A few weeks ago my wife told me she’d heard about the Brisbane Writers Festival and asked why I didn’t go. My initial response was to tell her I “don’t fit in with that crowd.”
Well… I wasn’t sure exactly.
I don’t think I’ve ever experienced imposter syndrome to the extent I do with writing fiction. I know storytelling is something I’ve always loved and always considered myself good at, but it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve begun loving to read novels. I know that people fall in love with books before they’re even teenagers, but that wasn’t me.
Heck, I was THE Harry Potter generation. They released the first book of the series when I was 11 and the actors in the movies are my age and yet I’ve never read more than a few pages of Harry.
When I picture authors I picture learned people who understand literature, grammar, emotion and storytelling to a level that I could only dream of.
There’s no doubt I’ve always wanted to publish a book. I used to write them prolifically when I was a little kid and have come up with heaps of ideas for novels right through my life. But this current iteration of me writing came about after hearing a podcast with an author who was making serious cash writing stories for self-publishing on Amazon Kindle.
I could do that. I thought.
I could write lame, formula following, love stories and publish them to get a bit of extra cash.
I won’t use my name, obviously. This would just be a secret side hustle.
But over the two years it took me to write that “easy and cheesy” love story I fell in love with the world of being an author. I became obsessed with the 20BooksTo50K Facebook group, Self Publishing Show podcast and Save the Cat Writes a Novel. I got more and more excited about creating stories that meant something to people. Stories left readers feeling something!
I wanted to tell stories that left people feeling something
It’s a feeling I’d felt my whole life. From how I wanted so much to relate to JD and Elliot’s relationship on Scrubs, to feeling the audience connect with the story in my year 12 musical. The weird longing the movie The Social Network left me with and the breathless gut punch I felt when Audible finished reading Looking for Alaska to me.
I so badly wanted to create something that meant something to people. Something that made their life better or perhaps made them realise something important.
But this story was not that – this was an easy and cheesy love story to see if I could make some cash on the side. It started as a short story, but my wife told me she wanted to feel more emotion when reading it, so it became a novella. Then a friend told me it needed more explanation in the ending, so it got longer.
It was a story I didn’t do a plan for, didn’t dig deep on the characters backstories for. I intended for the process to be quick, easy and cheesy. I mean, the primary reason it took so long to write was because I was just making it up as I went, stumbling to the end in darkness.
When it was finally finished, the “easy and cheesy,” make a quick buck part of my brain wanted to get a few people to copy edit it and get it up online. But another part of me that had been reading author books and listening to self-publishing podcasts and inately really cared about producing great work knew that to get this right, I needed to get a professional to look at my story and tell me what needed improving.
And hey, maybe they’d teach me some important story tips for when I wrote the other stories I was actually going to be proud of.
So, I sent it to a developmental editor. I’d finally finished it. My few friends who’d read it connected with the story and told me kind words like my friends would do. My first awful book, a story that started out of a desire to make money, was finished. The editor would point out the areas I was still an amature in, make the book passable and it would be done and dusted. Maybe I’d put my name on it, maybe not.
When a professional looked at my first book
My editor’s feedback arrived last week. It goes without saying I was nervous. My imposter syndrome warned me he could call me out for having no clue about how to write books. A more realistic part of my mind braced for feedback that suggested I should re-write most of it or find a new story to work on.
But he didn’t. He spent the bulk of his analysis telling me the novella deserved to in fact be a novel. He liked the story, but he wanted to know genesis stories, he wanted to know more about the love story, where my characters lived. He told me to get a copy edit (this blog should have made that need obvious), and told me it was fine to publish, but that he believed there was a really magnificent novel to come from this story.
Facing imposter syndrome head-on
Randomly, the next day my wife asked me about the writer’s festival.
Over the next few hours I began unpacking with myself, and my wife why I didn’t see myself as a good author, or even a good book person in general. This writing journey had started three years ago as a way to make money, but not a project I’d put my name on.
I realised that passion had caught up and I desired to be an author, but my fear was still active I was still operating on the idea this would be a secret that I could dump and run from when I got called out for being a terrible author.
But now it was real. A publishing professional had told me this work that I had just wanted to get finished, a work that had started out of a little experiment to see if I could make a quick buck off writing, was worthy of really fleshing out. It was good, maybe it could be great.
And there it was, permission that I could be an author. Not a secret author. Not an author who didn’t fit in at author events. An author.
My imposter syndrome, of course, has not caught up. I still feel like a fraud most of the time.
I eventually realised the only reason I wouldn’t now unpack this story into a novella was laziness. At first I told myself it’s because I had other stories I wanted to tell a lot more than this one, but soon enough I realised if I was seriously going to become an author I was going to have to learn everything I could from finishing this story.
So here I sit, a man who expected to be releasing a novella at the end of June with little fanfare or excitement, going back to the drawing board and telling the story that I know must be told to move to the next stage of the journey.