Welcome to an entire month of Top 5 Tips for Authors!
Every day this month my friends and I will bring you a new set of Top 5 Tips to help you along on your author journey. 2017 was a year of change in the Indie author world for sure. So many happenings. So many new things to learn. So many old things that didn’t quite do what you’d hoped. Well, every day is a new day. And every year is a new year. So we hope that this month’s worth of tips will get you the kick start you need to make 2018 your best yet and please feel free to ask questions and leave comments.
JA Motherfucking Huss is the NYT bestselling author of 321 and has been on the USA Today Bestsellers list eighteen times. She writes dark shit that isn’t for everyone but once in a while she gets a joke in her that comes out as a romantic comedy. She’s a workaholic who lives on a ranch in Colorado. (This is her blog, BTW, so her links are all over the goddamned place so I’m not gonna post one here.)
I have to be honest, I don’t think about impostor syndrome much since I started writing fiction. But I did think about this a lot when I was in grad school. There’s a lot of reasons a person who has achieved a certain level of success might doubt their own abilities. In my case I was admitted to a very prestigious PhD program in biomedical science after I finished my bachelor’s degree. I got the grades like everyone else, took the GRE like everyone else, wrote the essay, did the personal interviews, blah, blah, blah.
But my undergrad degree was in equine science because I had every intention of going to vet school when I was done with undergrad. So I was the only person in my PhD program who didn’t have a degree in chemistry, or biochemistry, or cell biology, or molecular biology, etc. I had this “other” degree that required pretty much the exact same classes. I mean, it was a pre-med course of study, so it was not bullshit.
But I would often wonder if my grades were so good because of my electives. I took things like foal management, and advanced show jumping, and farrier science, and stallion genetics. Which was very hands-on, and with the exception of the show jumping classes, it was all science. But it happened in a barn, right? The labs were at the equine center (which was state-of-the-fucking-art). But somehow, in my mind, that de-legitimized it.
People couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that I used microscopes and ran experiments in a barn. More importantly, I couldn’t wrap my head around it, because they were in sterile labs that didn’t have hay on the floor. They wore shoes that weren’t barn boots. They didn’t have to wear winter jackets and freeze their asses off when they ran trials. They didn’t run trials on sheep. Or have to worry about being kicked when drawing blood from a half-wild horse.
So grad school was just a year and a half of self-doubt. I developed anxiety. Pretty bad, too. And even after I left AND FINISHED my Master’s degree, it took me over a year to recover from the whole experience. And when I started writing science courses for kids I still kinda felt this way. I thought people would judge me on my typos (homeschool parents, as a group, can be fairly judge-y!) But you all write, so you know how your fingers just want to press a certain key out of order. Like, from becomes form. That’s something I do all the time. It’s a typo. I know the difference between from and form. My fingers just have this habit of tapping the o before the r. But I would literally have a mini panic attack if I published a workbook and then afterward, found a typo like that. My facts were straight, it’s just a fuckin’ typo. But in my head it was a major deal. It made me feel stupid. And I would think about the parents who had already purchased the course, and how they were judging me.
I got a few people who’d complain, but most of them were very sweet to me. And I’m not your typical homeschooler, so most them had nothing in common with me except I wrote science courses their kids liked. So they had no other reason to be understanding with me other than MY PRODUCT WAS GOOD. And they were willing to overlook my mistakes. They didn’t expect me to be perfect, which was a relief. Because I’m not fuckin’ perfect.
But the funny thing about my impostor syndrome problem is that once I started writing fiction it went away. Maybe it was because I dealt with it while writing the non-fiction. Maybe I’m just overly confident in my fiction writing abilities. Maybe I just stopped caring. I’m not really sure, but I have never felt like an impostor in this job. I know a lot of people who do feel that way, and since I can relate in a different level, I think this something to address fairly early on in your career (if you catch it).
So here’s my Top 5 Tips for dealing with impostor syndrome:
1 Own your success
You did it. You finished a book. Do you have any idea how many people set out to write a book and never finish it? I looked it up. I didn’t find anything conclusive (not that would satisfy my scientific mind) but apparently the general consensus is that out of a 1000 people who write a book, only 30 will finish it. Three percent, people. So if you actually FINISHED A BOOK, regardless of quality, you win, bitches. You’re the top 3% of wanna-bes who actually did it. DO not discount that. Only about 12% of the population has a graduate degree. So you have a much better chance of FINISHING grad school than you do of finishing a book. How does grad school sound to you? Like lotsa fun? lol So if you finished that book you’re in a more exclusive club than all us dumbasses who volunteered for four to seven more years of school after college.
2 Keep track of your accomplishments
If the statistic above isn’t enough to convince you, then I suggest you write down all your accomplishments. Keep track of when you start your book, when you finish your book, and how many words you write in a session. I do this sometimes. Not all the time. I never track word count. I’m just too lazy. But I do put the date I start a book at the top of my manuscript. And then the date I finished it at the end. It feels good.
3 Don’t expect perfection
I don’t know when exactly I stopped being a perfectionist, but I’m pretty sure it happened right around the time I started grad school. I had two kids, I was still homeschooling them, I was a single mom, I was having anxiety issues, I hate the thought of therapy… So I needed to let some shit go. Maybe this is called lowering one’s standards, but every day for the past sixteen years when I left my old life behind and started a new one, I’ve had to make choices about how many fucks to give. Because I don’t have enough fucks, you guys. I don’t have enough to go around. So typos are so far down on my list these days. Fuck it. I make mistakes. If people want to judge me on my typos, I can’t change that. I just gotta pay attention to bigger things, ya know? Cut yourself a break. Stop giving out fucks like you have an endless supply. You don’t have to stop caring forever. Maybe a day. Or a week. Or a year. But you gotta prioritize this shit or you’ll drive yourself crazy.
4 Luck only gets you so far
Don’t attribute everything you do to luck. I believe in luck. I believe in that old adage, right place, right time. And, inversely, wrong place, wrong time as well. But luck can only help you so much. Luck didn’t get me five years of success. Luck didn’t get me the NYT or the USA. Luck didn’t get me this career. Hard work did. Talent did. Persistence did. Luck happens once or twice if you’re lucky. 😉 And it wasn’t luck that made you finish that book, it was hard work. Right? Like, no elf came to your office in the middle of the night and cobbled together your story. YOU DID THAT.
5 Learn to accept a compliment
I admit, I have a hard time with this. I don’t like to be the center of attention. So I don’t want to hear that I’m great. I do hear it though, every single day in my fan group. There are probably thousands of posts in there just telling me how awesome I am. So I say thank you to every one of them. I tell them that making them happy makes me happy. I don’t make a big deal about it—that would invite more spotlight, right? So I just show my gratitude. And that’s how I deal with compliments. So if you find that you’re like me and you don’t like to be the center of attention for things you’ve done, rip that Band-Aid off and just say thank you right out of the gate. Then you can forget about it until the next fan comes along.