On failing and flailing, or how I handle imposter syndrome and rejection

I started this post last night and then about three-quarters of the way through, I decided that it was a unique kind of awful and deleted it all. I didn't have the gravitas, talent, or insights to be able to produce anything worthwhile--so why bother.

Sound familiar?

Here's the thing about being a writer. We're dreamers by definition. We conjure notions, put them into words, and send them out into the world to be consumed and judged. I don't think there's an easy part. Whether it's a contest like PitchWars, querying agents, going on submission, launching your debut novel during a pandemic, writing your next book, asking for blurbs, getting those reviews, trying to sell another book...every step has the potential to be fraught, stressful, exciting, disappointing, painful, sublime. We just don't know, right? It's an act of faith. The fact that we don't know, that we're not in control, that it seems like it's working out for everyone, and that even if it is working out for us, maybe we don't deserve it, or it won't last, or it's a fluke...I have no amazing insights to share to make that easier. But I am, after all, a writer. So I do have a story.

I've been writing since I was little. Really little. In fact, there's basically no candid pictures of me as a child without a notebook and a pencil in my hand. I loved three things: chasing fireflies, writing, and my next door neighbor, Clem. That's it. In ninth grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Overbeck, wrote on one of my short stories that she wanted a signed copy of my novel some day.

Fast forward more years than I'd care to admit. I'd heard that getting a book published was nearly impossible, but doing things other people tell me I can't is kind of my thing. I wrote a book that was basically Twister meets You've Got Mail, and signed with my agent Sharon Pelletier shortly after. I couldn't believe my luck. Sharon was amazing, super smart and insightful, and she worked at a powerhouse agency in New York City. I thought that was the hard part. And then we went on sub and I waited for an exciting phone call. The book went to second reads, but it didn't sell. I wrote another book (the book of my heart) while that one was on sub (do this, even if you don't want to). It garnered wonderful feedback from editors, comments so beautiful it made me want to cry. The book didn't sell. I sobbed in the bathtub. I wrote another three books. They didn't sell either. I had a crisis of confidence. But I never truly considered giving up, because I had this theory--the book I didn't write if I gave up would be the one that would have sold. So even though I spent time fretting and feeling miserable and wondering if the next day would be the one in which Sharon got tired of trying to sell my seemingly unsellable books and sent me some polite email setting me free, I kept going.

Sharon, who is an angel, a career agent, a champion, did not let me go. I wrote another book. A book I needed to read. One that made me laugh and cry and broke every rule I'd made for myself over the years.

And then it sold.

It sounds simple, but it wasn't. Because we're wired to focus on the negative: the things we don't do well, the books we didn't sell, the times we didn't succeed, the negative reviews. The positive slips by and barely leaves a mark. So here's how I kept myself going.

I forced myself to focus on the positive.

I made a collage of all the good things that editors had said about my work and I hung it above my desk. I highly recommend this. Remind yourself of what you do well. Force yourself to see the beautiful things you miss. Surround yourself with people who believe in you. Support them too and lift each other up.

Spoiler alert. I still worry all the time. Because it never ends, that feeling of self-doubt, of worrying how your work will be received. But when I get down and start to feel like a failing imposter, I remember this trick and I lean on the people who know how hard this is and will remind me we we do this thing. I try to do the same for them. And I tell myself, I'm not perfect or the most successful or even great. But I try really hard, and that's what counts. Also, Maya Angelou, brilliant goddess of writing, said once, "Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, 'Uh oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody and they're going to find me out." If she felt that way, then we're all in very good company.

I hope this helps you feel a bit better. A little less alone. I'm rooting for you.


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