphobia)
  6. Death or dying (thanatophobia)
  7. Failure (atychiphobia)
  8. Rejection (is there a proper phobia name for this?)
  9. Spiders (arachnophobia)
  10. Commitment (philophobia)

fear-of-flying

When you’re an author, you have to overcome your fear of failure and of rejection fairly quickly, although I think they never really go away. You also have to overcome catagelophobia (fear of being ridiculed) and possibly autophobia (fear of being alone) as well. Writing is, after all, a pretty solitary existence most of the time.

Most of the time it’s just you at your desk in your pyjamas (possibly with supervisory cat in attendance.) And on the occasions when it isn’t just you, such as going to writing conferences or conventions, the chances are you’d have to face your aviatophobia—which I suppose takes in acrophobia at the same time. The alternative would be to battle past either siderodromophobia or amaxophobia (fear of travelling by train or by car) before you set out.

Lulu-helping

Lulu in supervisory capacity

And then we come to one of the most widespread fears, that of speaking in public, or glossophobia, which seems to be one many people have nightmares about. I’ve known writers who literally shake with fear before going on stage to talk about their work. This is when they know full well that the interviewer or moderator is not about to ask them difficult or combative questions, and that the audience has probably come specially to hear them talk and will, therefore, not be hostile in the slightest.

But deep in every author’s psyche, there is still a hint of fear to the occasion. I don’t know if there’s a specific phobia to describe it, but the technical term is Imposter Syndrome. We fear that as we begin to speak about our latest novel, somebody in the audience will suddenly stand up, point an accusatory finger, and shout, “You’re not a real author! You’re a FRAUD!” And that this will be followed by a moment of stunned silence, and then everyone else will take up the same cry as we scurry off stage to the accompaniment of loud booing and the thud of rotten tomatoes landing about our feet.

BConSharp

Peter Rosovsky took this shot of me reading at Noir @ The Bar, Toronto

The usual time to feel the onset of Imposter Syndrome is, I feel, at the start of writing a new book. You open up a blank document on your computer and type in ‘Chapter One’ at the top of the screen and then…

…nothing.

All you have is an empty page with a small cursor flashing at you reproachfully in the top left-hand corner. And you can’t for the life of you remember how you got past this point last time around. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s is your second book or your twenty-second. That evil little voice in your head is whispering that you were just kidding yourself if you thought you could do this.

chapter1-page1

the dreaded page 1, chapter 1

I don’t know if every author goes through this crisis of confidence, but all the ones I know well enough for us to be candid with one another certainly do. One of the things that helps ease us out of this state is hearing from readers, either by email or on social media. We must seem like a very needy bunch, but keeping faith with something that is, essentially, the jumbled up pickings from the inside of your head—a made-up story, about people who never were, in a world that does not exist—is sometimes a big ask.

And when you consider that we live with this story often for the best part of a year, to see it from initial concept to published novel, by the time it’s done we have no judgement on its quality or worth. Our close friends and family are usually encouraging. Those with a professional interest—agents, editors, publishers—will offer guarded praise balanced by constructive (one hopes) criticism.

But that’s not quite the same as the first reader review, the first enthusiastic email, from a comparative stranger with no vested interest in anything other than enjoying a good book. It really helps allay our fears and sends us back to the word-face to chip out nuggets of gold with renewed vigour.

This weekend finds me in France with fellow mystery author, Libby Fischer Hellmann, closeted away for the rest of July to try to finish a novel, in Libby’s case, and to start one in mine. I’ve had the outline for the next Charlie Fox novel on the back burner for several months now, but have been distracted by the launch of the latest standalone, DANCING ON THE GRAVE, and getting things sorted for the blog tour, which kicks off on Monday, July 9th. (I’m excited by the questions I’ve been asked by my various hosts, and I hope you’ll be as interested in the answers.)

Meanwhile, the time has come to get on with the new Charlie Fox. I’ve had the drive down country to anticipate how I’m going to leap back into her life—or how she’s going to leap back into mine. I know my start point, and it should take you straight into the action. And I’m ready, even eager, to get cracking on the story.

If only I can get past that blank page and that reproachful cursor…

2001 for Writers

This week’s Word of the Week is hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, meaning (as you might expect) a fear of long words. The original word for the fear of long words is sesquipedaliophobia, which comes from the Latin word sesquipedalian, which literally means ‘one and a half feet long’. This longer, perhaps less-than-serious version includes the addition of parts of hippopotamus and the Latin monstrum, meaning monster, just to make all the hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiacs out there sweat.