I feel like I’ve spent forever revising the book I’m working on. It’s taken me longer to rewrite it than it took me to write it in the first place. But then I noticed that my “cut file” where I stick most of the things I cut from the book (in case I need them again elsewhere) is at around 8,000 words. There’s also a lot that I just cut without putting it in the file when it’s something I know I won’t use or when I’m just tightening up, condensing a paragraph or a sentence or removing something that’s redundant. Meanwhile, the manuscript is about 12,000 words longer than when I started. I’ve written nearly half a book while also having to make decisions about what needs to be changed. That explains a lot.
I’m starting to feel like the more I know about writing, the longer it takes me to do, but I think that’s because the more I know about writing, the more I can spot what’s wrong with a book. It just would be nice if I could figure that out on the first draft so I could do it right the first time and not spend all this time in revisions.
And that leads nicely into the topic of one of the panels I watched at the Nebula conference: Imposter Syndrome. It sounds like I’m not alone in struggling more with that fear that any of my success has been a fluke as I go further into my career. When you first start out, before reality hits, you’re full of confidence that your book is great and that it’s going to be a huge success. And then reality hits and it turns out not to be so easy. That’s when a lot of people start wondering if they really belong. The more you know about the craft and about the business, the more you doubt yourself. There may be some people who are totally confident in their abilities and are right about that, but I think it’s more common that the people without imposter syndrome are the ones who might actually be imposters. The people who really know what they’re doing doubt themselves because they know how much they don’t know. That’s not such a bad thing when it makes you strive to get better. Imposter syndrome becomes dangerous when it makes you give up.
It doesn’t help that the business makes it hard. Publishing is not a meritocracy. Some good books get handled well and do very well. Some talented, hard-working authors become successful. But many more don’t, while I’m sure we could all point to poorly written books that got a lot of publisher support and became big hits. I should know better by now, but I’m always surprised to learn what’s been going on behind the scenes in the careers of people I admire. So many of them have had starts, stops, and reverses, and some of the biggest successes tend to come after their careers seem to be almost over. It’s hard not to have imposter syndrome when your series gets dropped, when the publisher doesn’t do much to support your book, when you feel like your agent has lost interest in you, when your books never get mentioned when people ask for recommendations of something that’s exactly what you write. You have to wonder if maybe the problem is you, if maybe your books weren’t all that good and you should go find something else to do with your life.
The people who succeed in the long term are those who can get over that feeling and keep trying without giving up. And who constantly work to get better, even if it means spending what feels like ages getting a book just right.