The Sophomore Stretch

{"Hearts and Harbingers" is available today from Ellora's Cave! I am really proud of this one, folks. Check it out!} There is a bottle of fine champagne chilling in the fridge to celebrate my second book's release today—hooray!—but here I am thinking not about celebration, but instead where I'm coming from and where I'm going.

There is a thing in the world called impostor syndrome. Someone with quantifiable accomplishment—say, they've had a book or two accepted for publication—nevertheless believes their success is the result of dumb luck or random chance. They fear they will be (wrongly) exposed as a fraud. An impostor. A phony.

Romance authors are not unfamiliar with impostor syndrome; I recently caught a reference to it in Cat Grant's erotic ménage Entangled Trio (which I really enjoyed, by the by).

And right now, you guys? I've got it bad.

Having one book out was obviously a fluke. You'd think having two books out would mean I sat up and said to myself, "Self, you must be doing something right."

What I said was, "Self, this will only make them madder when they find out you've been faking it."

Leaving aside the ridiculous fact that I'm worrying about faking things when my job as a fiction writer is, in fact, to fake things—my worry is not that I will be embarrassed in the eyes of the world.

My worry is that they'll make me stop writing.

Whoever "they" are. This is not a very logical train of thought, believe me. When Jurassic Park came out I was young enough to be absolutely pants-wettingly terrified by the Velociraptors, and for weeks afterward I would like in bed, too scared to sleep, telling myself over and over that Dinosaurs are all dead. They are not going to come in your window. They have not been alive for millions of years. This is a totally nonsensical thing you are worrying about.

I failed to persuade myself out of being afraid. I had to settle for making contingency plans: If the Velociraptor comes in the window, I will try and throw my comforter over its head and sprint for the door while it is blind and disoriented. I will scream the whole way and wake up everyone in the house, and then maybe the Velociraptor will eat my sister instead and I will be safe.

An xkcd comic about velociraptors.

So that is what I am doing now. (But without the sister-sacrifice—hi, sis!) I have approximately eighteen different strategies based on finishing this or that manuscript, on the results of this or that submission, on the reception of one or the other query letters.

And in the meantime I am writing as well as I know how to do.

The thing that comforts me, that puts the impostor syndrome at arm's length for a little while, is the fact that I know I'm getting better at this writing thing. I look at older half-finished manuscripts and I see the flaws more easily. I spot plot problems long before I've written them. These are small things, perhaps, but they are small things I couldn't do before.

As long as I'm thinking about the stories, about the books, I'm fine.

I love what I do, and I want to keep on doing it for the rest of my life, right up until the end. I want to leave this world with ninety published books and a dozen more manuscripts waiting, like P. G. Wodehouse or Diana Wynne Jones (may her star be ever bright). I want to write digital books and print books and musical books—shh! it's a secret project—and so I read everything I can about craft, about marketing, about plot and character and structure. I've become unbearable to watch movies or tv shows with, because I start calling out plot points and predicting who the killer is (and getting it right, if I might be permitted a small boast).

And I tell myself, "Self, it's possible you're faking it now—but someday, if you work real hard, you might catch up."

Somehow, it's a very comforting thought.