Writers are a crazy bunch. Well, I think artists are in general–putting yourself and your work out there for constant critique, appraisal, and acceptance or rejection will do that–but that’s a whole other blog post. This one is about a specific instance of my craziness.
A goal of most fantasy/science fiction writers is to become SFWA eligible. The Science Fiction Writers of America have quantifiable standards for acceptance: three short story sales to professional markets or a novel sale to an approved publisher. Sounds easy, huh? Yeah, not so much with the easy. I didn’t qualify until three or so years after my first sale. So you’d think I would have applied to SFWA the second I got my third contract in the mail, right? But I didn’t. Not with the fourth, either. It was well after my fifth sale before I applied. It wasn’t because of politics or the organization or the dues or even laziness.
It was because I didn’t feel like a writer. I had five stories in anthologies by a major publisher and several others with small presses but I still didn’t feel like a writer. I might have looked like one, and I might have put on a good act at conventions, but deep down inside I didn’t feel like one. Only “real” writers belonged to SFWA, so I didn’t apply. Then one night I had a heart-to-heart with myself. “Self,” I said, “if you don’t take yourself seriously, how do you expect anyone else to?” and “So when are you going to be a real writer, if you’re not one now?” When I didn’t have answers to either of those questions I realized it was time to put the imposter syndrome away, step into my big-girl pants, and join SFWA. Once the paperwork went through I felt a little different. Not because others saw me as legitimate–if my SFWA membership has ever mattered to anyone one way or the other I haven’t noticed*–but because I had finally acknowledged all the hard work I had put in. I hadn’t just arrived. I had allowed myself to arrive.
Do I still feel like an imposter sometimes? Absolutely. Some days at the keyboard I feel like a talentless hack. Sometimes when I’m on panels at cons I’ll have a moment of “why are these people coming to me for advice?! I don’t know anything,” before taking a deep breath and remembering that yes, I have useful advice to give. I imagine I’ll have moments like that after I’ve gotten an agent or published novels or been a Guest of Honor at a convention. But I will recognize those moments for what they are–my “neurotic writer” tendencies bubbling to the surface–and won’t let them hold me back from my dreams.
*Except for the bouncers at a SFWA room party. Those guys care very, very much.