Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Social Anxiety, Imposter Syndrome, and Conventions

Looking thoughtful at the Doctor Who panel with John Chu and Don Pizarro
photo by David Marshall

Imposter Syndrome.

Yeah. It's something that all of the writers I know have struggled with at different times in their careers. For me, it seems to be the strongest at venues like cons, where I am thrown in with other writers. It's hard not to fall prey to the inevitable comparisons game: I'm an indie; Writer X is published by Tor. My books haven't won awards; Writer Y is a Hugo winner. I've published 6 novels; Writer Z just published their 30th. And has a new 3 book contract. And their panels are SRO. And. And. And.

I typically both look forward to and dread cons. I know I will exhaust myself being 'on' so I can make sure to present my best self during the event. And I will walk around feeling insecure and anxious, certain that I don't belong in the myriad of conversations happening all around me. Still, I force myself to interact, all the while believing the people I'm talking to just want me to shut up and leave.

That's my anxiety brain talking. My rational brain knows that's bunk: I'm not intrusive. I do respect boundaries and personal space. I don't monopolize conversations.

The biggest problem I have at cons is that anxiety brain doesn't typically listen to rational brain.

This past weekend, I was a guest at Boskone.

For the first time since I started attending cons, and certainly since I started to be invited to participate, I didn't feel limited by my anxiety brain.

I was scheduled for 4 panels (moderator for 2 of them), a reading, and a signing. For all of the events, I felt comfortable and prepared, without the sense of manic pressure that usually carries me through a con.

I moved in and out of conversations with a fluidity that was new to me. I met old friends, long time acquaintances, and made new friends.

I've been trying to figure out what changed for me this year. Many folks remarked, both during Boskone and afterwards, that this was the best Boskone they remember. It felt more inclusive, more welcoming, more relaxed. I'm sure some of that external energy helped me, but my ease was bigger than that.

After a number of years attending, I think I've finally reached critical mass where I recognize enough people and enough people recognize me that I don't feel like the eternal wallflower. And it's more than that, even.

I've finally reached a place where I'm comfortable with both who I am and where I am in my writing career. The dreaded Imposter Syndrome is intimately tied up with the unhealthy comparison issue. Those things have less power over you as soon as you understand and accept that there will always be writers with more success than you, more prestigious publishers, more awards, more reviews, more income, more fame. And NONE of that has anything to do with you. (By which I mean *me*.)

NONE of that has much bearing on you (me) as a person, your (my) writing, and your (my) publishing career.

Where I am in my writing and publishing has nothing to do with where someone else is.  

This is not a Reality TV show. No one gets voted off the island or disqualified in the lightning round. 

I think this was really hammered home for me in a conversation I took part in at 'bar con' (a random assortment of folks who happened to be at the same table after the formal part of the con was over. Some of us had drinks). There was a gentleman at the table with a "my first Boskone" ribbon on his badge and we asked him what had brought him to the con.

He was very reticent to tell us, but after some good-natured teasing, he admitted that a friend convinced him to come after reading some of his writing.

"Aha!" I said. "You're a writer."

He spent a good part of the evening denying it, even as we discovered (all hail the power of a smart phone!)  he'd written multiple novels and teaching guides to those novels, published, and had his work used in teen gang violence prevention programs.

Even through his full-on Imposter Syndrome, any of us at the table could see the truth: he had lit up when he talked about his writing. It was clear where his passion lay. And we all called him on it. (In a supportive way.) I hope he came away with a new appreciation for his creativity and an acceptance of himself as a writer.

Even as I was calling on him to accept himself without apology or caveat, I was simultaneously reminding myself of the same lessons.



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  1. You've always been awesome to me! So glad you're finally realizing it.

  2. You *do* realize how much you've helped me at cons by letting me follow in your slipstream, right? Missed you at Boskone! I had a scotch especially for you.