Today’s post (and Venn diagram) relates to something that I feel much of the time, but which seesawed even more than usual at the end of last week. I’m talking about a lack of balance or consistency in how I see myself as a writer.
Usually I chug along trying to do my best, and to improve and learn as I go. I like to think that I’m quite a positive, glass-half-full sort of person. However, there’s always a doubt somewhere in my brain. Sometimes it’s a tiny little thing right at the back, and sometimes it’s a great big horrible monster that crowds everything else out. It tells me that any writing success I’ve had has been down to luck, or timing, or the judges’ kindness. Don’t get too excited, it probably won’t ever happen again.
I know it’s not just me, and imposter syndrome is a well-known phenomenon. But last week I caught myself in the middle of an attack of it, and decided that it was ridiculous. The attack in question was brought on by a rejection email. I’ve had a fair few of these, and I imagine that most writers do. They don’t usually bother me too much. I read them, think ‘Fair enough, it’s their magazine/website/whatever’, and move on to the next thing.
This particular rejection, though, was terser than most. It read: Dear Liz, Although we thank you for submitting your work to _____, we are not accepting it for publication. We wish you much success in finding a placement. The email didn’t state that they’d read or considered what I’d sent. It didn’t name what I’d sent, or identify it as a story or poem. It didn’t encourage me to try again. Of course the email was a form rejection; I wouldn’t expect anything else. But it left me feeling that I must be one of the specially bad writers they send the most impersonal rejections to; one of the writers that they never want to hear from again. I was pretty grumpy for a while.
The next day, I’d got over it enough to write for a couple of weekly online contests which I often enter. While I didn’t place in the first one, the judge gave me a little bit of praise which was both funny and sweet, and which made me feel quite special (I’m planning to write another blog post on the subject, so I’ll share it then). I felt that I couldn’t be such a bad writer if someone had taken the time to do that for me. I thought: I should spend more time with people like this, and less time with people who make me feel like a rubbish writer. I thought back to the email of the day before, and this time it made me angry, not sad. I was angry that the publication thought it was OK to send an email like that. It isn’t rude, exactly; but it isn’t kind, either. I wonder how many writers have received that email and felt bad about themselves, and bad for daring to send something they’ve worked hard on to that publication. And don’t tell me that the publication in question doesn’t have time to write a more considered form rejection. Aren’t words their business?
So I plan to act on those feelings. When I receive a rejection email like the one outlined above, one of those which make me feel small and stupid for even trying to write, that publication or website will go on my private blacklist, and I won’t submit work to it again. So far, it’s a blacklist of 3, which shows that plenty of magazines can send a friendly, encouraging rejection (I should know!). And when I receive nice feedback I’m going to keep a record of it, so that on my imposter days I can turn to it and drag myself back up.
What upsets your balance? And what do you do about it?