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Imposter Syndrome and You – A Guide

Imposter Syndrome – What is it?

Imposter Syndrome – “First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.” (https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud)

Imposter Syndrome. That sinking feeling that you don’t belong in a group, that they are just humouring you by letting you sit at the table. The little lying voice in the back of your mind that says you aren’t good enough, you aren’t smart enough, you don’t belong.

Sound familiar?

Every single creative person I’ve met has experienced this at some point in their life. I get it, writing is hard. Making a plot cohesive, a character likeable but flawed… it’s tougher than it sounds on the surface. It’s easy for feelings of inadequacy to pop up when you start running into roadblocks, when goals aren’t met. 

It doesn’t matter if you know that little voice lies, the little tentacles imposter syndrome sinks into you are insidious and hard to shake. The emotions of failure are there, and they are a lot harder to disentangle. But it can be done! Let’s look at the five types of imposter syndrome, what each looks like to a writer, and how to overcome them.

The Five Types of Imposter Syndrome

In her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, Valerie Young proposed five subtypes of Imposter Syndrome.

The Perfectionist

    That person who is never satisfied with the quality of their work, who has trouble focusing on the good they’ve produced, being only able to see the flaws. They set high goals for themselves, then beat themselves up for not meeting them. They feel like an imposter because to them, their work is garbage.

    In writing, this is the person who isn’t ready to share a piece until it’s on it’s 7th draft and has been through a dozen revisions. They won’t feel like a ‘real writer’’ until they’ve published a dozen novels, been traditionally published, won an award, or some other self imposed goal.

How to overcome being a Perfectionist Imposter

Learn to let go. It’s hard, but you’ve got to let a project go out into the world, whether that tiny voice is telling you it’s ready or not. I’m not saying to toss a rough draft out into the world, of course not. But after a revision or two it’s time to let someone you trust read your piece and let you know their honest opinion. If they tell you there are things to be fixed, don’t take that as a personal attack. Writing is a process, you know this. So let it be a process, and remember that there is such a thing as ‘good enough’.

The Superwoman/man

    This person sits in a meeting and volunteers for every extra task, just to prove to themselves that they’ve earned their spot at the table. They compare themselves to others constantly and measure success by looking at how much more they are doing compared to others.

    In writing this may be the person who is focused on quantity – number of books, number of rewards, number of five star reviews. They push themselves to unhealthy limits to write another scene, another paragraph. They volunteer for guest blog posts when they’ve got a deadline looming, because they need to feel like they are producing enough content to be valid.

How to overcome being a Superwoman/man Imposter

    Work/Life Balance. It’s not just a fancy phrase. This kind of writer needs to set boundaries for themselves and hold to them. Evaluate the workload and ask yourself if sometimes is really worth taking on. But most importantly remember – You are more than your output. Celebrate your achievements, no matter how big or small. Take a step back and ask yourself – If you don’t take on this project, is it really failing? Talk it out with a friend or partner if you have trouble being objective about how much you are taking on.

The Natural Genius

    Hello, former ‘gifted children’. And hello people who expect to pick up a new skill with minimal effort. This person is used to handling things on their own with minimal help, and resents it when someone steps in to try and teach them. They focus on the “how” and “when” of skill acquisition – how fast they took, when will they see results. They feel like an imposter when it takes ‘too long’ to achieve their goals, or when they aren’t seeing fast results in a new project.

    In writing, the natural expert sets high standards for their work, and gets frustrated when their novel isn’t the same quality as those winning all the awards. They expect their writing to not need much revision, and are likely to abandon a piece when they find it needs lots of work. 

How to overcome being a Natural Genius Imposter

    Go easy on yourself.  Writing is a skill, a tough one, and you need to take pity on yourself and not expect to learn how to write in a month. Find a writing group that can support you when you are feeling down, and can share tips on how to improve in a non-judgemental way. It’s a marathon, not a race.

The Soloist

    This person cares about the “who”. Who is doing the work? You, with no help. It only counts if you finished a project all by yourself, right? The only way to prove your worth? If you get help, the other person might as well get full credit. This person sees getting help as a sure sign of failure, and will turn it out if offered.

For writing, this is the person who won’t ask for brainstorming help when they are stuck, and who has difficulty taking feedback on their writing. The soloist may be likely to self publish. And self edit, with a self-made cover, no beta readers. Any help is bad, right?

How to overcome being a Soloist Imposter

    Talk it out. Learn to reach out to others, to share and pool both knowledge and resources. It may bruise your ego at first, but you will find that everyone else is on the same learning path as you, and that we all have natural strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing. We can help each other! Writing may seem like a solo activity, but finding a good writing group will take your work to a whole new level.

The Expert

    This person wants to know anything. Not knowing something is a mark of shame. They are paralyzed by a fear of not knowing that they might not start in the first place. They study, take another course, another credential, all in an effort to be an expert.

In writing, this is the person who signs up for all the workshops, who has a library of craft books, all read and annotated. They are thinking of going back for an MFA, just to really prove to themselves that they know their stuff. They may also suffer from Worldbuilders disease. Can they really start writing until they know the full history of a war that ended 800 years ago, which is only mentioned once in passing?

How to overcome being an Expert Imposter

    Just start. While it’s true that there is always something else to learn, it’s not true that you need to know it all right now. Have you heard of Pantsing? It’s a term that came out of National Novel Writing Month, it means ‘to write by the seat of your pants’, ie. to start writing without outlining. And guess what? Not only are many successful authors pantsers, but you can’t tell a pantsed novel from a fully planned one! I’m not saying you have to throw out all your notes, I’m saying it is possible to write without having knowledge of everything in your story. Just start writing!

General Tips for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

  • Talk to people! – Not just about your feeling of being an imposter, but about the problems you are having with writing, ask for help, offer support, pool your knowledge. We all have weaknesses, you probably have knowledge that can help someone else, and vice versa.
  • Acknowledge your feelings – They aren’t just phantoms in your mind, while they may not be rational, they are real. Ask yourself why you are feeling like an imposter, and you can start to change your feelings to something less harmful.
  • Correct your thinking – When you find yourself in your loop – ‘I’m not learning fast enough’, ‘if I ask for help I’m a failure’ – recognize those thoughts and stop them in their tracks. Recognizing them is the first step to eliminating them, so try and pay attention when you start to feel down.
  • Celebrate the successes – Celebrate all your successes, from your writing accomplishments to your work life. But also celebrate recognizing your emotional state, celebrate the efforts you are making to change your own mind. It takes strength to do that, and deserves to be celebrated!
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On Writing Short Stories

How to write a short story. Great topic for a place putting out a short story anthology. Several of our members have expressed being intimidated by short stories, so we wanted to give some advice on how to approach them.

They aren’t lions, they won’t snap your hand off if you get too close. A short story is just like a novel, but shorter. There are differences of course, a short story is less complex, with fewer characters, locations, and plot threads. But it is still a story, and if you can write a novel, you can write a short story.

  1. Where Do You Get Your Ideas? – The same place you get your novel ideas. Only instead of fleshing them out, you distill them down until you’ve found a single thing to pursue – an image, an emotion, a particular character. An idea about a fallen star becomes intimate and personal, instead of that fallen star igniting an epic war.
  2. ‘In Late, Out Early’ – You may have heard that one before. It is as true as ever for short stories. You want to start your story as close to the action as you can. It may help to make a list of everything you know about the story, the events, the characters, what the ending might be. See how late you can start the story and still have it make sense. Likewise, once you’ve said your piece, you want to get out of there. There’s not a lot of room to ramble in a short story.
  3. MICE Quotient – I’m a huge fan of the Writing Excuses podcast, and one thing they teach is the MICE Quotient. Created by Orson Scott Card, the MICE Quotient stands for Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event, and is the idea that each story is made up of these elements in different proportions. A story on the short end (less than 7000 words) will have one, maybe two elements. A story on the higher end (less than 15,000) will have up to three, maybe four. A novel will have all four elements. Let’s look at them closer.
    • Milieu – The location or world of your story (The Hobbit)
    • Idea – An unanswered question (Murder mysteries)
    • Character – Focuses on the character(s) and how they change (Romances)
    • Event – Some big, external happening or problem, like an explosion or alien invasion. (Independence Day)

What should you care about the MICE quotient?

The MICE quotient, when used in a short story, is great for combating story bloat. When you feel like your story is getting too long, take a look, are you introducing too many elements, trying to follow too many plot threads? Is the story you want to tell focused on the character, but you are over there trying to solve a murder mystery? It might be time to pull back or eliminate those extra threads to tighten the story up

The MICE quotient is also fantastic for making sure your short story feels like a short story. A common mistake new writers make is coming up with a short story that feels more like a novel excerpt. Why does that happen? Most likely, plot elements have been introduced, but not fully resolved, or resolved in an unexpected order. The MICE Elements should cycle back around full circle in one way or another.

  • Milieu – The story returns to the location the story started in
  • Idea – The central question is answers
  • Character – The character has changed, or is satisfied with the way they are (or is dead)
  • Event – The problem has been resolved (or everyone is dead)

Another way to make an ending feel complete is to close the MICE elements in reverse order of you opening them.

  • If you start a story with a character leaving home, and learning something along the way, you want to close the character arc plot thread first, before having them come home (these can happen very close together in the text, however) – <M><C></C></M>
  1. MICE Quotient and Length – Another thing I hear from writers that are new to short stories is that they’ve tried them, but they keep making them too long. Mary Robinette Kowal has a formula for that! You can estimate the length of a story by looking at the number of characters, locations, and MICE quotient elements, and doing some math with them.
    • Ls=((C+L) *750)*M/1.5
    • Add the number of characters (C) and the number of locations (L). Multiply that sum by 750. Then multiply that number by the number of MICE elements (M) the story incorporates and divide by 1.5. (Taken from Writing Excuses liner notes)
    • This assumes that you require 750 words per character and location to flesh out each character and location in a fulfilling way.
    • A story with 5 characters, 3 locations, and 4 MICE quotient elements will end up being around 16,000 words (too long for our anthology)
    • A story with 1 character, 2 locations, and 2 MICE quotient elements will end up being around 3000 words
    • A story with 3 characters, 2 locations, and 2 MICE quotient elements will be around 6250 words, perfect for our monthly challenges.

You can use this formula as a diagnostic tool as well – Are you way over or below your estimate? You may be under-describing, or overly verbose, or you may have miscounted the number of elements you are including. Look at your formula again to see where you need to add substance or cut down.

  1.  Try/Fail Cycles – A try/fail cycle is a way to introduce and keep tension up in a story – instead of letting your character have what they want on the first try, they need to work for it. The rule of 3 is often given in novels; a character should try and fail 3 times before they succeed with their task. But in short stories, we just don’t have the space. Try cutting back your try/fail cycles to just one or two attempts before your character succeeds.
  2. Let it Breath – Short stories are the place to experiment, to try writing interesting characters and locations and plot ideas that don’t necessarily fit into a novel. Take your time with them, there’s no need to rush through. I’m not saying to be overly wordy, no. I’m saying you don’t need to be overly complex, you can take a simple idea and explore it to its fullest instead of rushing through and tackling a handful of interesting ideas at the same time. Not to say that a short story can’t be complex, they can, but short stories aren’t a sprint, you can take your time to set up the scene, explore the emotions of your character, and make sure the story is rich and interesting. Less is more, in the short story world.


Further Reading

https://writingexcuses.com/tag/mice-quotient/
https://thewritersaurus.com/2015/05/08/orson-scott-cards-mice-quotient/ 

http://www.sfcenter.ku.edu/Workshop-stuff/MICE-Quotient.htm
https://blog.karenwoodward.org/2012/10/orson-scott-card-mice-quotient-how-to.html
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Worldsmyths: A History

Ally Kelly (JediKnightMuse) started Worldsmyths because she had looked for a community focused on the fantasy genre, and had been unable to find one. Determined to fill the need, Worldsmyths was founded in 2016 as a Facebook page, but swiftly moved to a website forum in June of 2016. 

From the start writing challenges have always been a part of the landscape. We have also always focused on driving conversation about writing and to engage with others in a helpful, friendly way. It is that attitude of support and a focus on the fantasy genre that has allowed Worldsmyths to carve out a small space for itself. 

So many groups are cliquey, with an already established tight knit group of folks who don’t easily include newcomers. That is not what Worldsmyths is. We aim to be as friendly and welcoming to newcomers as possible, which is why the anthology we are putting out is especially focused on giving newbies a stress free taste of the publishing industry. 

Other regular activities are Worldsmyths include a monthly community writing challenge, which has spanned from 3 to 6 months, where we gathered together to see just how many words we can write as a group (over two million, as it turns out!). We are also active during NaNoWriMo each year, with brainstorming and prep sessions, and lots of support and sympathy during the event itself.

When Elizabeth Hodgson (Penguinball) joined in 2018 she helped expand the range of activities and clubs at Worldsmyths, and helped with the transition to Discord in 2019. We added a book club, weekly discussion questions, and a goals club, all with the aim of helping to educate and reach our writing goals.

In 2019 Worldsmyths decided to move away from the website forum and onto Discord, and in early 2020 we shut down the forum entirely. We found Discord easier to use, and it allows us to reach writers that find old school forums outdated. At this point in early 2021 we have over 530 members, and continue to grow.

Worldsmyths is stronger than ever, and this anthology is the culmination of everything we have worked towards over the years. It is our fifth anniversary, and we are celebrating our members by sharing their stories with the world. But this isn’t the end. This anthology will be an annual event, and we look forward to seeing what our members write in the years to come.

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