How Science Fiction and Fantasy Helped Me Conquer My Inner Demons By Being A Total Horse's Ass

Submitted by Christopher Wright on

Update 16 February 2014: This is, sadly, still relevant.

Note: This was originally posted on my Google Plus account here. I'm re-posting it to my website because it's relevant, and also because so there. Slightly edited.

My name is Christopher Brennan Wright. I’m a writer. More specifically, and this is important, at the moment I am an unsuccessful writer. I’m trying to struggle on, and get noticed, and “gain traction” just like every other writer in my position. There are no guarantees.

When you deal with something like that, it’s important that you don't dwell on trivialities, but I think the truth is that everyone does. There are goals and achievements you want that have nothing to do with actually succeeding, and they can haunt you more than the real goals can. I could wake up tomorrow and discover that I sold a hundred eBooks overnight and I’d still find a way to get discouraged. If you're reading this, and you have a level of success where a hundred sales in a night is no big deal, keep in mind that I'm an unsuccessful writer—a hundred books in 24 hours would be a pretty big win for me, and I wouldn’t be able to take the good news at face value. I’d be finding a way to undermine it somehow. I’m my own worst enemy. That’s just the way it is.

One of the ways I undermined myself was by feeling like an impostor.

I’m pretty sure this is a common feeling—I know I’ve heard successful writers talking about it, from time to time—but, like most irrational things, when I felt like an imposter I felt like I was the only one. I’d look at the writers I admired and I’d think “see? They’re legit.” And somewhere in the back of my head something would whisper “and you never will be” and I’d imagine one of those writers stumbling across one of my serials on my site, reading a few paragraphs, rolling his or her eyes and then dismissing me as a talentless hack for all eternity. However irrational and beside the point and a waste of time and energy that was, it could be crippling.

I would like to thank the community of Science Fiction and Fantasy professionals for making that a non-issue. I no longer care if I’m an imposter: I’m no longer interested in being accepted. I’ve seen what’s happened to the people who are accepted, and it’s not worth playing that fucking game. To put it another way: I graduated from High School in 1989. That part of my life is over and done with and I have zero interest in going back.

Seriously. Over the past month I’ve paid particular attention to writers I admire who are already where I want to be, and over the past month I've seen behavior that would get you fired from any other job I've ever held, and I've seen that behavior held up as virtuous and be lauded by other people in that community... and fuck all that noise. Hugo winners being chastised for being Hugo winners. Writers being attacked for talking about the parts of writing that are important to them simply because they're not important to someone else, and then being attacked for having opinions about things that have nothing to do with writing. Long “serious-minded” monologues about who deserves to be considered a science fiction writer and who doesn’t. Long “serious-minded” monologues about the impertinence of Insert Author’s Name Here, and hey notice how Author’s Name seems like she might be a girl. Or black. Or a black girl. Or an asian, or an asian girl, or a liberal, or a liberal girl, or Hey Maybe You Might Be Noticing a Pattern Here and I wonder what exactly that pattern could be. Accusations of campaigning and politicizing books instead of writing them, of catering to specific demographic groups in order to increase popularity and sales. Racism, sexism, political division, gangs of people telling gangs of other people they don’t belong, or that their preferred genre doesn’t belong. People being snubbed for Reasons. A writer I respect was disqualified from a Hugo category and not told about it until after the Hugos were over. (And then not even told about it. It was just put on display for everyone to see.)

Folks, THESE ARE THE PROFESSIONALS. I’m not talking about the fans. Fandom can certainly be an ugly can of worms in its own right, but there are professionals who are gleefully doing the same thing, over and over again. The people who are making the money, not spending it. For some reason, very mysteriously, I’m just not interested in that world as much as I was. It’s almost as if my inner demons caught a glance of the idiocy over the past month and decided it might be better to work on my fears that my daughter will never be able to attend college instead.

I look at the back and forth and I wonder why. I would think that once you start telling stories people like you wouldn't care if someone else told different stories, but apparently this is not the case. You step into that sphere and you're expected to choose a team, immediately, and you'd better go to the home game or Billy will spread a rumor about you in the locker room and then there will be laughing and whispers in third period and will anyone let me sit with them at lunch?

Why do that? Why rebuild that in the adult world? Why turn your professional landscape into something so depressingly shallow and trivial?

I don't want it. I'm not going back to high school. I'll go for the GED instead.

I’m going to write stories. I’m going to try to get people to read those stories. I’m going to try to get people to enjoy those stories. I’m going to try to get people to buy those stories. Then I’m going to write more stories. I’m going to self-publish them. I’ll bear all the consequences of every decision I make, and many of those decisions will be bad. I will succeed or fail—and let’s be honest, the odds heavily favor failure here—based entirely on those decisions, the quality of my work, and on the random vagaries of market forces beyond my understanding. And that’s what I am going to do, over and over and over again, until I either start making money or until I die of (hopefully) old age. And if I start making money and start gathering an audience, I’m going to keep doing it until I die of (hopefully) old age.

What I’m not going to do is worry about whether or not I’m a fraud or whether I belong or whether I’ll be accepted in polite society, because I’ve seen a bit of that society and it’s not polite.

It’s not like I’m going to be making any real or substantive sacrifices to do this. As I said above, I’m an unsuccessful writer. I don’t have to give anything up. I won’t have to resign any memberships, because I don’t qualify for any memberships. I don’t have to refuse any awards, because I was never nominated for any awards. And I have chosen a model of publication that, while it doesn’t quite have the stigma it did a few years ago, is still regularly used as a disqualifying factor for stuff and things by people who have no ideological problems with it per se, they just find it a convenient way of screening out a large chunk of information. I’m already not in there. What has changed is that the little voice in the back of my head, the one that kept telling me that until I “got in there” I would always be a fraud, is now grudgingly admitting that maybe I dodged a bullet.

Meanwhile, and I think this is important, I’m going to continue to be a fan. I love reading stores. I admire writers who tell stories that I love. My admiration for writers, in the context of their writing, hasn’t died.. I want to go to cons and meet other writers, but I want to do it as a fan. I want to walk up to their tables, and shake their hands, and say “I love your work. I love your books. I just read your latest book and it was fantastic. Thank you for writing it. I hope you write another soon.” And then I want to walk away. I want to tell someone I admire that I admire them, and have it go no further than that. No introductions, no elevator pitches, just a hearty and genuine “thank you,” after which I will go away and write my own stories.

"Sometimes the only way to win is not to play." I've just dated myself with that quote. If you recognize it then you've dated yourself as well. I'm sure that endears me to you greatly.

You're welcome.

Comments

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This

This times 10,000.

There is no reason not to publish yourself. You can go a long way just by "not being an asshole." And never forget that overnight successes can take decades...

Imposter Syndrome vs. Dunning-Kruger Effect

You're a writer. And since I read your stuff, that makes you a successful writer. Perhaps not a well remunerated writer, perhaps not an independently wealthy writer, perhaps not a writer with a movie contract. But you're a writer, and a successful one.

Imposter Syndrome is not officially in the DSM, but I've heard it mentioned often enough that I believe it's a real thing. Contrast that with the Dunning–Kruger Effect (also a real thing, but the opposite).

Keep writing!

Thanx,
--Bob.

not a fraud

If you take the time to craft a story and write it out ... you're a writer. If you publish it and even 1 person buys it ... you're a professional writer. It's as simple as that. Being "successful" is a whole other can of worms, seeing as how it's such an ill-defined concept. It can mean making a living from writing, or maybe being widely known, or being acknowledged by others you admire .... or as simple as being happy to be writing and being read by someone.

As far as the horror stories I've been hearing of late about the sexism and assholery, I am absolutely horrified. I am old enough to remember when classic SFF writer Andre Norton wrote as "Andrew North" to hide her sex, and legendary editor John W. Campbell Jr. begged her to "come out" as a woman, simply because he believed he field *needed* women writers. His only concern was the quality of the writing and he didn't care about such trivialities as gender or skin colour. Heck, he did more to open people's minds to accepting "otherness" than anyone else in the SFF field by not only encouraging authors from all walks of life but also publishing stories that challenged the thinking-in-ruts mentalities.

I've never been plugged into fandom to any great extent, but I've known people who were. Although this was quite a few years ago, I *never* heard stories like I'm hearing now. When did it change and go so horribly wrong? When I was growing up SFF was an uplifting, expansive, positive force for me and many others. Seeing it mutate into the very thing it used to attack and mock is very depressing.

For me, authors like yourself keep the classic SFF spirit alive. I can't write worth shit, so all I can do to pay back is to encourage authors like yourself to keep going.

Don't give up, and don't let the ugliness of the world poison you.

Imposter Syndrome

Your feelings of being an imposter are indeed very common. (No, I'm not going to joke that a lot of us feel you're an imposter.) It's so common that it has a name (Imposter Syndrome) and a Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome) and everything. You are a writer. And a good one; I thoroughly enjoyed "Points Between" and "Pay Me, Bug". Don't let the bastards wear you down.

I've only seen it play out once...

I've never been to a Worldcon, not even when it was in Boston. But the one time the sort of thing you describe came to my notice was in 2003, when the World of People Who Write Literary Books That Win Awards But Which Nobody Reads went bats*** crazy (they would have preferred "apoplectic") when the National Book Awards gave their "Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters" to Stephen King. Seriously ugly, in the vein of "That they could believe that there is any literary value there or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply a testimony to their own idiocy." (Harold Bloom)

And I guess what you're really saying at the end of the piece is that, when it comes to running in the world of "successful authors," you'd really prefer a nice game of chess?

I hate chess...

... but yes.

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

My 2 cents

I loved Pay me Bug!, I devour Curveball when it comes out. Haven't really gotten into The Points Between, but hey, not the end of the world. In any case, you are a writer, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

I agree with Bob

I like to go to some of the small Cons and chat with people who's books I buy. And the number 1 advice they give is "Writers are the people who write. So write." And I (and at least one other person) paid for "Pay Me, Bug!", so you are a professional writer. I enjoyed "Pay Me, Bug!" and enjoy your comics ongoing, so you a successful writer by the only criteria I care about.

Carry on!

- Kai

Like me, you dreamt of a

Like me, you dreamt of a priesthood attained by study and hard work and the respect of colleagues. Reality disappoints.

But this is the same as in any career. I imagined one became a scientist by doing good science, that scientists had ways of figuring out what was good science and what was bad, and that the people on top of the heap were there because they had earned it. The reality is different. The parallels between trying to build a career while pursuing important scientific questions, instead of playing politics, dumbing down your work to the point where committees won't say it's too risky, and pursuing whatever is hot; and trying to build a career writing stories that are important to you, instead of schmoozing, dumbing down your stories for the mass market, and writing whatever is hot, are surprisingly close. The only big difference is that you don't have to have parents who can afford $200,000 to send you to Harvard to be a successful writer.

The first stage of disillusionment is realizing the dream is a fraud and the game is rigged. The second stage of disillusionment is realizing that abstaining from it doesn't make you any better.

Self-publish if you can and if you want to. More power to you. But don't retreat from the messy human business of getting stuff done with primates because you think you're too good for it. Nobody will give you a medal for virtue.

Imposters of the World, Unite!

In every truly original and worthwhile endeavor, it's the imposter who creates something fresh, new, innovative and ultimately -- world-changing. So keep on being an imposter -- but also keep on knocking on the door to open. You have incredible talent as a writer and a story-teller. I say that from the perspective of having been in the publishing "business" -- and recognizing that "business" as a dirty one. A biased one. A money-driven one that is cruel, pandering, and just about every other venal quality you can imagine. But there is something about real talent that ultimately rises to the top -- whether it is through self-publishing and an audience that cheers you on because you have a fan base...or whether the money-grubbers finally take the time to notice that if promoted, this writer could sell. Call me a wild-eyed optimist, but I believe your strategy will work. Keep on writing your stories, and keep on putting them out there! I believe that notice will come...and you will still feel like an imposter, but it will be a "feeling," not a reality.

Fakirs, Phoneys and Posers

Chris,
I look forward to seeing what happens next to Curveball. If you really want to see some junk writing search for Tigger23505 at fanfiction.net. Did that as a lark to see if anyone would read it. Probably draws way too much on my own experience but hey you have to start somewhere.

Pay me bug is pretty good too, but I've not been captured by it nearly as much as Curveball. FWIW Curveball could be an awesome graphic novel with the right artwork team.

Nice post!

Nice post, and I agree 100%, good post! Sounds like just like acting, or music, or whatever, there are a lot of prima donnas in writing, and I would not worry about them either.

Wow!!! Consider yourself endeared!

Although turning your phrase around doesn't quite make it "roll off the tongue"...

Parts of my life story have me thinking similarly, although in more technical fields. Indeed, I may very well have "dodged a bullet" myself when I quit my job at a big engineering firm (now embroiled in huge scandals) to strike out on my own, barely a handful of years after graduating from university.

I had saved your rant for reading over the weekend, and I am quite glad I did, as I took the time to savor it, plus it spurred me to research that Hugo screw-up. A simple Google search from a selection of words from your text, i.e. "disqualified from a Hugo category" but without the quotes, gave me this as the first result:

http://geekfeminism.org/2013/09/09/the-curious-incident-of-the-novelette...

And now you may have turned me on to a new author I will soon check out (Mary Robinette Kowal).

Keep up the good work! I loved "Pay me Bug!" and will no doubt check out your other works when they are complete, including buying them in eBook format...

You know, when Doris Lessing

You know, when Doris Lessing won the Nobel prize, I thought, 'Thank God! now the daft biddy will be too busy holding speeches to write more boredom!'
(When I was a kid, I plowed through the shelves of sci-fi and fantasy at the school library, and eventually ran into her books. That depressing muddle almost made me give up on the genre.)

Ursula Vernon got a Hugo award for Digger...
That's probably because the really boring people handing out Nobel prizes would never give it to a comic.
(I splurged on a Hardcover Omnibus in the Kickstarter recently)

When I go into a bookstore to find a new book, I often skip books where the author's name is written in larger fonts than the title. If a book has to be sold by the author name instead of the story, it's not a story at all.

Have you read Paul Kidd's book 'Fey'?
http://paulkidd.net/books/fey/

Your are an Author

Pay me Bug is brilliant, and I love the way Curveball is turning out, and I enjoy The Point Between. You are definitely a writer, and I think a good one.

Keep writing! You may not be as prolific as WildBow, but I think your writing is more mature.

Are you on TopWebFiction? I would vote for you every week if you were!

the only writer I read

I also graduated HS in 89. I was not one of the in kids. I was never accepted or part of that group.
I also don't care.

Politics are everywhere, in every job sector. For many people, it seems that's their only sense of self worth is making themselves heard with the only BS they can muster. Screaming stupidity, just so they have something in their own voice.

I am now in management, in public education, and deal with so many levels of self important idiots that make even the simplest tasks complicated and cumbersome, and even sometimes painful to endure.

I used to read scifi and fantasy constantly. Shelves of it, and used bookstores were a place to escape.
I went to college and got a degree in communications. Now I work in IT. I hardly read anything for pleasure, just don't have the time or ambition.

But, I read comics daily. I have a bookmark folder, and daily tell Chrome open all bookmarks in a new window... and your comic has been in there for a long time. Then I found Pay me bug, and added a daily tab. Then Points, and now curveball.... I open them daily looking for new content, knowing there rarely is, but wanting it as soon as it is.

I enjoy your writing and your stories. The last 3 books I've read would be... Pay me, points, and curveball....

I try to read them very carefully and offer input and editing, as I have a degree in it, and I would like to think I can help you, even if only in a very small way, try to help you be more successful, more professional, more noticed.

I agree, sometimes the only way to win is not to play, and loved that movie.

But know that you are appreciated, and read, and yes, you are an author.

Your readers have spoken

You are, indeed, an author. And one with an audience that will pay for the privilage of reading your work.

Now go do that voodoo that you do so well.

(Yes, that's a quote from an old movie)

Writers

The first step

The young poet Eumenes
complained one day to Theocritus:
"For two years I have been writing
just to create one mere idyll.
It is my only completed work.
Alas, I see that it is steep,
the ladder of Poetry is very steep;
and from the first step where I am now,
unhappy me, I shall never go higher."
Theocritus said: "These words
are unfitting and blasphemous.
For even if you are on the first step,
you should be proud and happy.
Coming this far is no small accomplishment;
what you have achieved is great glory.
And even this first step
is from the common world very far away.
To set foot upon this step
you must rightfully be
a citizen of the city of ideas.
And in that city it is hard
and rare to become a citizen.
In its agora you find Lawmakers
whom no scoundrel can fool.
Coming this far is no small accomplishment;
what you have achieved is great glory."

Constantine P. Cavafy (1899)

Another author I've enjoyed

Another author I've enjoyed recently - Myke Cole - added a blog post in the last few months, not 100% on the same theme but close enough that I think it's worth linking to: http://mykecole.com/blog/2013/06/there-is-no-that

For those who haven't already read his books, I can recommend them. Not perfect, but a good read and an interesting premise.

(And no, I'm not Myke in disguise :)

All the ♥.

All the <3s .

 

... I keep thinking of you as being a professional, though.  Not in the high school way.